This illuminated manuscript is a book of prayers containing the Surat al-Yasin and Surat al-Fath ("Victory") copied by the celebrated calligrapher Ahmad Nairizi (active 1682–1739). The illuminations are attributed to Muhammad Hadi (d. ca. 1771), who created the lavish borders in the famous St. Petersburg Album (now in the Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg). The manuscript is signed twice, once in a colophon and once on the very fine lacquer binding.
The Museum’s book of prayers has eighty-one leaves, with fourteen lines of text on each page, written horizontally and diagonally in fine naskhi script in black ink on a wide array of rich colors. Some pages contain interlinear Persian translations in red or purple nasta‘liq, while others have interlinear illumination in gold. It contains four finely illuminated carpet-pages with central medallions. The lacquer binding is decorated with gold-stemmed flowers in the Mughal style of the Jahangir and Shah Jahan periods on a dark brown ground framed by calligraphic borders with verses in naskhi about the benefits of prayer signed by Nairizi and dated A.H. 1132/1719–20 A.D.
Copied in Isfahan, the manuscript reflects the collaboration of two prominent late Safavid masters, Ahmad Nairizi and Muhammad Hadi. Nairizi is considered the uncontested master of revival naskhi, also sometimes referred to as Iranian naskhi, and was responsible for popularizing the script at the end of the seventeenth century. He served at the court of the last Safavid ruler, Shah Sultan Husain (r. 1694–1722), as well as at those of subsequent Afsharid rulers. His work became a model for generations of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Iranian calligraphers.
A distinguishing feature of this prayer book is the extraordinary quality of the illuminations of the carpet-pages (see above and p. 274) by Muhammad Hadi, who clearly poured all his talents into these folios. The presence of a dense pattern of grape-bearing vines and vegetal scrolls in gold against a variety of rich backgrounds of pistachio green, deep crimson red, and shell white makes for a stunning contrast. These illuminations have a distinct Indian flavor. Fruit-bearing vine scrolls of this type are a characteristic feature of Kashmiri design. While they can be seen on several borders from the St. Petersburg Album, they also appear with great frequency in eighteenth-century manuscripts, lacquer, woodcarving, and metalwork from Kashmir. The chinar, or Oriental plane tree ( Platanus orientalis), has long historic associations with various regions in India, particularly Kashmir. Persian painters and illuminators such as Muhammad Hadi’s master, ‘Ali Ashraf (active 1727–56), are known to have used this motif and other densely painted floral motifs in lacquer.4 However, it is also possible that Muhammad Hadi drew direct inspiration from eighteenth-century modes of Indian manuscript illumination and surface decoration, as artistic exchanges between Iran and India were pervasive during this period, and talented Persian artists traveled to India in the late seventeenth century and eighteenth century (spending time at centers in the Deccan and as far north as Kashmir). This prayer book is an extraordinary example of the Indo-Persian aesthetic in the early decades of the eighteenth century in Iran.
Maryam Ekhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. See The St. Petersburg Muraqqa‘ Album of Indian and Persian Miniatures of the Sixteenth–Eighteenth Centuries and Specimens of Persian Calligraphy of ’Imad al-Hasani. Exhibition, ARCH Foundation, Villa Favorita, Lugano. Catalogue by Oleg F. Akimushkin. Lugano, 1994.
2. Khalili, Nasser D., B[asil] W. Robinson, and Tim Stanley with Manijeh Bayani. Lacquer of the Islamic Lands. The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, edited by Julian Raby, vol. 22. London, 1996–97, pt. 1, pp. 125–31. See also Ekhtiar, Maryam. "Innovation and Revivalism in Later Persian Calligraphy: The Visal Family of Shiraz." In Islamic Art in the Nineteenth Century: Tradition, Innovation and Eclecticism, edited by Doris Behrens-Abouseif and Stephen Vernoit, pp. 257–79. Islamic History and Civilization, Studies and Texts, 60. Leiden and Boston, 2006.
3. This connection was also confirmed in a recent correspondence with Dr. Asok Das. I am grateful to him for his advice. See also The Arts of Kashmir. Exhibition, Asia Society and Museum, New York; Cincinnati Art Museum. Catalogue by Pratapaditya Pal and others. New York and Milan, 2008.
4. Diba, Layla S[oudavar]. "Persian Painting in the Eighteenth Century: Tradition and Transmission." Muqarnas 6 (1989), pp. 147–60. A signed and dated lacquer mirror case in the National Museum of Scotland by ‘Ali Ashraf is covered with dense floral scrolls similar to those of the Museum’s prayer book. See Scarce, Jennifer [M]. Domestic Culture in the Middle East: An Exploration of the Household Interior. Edinburgh, 1996, p. 72.
Arts of the Islamic World. London, October 12, 2000. no. 58, pp. 78-79, ill., (unsold).
Carboni, Stefano, Navina Haidar, and Maryam Ekhtiar. "Recent Acquistions: A Selection 2003-2004." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 62, no. 2 (Fall 2004). p. 11, ill.
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. 191, pp. 272-274, ill. p. 273 (color).