These two paintings (55.184.1 and 55.125.1) , with their vibrant color palette and lively action, are taken from a manuscript of the Khavarannama (Book of the East), a gathering of tales relating the adventures of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. These mostly imaginary accounts of the exploits of ‘Ali and his companions against demons, dragons, and kings include conflicts with the ruler Kubad, the shah of Khavaran. The poet who penned these engaging stories, Maulana Muhammad ibn Husam al-Din (active fifteenth century) is otherwise known as Ibn Husam. Written in epic masnavi form, his poem is composed in emulation of the poet Firdausi’s Shahnama, but with the important religious figure of ‘Ali as its protagonist.
The author’s homage to the poet of the Shahnama is particularly evident in one of the present paintings (no. 55.184.1), which depicts the aged Firdausi (shown with gray beard and cane) paying an imagined visit to Ibn Husam. In the other, ‘Amr (a contemporary of ‘Ali) tosses his enemies from the deck of a fantastical horse-headed ship. As in many other illustrated scenes from this engaging manuscript, the figures burst from the page, with the action spilling over the edges of the text block. Here, the boat sails upon a brimming sea overflowing into the margins.
These folios exhibit the distinctive painting style characteristic of many manuscript illustrations produced in Shiraz in the later fifteenth century. A few of the dispersed illustrated folios from the same manuscript contain inscriptions with the name "Farhad," an otherwise unknown painter, as well as dates ranging from 1476 to 1486. During this time, the city of Shiraz was under the control of the Aq Quyunlu confederacy, one of the two Turkmen dynasties that reigned in western Persia, Iraq, and eastern Anatolia during the fifteenth century. The two paintings seen here originally formed part of one of the earliest and largest illustrated copies of Ibn Husam’s Khavarannama text, a weighty manuscript containing nearly seven hundred folios, each measuring approximately sixteen by twelve inches (40.6 × 30.5 cm). At least forty of the 155 illustrated folios in this Khavarannama manuscript have been dispersed; they are to be found today in collections throughout the world, including the Metropolitan Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The largest part of the manuscript is housed today in the collection of the Gulistan Palace Museum in Tehran.
Denise-Marie Teece in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. See Rieu, Charles. Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum. London, 1966, vol. 2, pp. 642–43, no. Add. 19,766 (a later seventeenth-century copy of the text in London). The title of this book has been given as both Khavaran-nama (in Ibn Husam’s text ) as well as Khavaranama (in some secondary literature). This entry will follow the spelling as it appears in the author’s text.
2. Conflicting dates for the author’s death appear in the historical literature: either A.H. 875 or 893/1470 or 1487–88 A.D.. See Rieu 1966(above) for discussion.
3. These two pieces have been previously published. For no. 55.125.1 see Grube 1962, p. 66, no. 47, pl. 47 (color detail, fc. p. 50); for no. 55.184.1, see Grube 1963, with black-and-white image on p. 293, fig. 7.
4. See The Arts of Islam. Exhibition, Hayward Gallery, London. London, 1976, p. 346, nos. 574a-b, which provides this range of dates for the paintings in the Tehran manuscript. In other publications, only the date of 1477 is noted for the paintings in the manuscript. According to Robinson 1967, pp. 95–96, no. 125, the manuscript contains a colophon with the date of A.H. 854/1450 A.D., but Robinson doubts its authenticity. For more on the manuscript and its paintings, see Grube 1962, pp. 64–68, nos. 46–49; and Zuka, Yahya. "Khawaran Nama." Hunar va Mardum, no. 20 (1963), pp. 17–29. See also the recent facsimile edition: Khusifi Birjandi 2002.
5. According to Hayward Gallery 1976 (footnote 4), p. 346, nos. 574a-b, the Khavarannama manuscript under discussion is said originally to have contained 685 folios (now reduced to 645) and 155 miniatures (now reduced to 115). The five dispersed folios in the Museum’s collection each measure about sixteen by twelve inches.
6. See Grube 1962, p. 65, for a list of some private collections and museums where folios of the manuscript may be found.
7. Metropolitan Museum (acc. nos. 55.125.1, 55.125.2, 55.125.3, 55.184.1, and 55.184.2).
8. See The Collector’s Eye: The Ernest Erickson Collections at The Brooklyn Museum. Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum. Catalogue by Linda S. Ferber and others. 1987, pp. 242–43, nos. 185, 186.
9. Robinson 1958, p. 27, states that "seven of the miniatures are in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and the remainder in America." See also Arberry, A[rthur] J., et al. The Chester Beatty Library: A Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts and Miniatures. 3 vols. in 5. Dublin, 1959–62, vol. 3, pp. 60–62, no. 293, which lists a total of ten illustrated folios of the Khavarannama in the Dublin collection.
10. Khavarannama folios appearing in the Sackler online collection include nos. 1956.23 and 57.1965. See also Simpson, Marianna Shreve. Arab and Persian Painting in the Fogg Art Museum. Fogg Art Museum Handbooks, 2. Cambridge, Mass., 1980, pp. 42–43, no. 11.
11. The manuscript was in the Museum of Decorative Arts, Tehran, but according to Abdullah Ghouchani, it has been moved into the holdings of the Gulistan Palace Museum.
Sachau; Hermann, Ed; Ethe, ed. "Part I: The Persian Manuscripts." In Catalogue of Persian, Turkish, Hindustani, and Pushtu Manuscripts. Oxford: Bodleian Libraries, 1889. p. 455.
Robinson, Basil William. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Persian Paintings in the Bodleain Library. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958.
Grube, Ernst J. "from Collections in the United States and Canada." In Muslim Miniature Paintings from the XIII to XIX Century. Venice: N. Pozza, 1962. no. 47, p. 66, ill. pl. 47 (b/w).
Robinson, Basil William. Persian Miniature Painting : from collections in the British Isles. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1967.
Hillenbrand, Robert. Imperial Images in Persian Painting. Edinburgh: Scottish Arts Council Gallery, 1977. no. 187, p. 82.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. p. 125B, pp. 185-186, ill. p. 186 (color).