Romancing the Tome: Love in Illustrated Persian Manuscripts by Sâqib Bâburî From the British Library Blog

For anyone inspired by celebrations of St Valentine’s day, Persian literature has much to offer. Whether it be platonic adoration, romantic affection, or star-crossed disappointment, Persian poetry, in particular, has something to say about it. With a written tradition stretching over a millennium, much of it still preserved in manuscripts; we explore here a few select examples of epic and romantic compositions from the British Library’s growing collection of digitised Persian manuscripts available online to observe wonderful and alternative responses to love, physical and spiritual.

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More: http://blogs.bl.uk/asian-and-african/2017/02/romancing-the-tome-love-in-illustrated-persian-manuscripts.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29

Nasir Shah’s Book of Delights from the British Library Blog

To celebrate our new series of South Asian seminars and especially the focus on food with Neha Vermani’s talk this evening Mughals on the menu: A probe into the culinary world of the Mughal eliteI thought I would write about our most ʻfoodyʼ Persian manuscript, the only surviving copy of the Niʻmatnāmah-i Nāṣirshāhī (Nasir Shah’s Book of Delights) written for Sultan Ghiyas al-Din Khilji (r.1469-1500) and completed by his son Nasir al-Din Shah (r.1500-1510). We are planning to digitise this manuscript in the near future but meanwhile I hope some of these recipes will whet your appetite.

 

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Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah, by Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies, British Library Blog

While recently looking for documentation on the Library of Tipu Sultan, Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-1799), my eye fell on this entry in Charles Stewart’s Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore (Cambridge, 1809), pp. 72-3:

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XCIV. Diwāni Sindbād Hakīm. Thick quarto, common hand, ornamented with pictures, &c. The instructions of the philosopher Sindbād to his pupil, the ignorant son of a king; in a series of interesting and facetious stories. The author is unknown; but it is dedicated to Shāh Mahmūd Bahmeny of the Dekhan, A.D. 1374.

More: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2016/06/revisiting-the-provenance-of-the-sindbadnamah-io-islamic-3214.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29

 

 

Persian literature was dominated by a sophisticated tradition of poetry

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A manuscript of Rumi's Masnavi dated1652–53. (Image: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford) A manuscript of Rumi’s Masnavi dated1652–53. (Image: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford)

Persian literature is dominated by a highly  sophisticated tradition of poetry dating to the tenth century. Persian poetry can generally be divided into two forms: the lyrical and the epic. The major lyrical forms are the qasida, ghazal, and rubai. The basic form of epic poetry is the masnavi.

The qasida, a long mono-rhyme (aa, ba, ca) similar to an ode, is mostly used as a speech or in praise of somebody as well as for secular or religious moralism. It consists of three parts – a prologue, the actual praise or tribute, and a final appeal to the patron. It was also used to praise of God and the Prophet. The chanted qasida is part of the religious tradition of Arabic and Persian–speaking Nizari Ismailis.

The ghazal, rhythmically similar to the qasida only…

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Map of the city of Mahdiyya in The Book of Curiosities and Marvels for the Eye

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Map of the city of Mahdiyya (Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History) Map of the city of Mahdiyya (Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)

The map of the city of Mahdiyya (in modern-day Tunisia) is one of seventeen maps and diagrams illustrating a treatise about the earth and the universe titled Kitab Ghara’ib al-funun wa mulah al-‘ayun, loosely translated as The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eye. The work was composed in Egypt between 1020 and 1050.*

The volume comprises two books, the first on the heavens in ten chapters , and the second, on the earth, in twenty-five chapters. The thirteenth chapter of the second book discusses “the island-city of Mahdiyya and begins with a description and history, followed by a map of the city, describing the founding of the city by the Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mahdiyya in 916-921.”*

This manuscript is a copy made in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century and shows, and depicts the city…

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A new manuscript of ‘Inayatallah’s Bahar-i Danish

Shaikh ‘Inayatallah Kanbu of Delhi finished his romantic tale the Bahar-i Danish (‘The Springtime of Knowledge’) in 1651, a collection of Indian tales held together by the frame story of the romance of Jahandar Sultan and Bahravar Banu.  No early illustrated copy seems to have survived.   A previously unknown manuscript of the text illustrated with 118 miniatures appeared recently at auction from the collection of the Duke of Northumberland (Sotheby’s, London, 8 October 2014, lot 275).  Although undated, this manuscript goes some way to fill the gap in Mughal manuscript illustration between the end of the reign of Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58) and the revival of the imperial Mughal studio in the 18th century.  The present writer was able to study it closely and concluded that the text was copied around 1700, that there were three illustrative campaigns, the first two of which were contemporary with the writing, but that the third campaign was undertaken later, almost certainly in the 1720s in the imperial studio of Muhammad Shah (r. 1719-48).  The illustrations in this third campaign seem preparatory to the paintings by Govardhan II in the Karnama-i ‘Ishq, the finest known imperial manuscript from the 18th century (BL J. 38, see Losty and Roy 2012, figs. 138-45).

There are very few good quality Mughal manuscripts from the latter half of the 17th century with which this manuscript could be compared.  Shah Jahan was interested in manuscript illustration only for inclusion in his chronicles, while under the puritanical Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707) painting was discouraged along with all the other arts of the court.  Artists must have sought other employment in this period whether with princes and noblemen or else in a more commercial environment.   In searching for other illustrated manuscripts of this text, an unexpected find was a hitherto ignored but important Mughal illustrated manuscript with 126 miniatures in the India Office collections in the British Library (numbered IO Islamic 1408, Ethé 1903, no. 806), the subject of the present note.  Although inscribed as a Johnson manuscript and hence collected by Richard Johnson in India before his return to England in 1790, it is not certain that the inscription is correct.  However, a note in an old hand mentions Alexander Dow’s partial translation (published 1768) but not Jonathan Scott’s complete one of 1799, suggesting that the manuscript was already in a contemporary collection.  Even more interesting was the discovery that it is another version of the Northumberland manuscript.  Its miniatures are also divided into three distinct campaigns to be discussed below and have the same compositions and colouring, except that the third campaign in the ‘Johnson’ manuscript is a continuation of the style of the first campaign.

As two of the earliest if not the earliest illustrated versions of this text, these manuscripts, by far the finest known illustrated versions, assume a particular importance. Their style is derived from the 17th century Mughal style, as they are copying the Shahjahani style albeit in a simplified manner.  This comes through particularly in the costume details in the three illustrative campaigns, which all show the jama (gown) at mid-calf length in vogue in the mid-17th century.  Both of the manuscripts must be based on a no longer known exemplar from the 17th century, perhaps the first illustrated version done under the author’s supervision.  Indeed the Northumberland manuscript refers to a lacuna in its exemplar (f. 101) which in the Johnson manuscript is filled with a painting, so that there can be no question of one being copied from the other.  In the third campaign in the ‘Johnson’ manuscript there are several preliminary drawings and unfinished paintings.

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suggesting that the different paths taken in the third campaigns are because the original exemplar was unfinished.

03 February 2015

A Mamluk Manuscript on Horsemanship

During the rule of the Mamluks who ruled in Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517, the presence of Crusaders coming from Europe seems to have stimulated a great interest in the military arts, weaponry and cavalry training among rulers in the Near and Middle East. The cavalry training was designed to improve the skills of soldiers who practised jousting exercises and equestrian games to prepare them not only for battle against the Crusaders but also for entertaining large crowds of spectators in specially-built stadia or hippodromes.

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A horseman impales a bear, from Book three of Nihāyat al-su’l which gives instructions on using lances. Dated 773/1371 (Add. MS. 18866, f. 113r)
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A fourteenth-century Mamluk manual on horsemanship, military arts and technology from the British Library’s collection of Arabic manuscripts (Add. MS 18866) has just been uploaded to the Qatar Digital Library. Its author, Muḥammad ibn ‘Īsá ibn Ismā‘īl al-Ḥanafī al-Aqṣarā’ī, died in Damascus in 1348. The colophon states that this near contemporary copy of the manual was completed on 10 Muḥarram 773 (25 July 1371) by the scribe Aḥmad ibn ‘Umar ibn Aḥmad al-Miṣrī, but it is not certain whether in Egypt or Syria. The manuscript came into the Library of the British Museum (now British Library) in 1852, having been purchased at the auction of the estate of Sir Thomas Reade, one time jailer of Napoleon Bonaparte (for more on the manuscript’s provenance see our earlier post ‘Sir Thomas Read: knight ‘nincumpoop’ and collector of antiquities’). A very similar illustrated copy of the same work, dated 788/1366, is preserved at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (CBL Ar 5655).

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The colophon giving the name of the scribe Aḥmad ibn ‘Umar ibn Aḥmad the Egyptian (al-Miṣrī) and the date of completion as 10 Muḥarram 773 (25 July 1371). Although the scribe was Egyptian, it is not certain whether the manuscript was copied in Egypt or Syria (Add. MS 18866, f. 292r)
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The title-page names the work Nihāyat al-su’l wa-al-umnīyah fī ta‘allum a‘māl al-furūsīyah (‘An End of Questioning and Desiring [Further Knowledge] concerning Learning of the Different Exercises of Horsemanship’) which is an example of furūsīyah, a popular genre of mediaeval Arabic literature embracing all aspects of horsemanship and chivalry. The manuscript itself deals with the care and training of horses; the weapons which horsemen carry such as the bow, the sword and the lance; the assembling of troops and the formation of battle lines.

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Diagram of a parade ground (Add. MS 18866, ff. 93v-94r)
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This early dated manuscript from the Mamluk period is a veritable treasure in itself containing some of the most magnificent examples of Mamluk manuscript painting. It includes eighteen colour paintings depicting horses, riding equipment, body armour and weapons and twenty-five instructive diagrams on the layout of a parade ground, dressage and various military insignia. Beyond the military and equestrian arts, the paintings in this manuscript are full of details relating to contemporary costume and decorative style. It is one of the highlights of the British Library’s illustrated Arabic manuscripts and is notable also for its beautiful calligraphy and tooled leather Islamic binding that is likely to be contemporary with the manuscript.

Add 18866_bindingBrown goat-skin binding with envelope flap decorated with blind-tooled circular designs on both covers and flap; probably 8th/14th century with signs of later repair (Add. MS 18866, binding)
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Below is a list of the manuscript’s eighteen paintings. For most of them the author provided his own captions which are given below. Please click on the hyperlinks to see the full images:

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(f. 97r) ‘Illustration of two horsemen whose lance-heads are between each other’s shoulder-blades’.
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(f. 99r) ‘Illustration of a number of horsemen taking part in a contest, their lances on their shoulders’.

(f. 101r) ‘Illustration of a horseman taking part in a game with a lance, the lance-head being in his hand and its shaft to his rear’.

(f. 109r) Without caption; a horseman carrying two horizontal lances.

(f. 113r) Without caption; a horseman impales a bear with his lance.

(f. 121r) ‘Illustration of a horseman performing a sword exercise’.

(f. 122v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his hand and his sleeve wound over his hand as he rises out of his saddle and strikes with the sword’.

(f. 125r) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his hand with which he strikes from the horse’s ear as far back as its right croup’.

(f. 127v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with the edge of the sword under his right armpit, the hilt in his left with the reins’.

(f. 129v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a small shield around his neck and a sword in his hand which he brandishes to left and right’.

(f. 130r) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a hide shield over his face, the sword edge under his right armpit and the hilt on his left’.

(f. 131v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with an iron helmet on his head, with a sword. A fire is lit on the helmet, the sword blade and in the middle of the shield’.

(f.132v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his right hand, its blade on his left shoulder and a sword in his left hand whose blade is under his right armpit’.

(f. 134r) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his left hand and its tip under his left arm pit’.

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(f. 135r
) ‘Illustration of two horsemen wheeling around, with a sword in each one’s hand on the horse’s back’.
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(f. 136r) ‘Illustration of a horseman with two swords and two small hide shields, on up at his face and the other in his hand with the sword’.

(f. 138v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a lance in his hand which he is dragging behind him, and a shield in his other hand’.

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(f. 140r) ‘Illustration of four horsemen, each one with a sword and a hide shield, and each one carrying his shield on his horse’s croup’.
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Further reading

G.Rex Smith, Medieval Muslim Horsemanship: A Fourteenth-century Arabic Cavalry Manual, London, The British Library, 1979.

Abul Lais Syed Muhammad  Lutful-Huq, A critical edition of Nihayat al-sul wa’l-umniyah fi ta’lim a’mal al-furusiyah of Muhammad b. ‘Isa b. Isma’il al-Hanafi, Ph.D. diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1955. Download free from British Library Electronic Theses Online Services (ETHoS).

D. Haldane,  Mamluk Painting, Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1978.

E. Atıl, Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press 1981.

Colin F. Baker, Lead Curator, Middle Eastern Studies

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