This painting once formed part of a rare surviving illustrated copy of Farid al-Din 'Attar’s mystical poem, the Mantiq al-tair (Language of the Birds). Originally commissioned in the late fifteenth century, the manuscript was left unfinished, completed over a century later during the reign of the Safavid ruler Shah 'Abbas I (r. 1587–1629). Four new paintings were added at that time, including this seventeenth century illustration for the story of a ruffian who spares the life of a poor man.
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Title:"A Ruffian Spares the Life of a Poor Man", Folio 4v from a Mantiq al-Tayr (Language of the Birds)
Author:Farid al-Din `Attar (Iranian, Nishapur ca. 1142–ca. 1220 Nishapur)
Geography:Made in Iran, Isfahan
Medium:Ink, opaque watercolor, silver, and gold on paper
Dimensions:Painting: H. 7 3/4 in. (19.7 cm) W. 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm) Page: H. 12 7/8 in. (32.7 cm) W. 8 5/16 in. (21.1 cm) Mat: H. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm) W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
Credit Line:Fletcher Fund, 1963
Four Folios from the Mantiq al-tair
Farid al-din ‘Attar’s epic poem the Mantiq al-tair (Language of the Birds), composed about 1187, is a parable about the desire for union with God that is couched in the terminology of sufism. It describes a physical and spiritual journey through seven valleys by a group of birds that move from their initial quest (talab) to their final goal of annihilation of the self (fana) through unity with God. The stages of their journey are explained through the use of anecdotes.
This copy is notable for its high-quality illustrations produced in two distinct periods and places. The earlier phase, in which most of the text and four of the paintings were executed, is linked to the city of Herat (folios 63.210.28, .35, .44, .49). Its colophon (63.210.1), signed by Sultan ‘Ali al-Mashhadi, dates the work to the first day of the fifth month of the second year of the last ten years preceding 900—that is, to A.H. 892/April 25, 1487 A.D. The later phase occurred about 1600, when the manuscript was refurbished, probably for Iran’s ruler, Shah ‘Abbas I (r. 1587–1629). Elements from this phase include the binding, the illuminated opening folios signed at Isfahan by Zain al-‘Abidin al-Tabrizi, and four of its pictures, one of which is signed by Habiballah (folios 63.210.4, .11, .18, .22). In 1609 Shah ‘Abbas donated this manuscript to the ancestral tomb of the Safavid family at Ardabil.
Sultan ‘Ali al-Mashhadi is known to have worked for Herat’s contemporary ruler, Sultan Husain Baiqara (r. 1470–1506), and for one of its leading intellectuals, Mir ‘Ali Shir Nava’i, whose interest in the theme of this text is signaled by the fact that he composed an analogous poem in Turki titled Lisan al-tair (The Speech of the Birds).
All of the subjects to be illustrated in this copy of the Mantiq al-tair were determined at the time of its copying by Sultan ‘Ali al-Mashhadi in the late fifteenth century, but the manuscript’s first four scenes were not completed until about 1600 in Isfahan. Three of these are frequently depicted in other copies of ‘Attar’s text: the initial gathering of the birds at the onset of their quest (63.210.11) and two scenes from the story of a sufi, Shaikh San‘an, who loved a Christian maiden (63.210.18, .22). These pictures seem to have a clear connection to major themes in ‘Attar’s text, although Habiballah, the artist who signed the "Concourse of the Birds" on a small rock at the center of the picture, has added the superfluous figure of a man holding a rifle.
Two of the manuscript’s remaining four paintings, made toward the end of the fifteenth century in Timurid Herat, present more oblique references to ‘Attar’s text. Both "The Son Who Mourned His Father" (63.210.35) and "The Drowning Man" (63.210.44) have been interpreted as sufi allegories. The other two fifteenth-century paintings (63.210.28, .49) appear to be more illustrative than symbolic. Yumiko Kamada has suggested that these more subtle paintings reflect the appreciation of textual and pictorial intricacy in late fifteenth-century Herat.
Priscilla P. Soucek in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. For an overview of publications about this manuscript through 2010, see Kamada, Yumiko. "A Taste for Intricacy: An Illustrated Manuscript of Mantiq al-Tayr in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Orient: Reports of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan 45 (2010), pp. 129–75.
2. I bid., pp. 136–40, and Kia, Chad. "Is the Bearded Man Drowning?: Picturing the Figurative in a Late-Fifteenth-Century Painting from Herat." Muqarnas 23 (2006), p. 97.
3. Kamada 2010 (footnote 1), pp. 144–49.
Marking: Seal (affixed throughout the manuscript): Shah Abbas
Shah Abbas I, Isfahan, Iran (ca. 1600–1608; presented to Shrine ofShaikh Safi Al-Din, Ardabil, Iran); Shrine of Shaikh Safi Al-Din, Ardabil, Iran(ca. 1608–sack of Ardebil, 1826); M. Farid Parbanta(until 1963; sale, Sotheby's London,December 9, 1963, no. 111, to MMA)
The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Princely Patrons: Three Royal Manuscripts of the Timurid Dynasty," March 4–June 4, 1995, no catalogue.
Musée du Louvre. "Le Chant du Monde : L'Art de l'Iran Safavide," October 1, 2007–January 7, 2008, no. 98.
Grube, Ernst J. "The Language of the Birds: The Seventeenth-Century Miniatures." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. XXV, no. 9 (May 1967). pp. 346–47, ill. figs. 8, 9 (b/w).
Swietochowski, Marie. "The Historical Background and Illustrative Character of the Metropolitan Museum's Mantiq al-Tayr of 1483." In Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Richard Ettinghausen. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. pp. 42–43, ill. p. 43 (b/w).
Lentz, Thomas W., and Glenn D. Lowry. "Persian Art and Culture in the Fifteenth Century." In Timur and the Princely Vision. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1989. p. 290, ill. fig. 98 (b/w).
Kia, Chad. "Is the Bearded Man Drowning? Picturing the Figurative in a Late-Fifteenth-Century Painting from Herat." Muqarnas vol. 23 (2006). pp. 85–105.
Lewisohn, Leonard, and Christopher Shackle, ed. "the art of spiritual flight." In Attar and the Persian Sufi Tradition. London; New York: The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2006. p. 164, ill. pl. 2 (color).
Melikian-Chirvani, Assadullah. "L'Art de l' Iran Safavide 1501–1736." In Le Chant du Monde. Paris: Musée du Louvre, 2007. no. 98, pp. 326–27, ill. p. 327 (color).
Kamada, Yumiko. "An Illustrated Manuscript of Mantiq al-Tayr in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Orient vol. XLV (2010). pp. 141–42, 169, 174, ill. fig. 5.
Research Assistant Julia Cohen highlights a number of folios from the most influential works of Persian literature that are on view in Bazm and Razm: Feast and Fight in Persian Art and the Department of Islamic Art's permanent galleries.
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