"Allegory of Worldly and Otherworldly Drunkenness", Folio from the Divan of Hafiz, Hafiz (probably 1325/6–90), Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper

"Allegory of Worldly and Otherworldly Drunkenness", Folio from the Divan of Hafiz

Hafiz (probably 1325/6–90)
Painting by Sultan Muhammad (active first half 16th century)
Object Name:
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
ca. 1531–33
Attributed to Iran, Tabriz
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Illuminated folio:
Painting: H. 8 1/2 in. (21.6 cm)
W. 5 15/16 in. (15.1 cm)
Page: H. 11 3/8 in. (28.9 cm)
W. 7 1/8 in. (18.1 cm)

Calligraphic folio:
Painting: H. 7 in. (17.8 cm)
W. 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm)
Page: H. 11 1/4 in. (28.6 cm)
W. 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm)

Mat: H. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
W. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Jointly owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Cary Welch Jr., 1988
Accession Number:
Not on view
Sultan Muhammad, the most innovative painter of early sixteenth-century Iran, illustrates the verses by the mystical poet Hafiz by employing his characteristic sense of humor and extreme attention to detail. The tavern party, complete with ecstatic dancers, singers and overindulgent drinkers, is given a new meaning by the presence of angels on top of the pavilion, suggesting that the state of drunkenness can be likened to that of spiritual enlightenment. As a Sufi symbol, wine stands for heaven's divine light and the cup into which it is poured, for the devotee's heart.
This painting of a drinking party at a tavern, which includes ecstatic dancing, full-throated singing, and figures who have overindulged in wine to the point of collapse, could pass as a simple illustration of debauchery were the roof of the pavilion not inhabited by angels. The presence of these heavenly creatures, daintily partaking of wine themselves, casts the scene in a different light, one in which the state of mind achieved through drunkenness can be likened to enlightenment[1] rather than surrender to one’s base desires. The manuscript of the collected poems of Hafiz, one of Iran’s greatest mystical poets, was most likely illustrated in two phases. This page belongs to the second period, from about 1531 to 1533, when Sam Mirza, who is named in another illustration signed by the artist, had left Herat and spent the winters in Tabriz at the court of his brother, Shah Tahmasp.
The artist of this exceptional work, Sultan Muhammad, is thought to have directed the first phase of the illustration of the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, which commenced about 1524 and ended about 1527. Sultan Muhammad was raised in Tabriz and taught Prince Tahmasp painting. While the vibrancy of his palette harks back to the royal Turkmen painting style of late fifteenth-century Tabriz, the structure of his composition demonstrates the ongoing synthesis of late Timurid painting, with its logical spatial organization, and the more emotionally intense Turkmen school. Sultan Muhammad’s work is characterized by a sense of humor, communicated through pose and expression, and painterly touches such as impasto used for turbans and extraordinarily fine brushstrokes for fur.
Here, the arrangement of the figures in the foreground follows the contours of the hexagonal pavilion. The three musicians at the left, their faces grotesque and bodies nearly bare except for their animal-skin capes, contrast with the men of all ages in their turbans and robes. Yet their music infuses both the occasion and the dancers with wild abandon. As one’s gaze rises to the second floor of the pavilion, the actions of the figures become more subdued—men pulling a jug up with a rope, a pair of youths sipping wine together, a bearded elder curled up and reading. Finally, the angels on the roof imbibe and blush but maintain their innocence.
Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Soucek, Priscilla in Canby 1990, p. 60, noted, "The painting illustrates an important theme in the poetry of Hafiz, drawing a parallel between drinking wine and the source of creative inspiration behind the writing of poetry."
Inscription: Signature in Persian in naskhi script, on door:
عمل سلطان محمد
The work of Sultan Muhammad
[ Tabbagh Frères, Paris and New York ]; Arthur Sambon, Paris (until 1914; his sale, Galerie GeorgesPetit, Paris, May 25–28, 1914, no. 189); Louis J. Cartier, Paris; Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Cary Welch, Warner, NH (until 1988; gifted to MMA)
Cambridge, MA. Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums. "Wonders of the Age: Masterpieces of Early Safavid Painting," March 29, 1980–May 18, 1980, no. 44.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Imagery and Illusion in a Royal 16th Century Persian Manuscript," March 16, 1989–June 18, 1989, no catalogue.

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. "Images of Paradise in Islamic Art," April 26, 1992–June 21, 1992, no. 44.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi," October 15, 2007–March 5, 2008, no catalogue.

Martin, F. R. The Miniature Painting and Painters of Persia, India and Turkey from the 8th to the 18th century. vol. 1. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1912. p. 64.

Marteau, Georges, and Henri Vever. "Juin–Octobre, 1912." In Miniatures Persanes Exposées au Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Paris, 1913. ill. pl. LXXIV (b/w).

Sakisian, Armenag Bey. La Miniature Persane du XII au XVII siécle. Paris and Bruxelles: Les Editions G. Van Oest, 1929. pp. 112-113, ill. fig. 144 (b/w).

Binyon, Laurence, Basil Gray, and James Vere Stewart Wilkinson. "Including a Descriptive Catalogue of the Miniatures Exhibited at Burlington House." In Persian Miniature Painting. London, 1933. no. 127 (e), pp. 112, 128-129, ill. pl. LXXV (color).

Pope, Arthur Upham. "The Art of the Book, Textiles, Carpets, Metalwork, Minor arts." In Survey of Persian Art, edited by Dr. Phyllis Ackerman. vol. 3. London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1938–58. p. 1876.

Robinson, Basil William. "Drawings of the Masters." In Persian Drawings from the 14th through the 19th century. Boston and Toronto: Shorewood Publishers Inc., 1965. pp. 22, 65, 124, ill. pl. 33 (color).

Welch, Stuart Cary. "Five Royal Safavid Manuscripts of the Sixteenth Century." In Persian Painting. New York: George Braziller, 1976. p. 30, ill. pl. 18 (color).

Welch, Stuart Cary, Sheila R. Canby, and Norah M. Titley. "Masterpieces of Early Safavid Painting, 1501–1576." In Wonders of the Age. Cambridge, MA: Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums, 1979. no. 44, pp. 23, 128-129, ill. pl. 44 (b/w).

Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 47, no. 2 (1989). pp. 12-13, ill. p. 12 (color).

Canby, Sheila R. "Five Centuries of Painting." In Persian Masters. Bombay: Marg Publications, 1990. p. 66, ill. fig. 6.

Denny, Walter B., A. Kevin Reinhart, and Gene R. Garthwaite. Images of Paradise in Islamic Art, edited by Sheila Blair, and Jonathan M. Bloom. Hanover, NH: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 1991. no. 44, pp. 60, 105, ill., p. 60 (color), p. 105 (b/w).

Atil, Esin. "Humor and Wit in Islamic Art." Asian Art and Culture Vol. 7, no. 3 (1994). p. 21, ill. fig. 10, article pp. 13-29.

Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan M. Bloom. The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250–1800. Yale University Press Pelican History of art. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994. pp. 168-169, ill. pl. 221 (b/w), Listed as the "Allegory of Drunkenness".

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. 137, pp. 9, 200-202, ill. p. 201 (color).