Learn/ Educators/ Curriculum Resources/ Art of the Islamic World/ Unit Two: Arabic Script and the Art of Calligraphy/ Featured Works of Art: Images 7–11/ Image 10

Image 10

Illuminated folio with poetic verses from the Shah Jahan Album (verso)
About 1500
Calligrapher: Sultan 'Ali Mashhadi (active late 15th–early 16th century)
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; 15 5⁄16 x 10 1/4 in. (38.9 x 26 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955 (

Previous Image Next Image

Calligraphy (nasta'liq script), poetry, Mughal court, Emperor Shah Jahan, album, floral and vegetal ornament, painting

This page from a royal album demonstrates the high status and importance of calligraphy as a court art. This example features the popular regional script nasta'liq, which was developed in Persia but also widely used in the Mughal court in India (1526–1858).

Calligraphy by well-known masters was often collected by royal patrons and arranged in albums. This page, containing a love poem, belongs to an album assembled by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.

A short lyric poem, written in elegant nasta'liq script, is set against a background of elaborate floral arabesques at the center of the page. The verses, which flow diagonally, are framed in cloud-shaped compartments. The poem reads:

By Khwaja Salman, may God's mercy be upon him
In your curls seek and ask how I am
Ask about those broken by the snare of misfortune
Ask about all the broken ones
Then ask me first, for I am the most brokenhearted [of them all].
Written by Sultan 'Ali Mashhadi

(Translated by Maryam Ekhtiar)

Several decorated frames surround the text; the outermost frame, the wide page border, is comprised of a blue ground covered in gilded floral elements—palmettes, leaves, blossoms, and elongated stems.

Collecting paintings, drawings, and calligraphy—and assembling them in bound volumes—was a favorite pastime of the Mughal royalty and elite. The emperor Shah Jahan, the patron of this album, was an especially avid patron of the arts and collected beautifully written poetry set against ornate backgrounds, calligraphic exercises, and paintings to assemble in albums such as this one. Albums were made for private viewing, enjoyment, and meditation and often contained brief notes written by the owner. (See, from the same album, image 30, image 32; and fig. 34.)

The inclusion on this page of the name of the calligrapher, Sultan 'Ali Mashhadi (below the verses), as well as that of the poet Khwaja Salman (above the verses), draws attention to the high status of the calligrapher within the royal workshop. The poem uses a familiar trope in Persian love poetry—that of the beloved who ensnares others with the "ropes" of her curls, but leaves them in a trap of misfortune. The verses in the border are from other love poems.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History