This folio belonged to a manuscript of the Mantiq al-tair that was presented to the Ardabil shrine in 1608–09, more than a century after its text and most of its illustrations were completed. Under the Safavid Shah ‘Abbas, its pages were remounted and four illustrations, a frontispiece, and a new binding were added. For a long time, the text and paintings were assumed to be Timurid, from the original manuscript, but scholars have determined that fifteen folios were added during the Safavid period to replace lost or damaged pages. Scholars are divided on the date of the calligraphy of this folio, but the exquisite marbling of its border was certainly added when the folio was remounted during the rule of Shah ‘Abbas, when this decorative technique, called abri or abru in Persian, was at its peak.
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Title:"Allusion to Sura 27:16", Folio from a Mantiq al-Tayr (Language of the Birds)
Author:Farid al-Din `Attar (Iranian, Nishapur ca. 1142–ca. 1220 Nishapur)
Geography:Attributed to present-day Afghanistan, Herat
Medium:Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Dimensions:H. 15 1/2 in. (39.4 cm) W. 8 in. (20.3 cm)
Credit Line:Fletcher Fund, 1963
Page of Nasta'liq Calligraphy
The renowned calligrapher Sultan 'Ali-al-Mashhadi was a contemporary of the painter Behzad and like him, worked in Herat during the last two decades of the fifteenth century under the patronage of the last Timurid ruler of Iran, Sultan Hosayn Bayqara, and his friend and minister, Mir 'Ali Shir Neva'i, a great bibliophile and art patron. The early seventeenth-century treatise on calligraphers and painters by Qazi Ahmad describes him as follows:
"But the one who carried off the ball of superiority is the cynosure (qibla) of calligraphers, Maulana Sultan-'Ali Mashhadi, whose writing is among other writings as the sun among the other planets. His writing conquered the world and attained such a degree (of perfection) that it seemed incredible that anyone could emulate him."
In spite of the florid prose style in vogue at the time of the treatise, the exeptional fame of Sultan 'Ali and the esteem in which his work was held is clear. Qazi Ahmad goes on to describe how sheets of Sultan-'Ali's calligraphy that had accidently been dropped in water were carefully rescued and preserved like an amulet.
Nasta'liq calligraphy describes a "hanging" script in which the writing slants so that some of the letters drop below the line. It was invented, according to tradition, by Mir-'Ali al-Trabizi, a calligrapher working under the Jalayrid sultans in th latter part of the fourteenth century. From that time on, it became the standard script for Persian poetry. The page of a royal manuscript was frequently embellished as here, with finely wrought illuminated panels. The extremely fine marbled borders, flecked with gold, probably date from the remounting of the pages of the manuscript under Shah Abbas the Great in about 1600, during a period when this decorative technique was particularly popular.
Marie Lukens Swietochowski in [Berlin 1981]
Working in the city of Herat (now in Afghanistan) in the eastern Iranian province of Khurasan, at the court of Sultan Husain Baiqara (r. 1469–1506), the last Timurid ruler of Iran, Sultan 'Ali of Mashhad was the most celebrated calligrapher of his day. He was a master, as exhibited here, of a flawless Nasta'liq, a script that in its lyrical rhythms was ideally suited to Persian poetry.
'Attar, as his name implies, was a pharmacist with a medical practice, in addition to being a mystical poet. He lived in Khorasan in the city of Nishapur and is believed to have been killed in a massacre by the invading Mongol hordes in 1220. The subject of the poem is a spirital pilgrimage.
The manuscript to which this folio belongs came into the possession of the Safavid ruler Shah 'Abbas the Great (r. 1587–1629), who had established his capital at Isfahan. He obviously regarded the manuscript with great esteem, since he had it refurbished with new illuminated frontispieces and new borders, some of them decorated, as here, in the technique known as Abru or marbleizing. He then presented the manuscript to his family shrine at Ardabil.
Mary Lukens Swietochowski in [Walker et al. 1994]
Marking: Seal (affixed throughout the manuscript): Shah Abbas
Shah Abbas I, Isfahan, Iran (ca. 1600–1608; presented to the 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)
New York. The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Perfect Page: The Art of Embellishment in Islamic Book Design," May 17–August 18, 1991, no catalogue.
Mexico City. Colegio de San Ildefonso. "Arte Islámico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York," September 30, 1994–January 8, 1995, no. 7.
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.
New York. Brooklyn Museum. "Light of the Sufis : an introduction to the mystical arts of Islam," June 5, 2009–September 6, 2009, not in catalogue.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Light of the Sufis : an introduction to the mystical arts of Islam," May 16, 2010–August 8, 2010, not in catalogue.
"Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York." In The Arts of Islam. Berlin, 1981. no. 67, pp. 172–73, ill. (color).
Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). pp. 34–35, ill. fig. 43 (color), back cover (color).
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Daniel S. Walker, Arturo Ponce Guadián, Sussan Babaie, Stefano Carboni, Aimee Froom, Marie Lukens Swietochowski, Tomoko Masuya, Annie Christine Daskalakis-Matthews, Abdallah Kahil, and Rochelle Kessler. "Colegio de San Ildefonso, Septiembre de 1994–Enero de 1995." In Arte Islámico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1994. no. 7, pp. 58–59, ill. (color).
Blair, Sheila S. Islamic Calligraphy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. pp. 282–83, 430, ill. fig. 7.17.
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.
Kamada, Yumiko. "An Illustrated Manuscript of Mantiq al-Tayr in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Orient vol. XLV (2010). pp. 129–175.
Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan Bloom. By the Pen and What they Write. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015. pp. 120, 122, ill. pl. 94.
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