'Unwan from the Shah Jahan Album, Mir 'Ali Haravi (d. ca. 1550), Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

'Unwan from the Shah Jahan Album

Mir 'Ali Haravi (d. ca. 1550)
Object Name:
Album leaf
recto: ca. 1630–40; verso: ca. 1540
Attributed to India
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
H. 15 1/4 in. (38.7 cm)
W. 10 3/8 in. (26.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 450
A manuscript often opened with an 'unwan, a sumptuous double-page composition framing columns of text. To begin this imperial album, text from a treatise on calligraphy by Mir 'Ali, the celebrated penman of the early sixteenth-century Timurid court of Herat, was pasted onto a folio and decorated with several borders of lavish illumination. The writing itself is surrounded with cloudlike bubbles, around which miniature irises, lilies, and other plants bloom. recto–'Unwan

A manuscript often opened with an 'unwan, a sumptuous double-page composition framing columns of text. Descended in shape from the Roman tabula ansata, the 'unwan was illuminated with richly varied floral arabesques. No two such compositions are quite alike, and one can be sure that the spirits of their patient artists soared while devising myriads of flowering garlands in these formal gardens of the soul.

Mughal illuminations, like Mughal miniatures, descended from earlier, usually Iranian prototypes. Like the pictures, they differ from Iranian prototypes in suggesting three-dimensional forms. The seemingly flat circles of Timurid or Safavid tradition become swelling globes in Mughal India, where cool bluish and golden palettes took on sunny warmth.

The sparkling arabesque "surrounds" known from richly illuminated Mughal manuscripts and albums were often added to earlier, sparer texts to satisfy imperial taste. Their floral arabesques were carried out by the same specialists in the arts of the book who painted shamsa. Occasionally, triangular compositions of real or imaginary birds and animals were fitted into corners, either by miniature painters or specialists in decoration.

As reminders of water, fertility, and tranquil gardens, flowers were admired passionately in Iran and India. Miniature painters and designers of tiles, textiles, and architectural ornament strewed them about in cheerying abundance. During the reigns of emperors Jahangir and Shahjahan floramania became epidemic; artists of the book plucked blossoms from all available sources, from Iranian and Chinese paintings, textiles, and metalwork as well as from European botanical engravings. If some flowers were interpreted with studious naturalism, others pranced and tripped according to the artist's interior vision.

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al. 1987] verso–Calligraphy

THIS FOLIO and MMA fols. 39v and 38v (nos.3 and 4 and pls. 3 and 4 in this volume) contain the same opening paragraphs from a treatise on calligraphy by Mir-'Ali as do MMA fols. 4Iv, 4r, and 40v (nos. 6–8 and pls. 6-8 in this volume). The translation of this passage is given in the text for no. 7 and pl. 7 in this volume.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (in 1929; sale, Sotheby's London,December 12, 1929, to Kevorkian); [ Hagop Kevorkian, New York, from 1929]; [ Kevorkian Foundation, New York, until 1955; gift and sale to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Emperor's Album: Images of Mughal India," October 21, 1987–February 14, 1988, nos. 2 and 4.

Welch, Stuart Cary, Annemarie Schimmel, Marie Lukens Swietochowski, and Wheeler M. Thackston. The Emperors' Album: Images of Mughal India. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. no. nos. 2, 4, pp. 82, 84-87, ill., verso pl. 4 (color); recto pl. 2 (color).