The Persian writer and poet Musliḥ al-Dīn Saʻdī of Shiraz (ca.1210-1291 or 1292) are without a doubt one of the best-known and most skilful writers of classical Persian literature. With an established reputation even during his lifetime, his works have been select reading for royal princes and ʻset textsʼ for more humble students of Persian the world over. It is hardly surprising then that a corresponding number of deluxe copies survive of his works. A previous post (What were the Mughals’ favourite books?) described some copies of his best known works, the Būstān (ʻFragrant Gardenʼ or ʻOrchardʼ) and the Gulistān (ʻRose Gardenʼ), in the Library’s collection. Another sumptuous manuscript, which has also been digitised, is an early 17th century copy of his Kullīyāt (ʻCollected Worksʼ), IO Islamic 843 which was completed in 1034 (1624/25) by Maḥmūd, a scribe of Shiraz (al-kātib al-Shīrāzī), during the reign of Shah ʻAbbas (r. 1588-1629).
Very little is known about the poet’s life. Born in Shiraz, Saʻdī left his hometown to study in Baghdad. After a period of study at the Nizamiyah Madrasah, Baghdad, he set off on travels that lasted over thirty years. His experiences and adventures found their way into his writings, including being a prisoner of the Crusaders in Syria, visiting Kashgar, and killing a temple priest at Somnath in India. Many of these tales, however, have been proved to be anecdotal rather than biographical. Saʻdī returned to Shiraz in 1257, already a widely recognised poet and completed his two most famous works: the Būstān in 1257 and the Gulistān in 1258. These two works of poetry and prose respectively, contain anecdotes from the life of the author, moral teachings, and advice for rulers. Many stories communicate elements of Sufi teachings through their dervish protagonists. Other works reflect the changing political situation in Shiraz. Several of his poems are dedicated to the Salghurid dynasty, which ruled in Fars from 1148 to 1282, while later works are addressed to their successors the Mongols and their administrators.
Medieval Iran has witnessed the emergence of some of the most beautiful wonders of Islamic art and architecture. These wonders mostly emerged during the Safavid dynasty, when Isfahan was the capital city of Persia. The Persian architecture from the 1500s to the 1800s, known as the early modern period, featured quite distinct architecture elements like the pointed arches, the sculptural stalactites, known as ‘Muqarnas’, and the bulbous domes with floral decorations. The polychrome tiles of blue, gold, turquoise, and white cover the interiors of mosques and palaces, in the forms of complicated floral and geometric patterns as well as the Arabic calligraphy quoting verses from the Quran.
The marvellous architecture that rose in the time remains up to this day a sight to behold. It transcends you to the heavens with its otherworldly charm. So, let’s take a look at those images by photographers who managed to capture the essence of this quite unique charm.
Jeff De Boer’s prowess with metal should come as no surprise. The son of a tinsmith, Jeff’s early artistic talent and access to metalworking tools led him to build a suit of armour in high school with the intention of wearing it to graduation.
Today, the Calgary-based artist is best known for a series of cat and mouse armour he began in college nearly 30 years ago and has continued to expand and refine.
Chilean architect and illustrator Francisca Álvarez Ainzúa created “Architecture of the Portrait”: a series of illustrations of renowned architects drawn with the precision and accuracy of a fineliner. In order to choose the protagonists of her geometrical analyses, the architect states a preference for strong character and the presence of imperfections, which imparts a certain richness to the representation.
The architectural construction of the face is done using lines to create a hatch effect. Next, she adds color that pays tribute to the traditional default CAD shades: yellow, cyan and magenta.
In conjunction with the British Library’s Learning Team, we recently held a very successful study day: Mughal India: Art and Culture. To coincide with the event, we have installed three new ʻMughalʼ manuscripts in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. These are: A Royal copy of Nizami’s ‘Five poems’, dating from Herat, ca.1494 (Or. 6810, f. 3r), A mother rebukes her arrogant son, a copy of Saʻdi’s Būstān dated at Agra, 1629 (Add. 27262, f. 145r) and, the subject of my post today, Humayun received by the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp of Iran, from Abu’l-Fazl’s Akbarnāmah, dating from Agra, ca. 1602-3 (Or. 12988, f. 98r).