This Ottoman devotional manual, the Hizb al-Nawawi, is a later copy of a book of prayers written by the esteemed Mamluk scholar Muhiyi al-Din Abi Zakariya Yahya b. Sharaf b. Muri al-Nawawi (d. 1277). This particular copy was signed by the Ottoman court calligrapher Muhammad Amir on the fifteenth of Sha'ban, 1152 (November 17, 1739). This portable prayer book has all the qualities of a royal manuscript. The striking maroon binding has a border and central medallion tooled in gold protecting this delicate manuscript. The first folio is a spectacular gold-speckled burnished paper. The text hails the religious authority of al-Nawawi, the author, and informs the reader that the prayers contained within will protect him from the evils of supernatural beings (jinn) and humanity. The gold ink decorates the borders of the folios filled with vegetal and geometric motifs. The most spectacular segment of the manuscript is at the end. Gold-rimmed clouds filled with a black script are set on either side of a beautiful light blue or pink background decorating the last few folios: these clouds of text constitute the physical description of the Prophet Muhammad (hilye). As narrated by the Prophet's son-in-law and cousin, 'Ali, it is a calligraphic portrait of the Prophet. The Prophet's physical description calls upon his presence without his image being depicted pictorially.
Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings
Signature: Signed (on colophon) in very fine naskh: 'Written by the weakest of calligraphers, Muhammad al-Amin, famous as Successor (khalifa) of the Calligrapher of the Noble House of Happiness (i.e. the Imperial Palace in Istanbul) - may God forgive him and his parents and all believing men and women, Amen! On the fifteenth of the glorious month of Shacban 1152 in the night of barat' (translation by Annemarie Schimmel, 9/1985)
Note: the 'night of barat' (degree, patent) is the night of full moon in the eight lunar month of the Islamic year, in which, according to Muslim popular belief, the fates for the coming year are fixed in heaven. To write a pious book in such a night brings special blessings (AM Schimmel 9/1985)
Richard Ettinghausen, Princeton, NJ (until 1975; gifted to MMA)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Perfect Page: The Art of Embellishment in Islamic Book Design," May 17, 1991–August 18, 1991, no catalogue.