By Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
This copy of the Shāhnāmah is thought to date originally from the 15th century. Unfortunately it has no colophon but it was extensively refurbished in India at the beginning of the 17th century when the 90 illustrations were added. These are numbered consecutively 1-91, only lacking no. 37 which, together with a gap of about 150 verses, is missing at the beginning of the story of Bīzhan and Manīzhah between folios 201v and 202r. The manuscript was altered again in the first half of the 18th century when elaborate paper guards and markers were added. The magnificent decorated binding, however, dates from the early 17th century.
Three interesting portraits on ivory of Mughal ladies of the imperial zenana were acquired by the Visual Arts section in 2012, now numbered Add.Or.5719-5721. All three were mounted in one frame with pasted down inscriptions below relating to the subject and the artist, while attached to the back of the frame were three envelopes which once contained the miniatures and which were written further particulars. The paintings were sold in Delhi in these envelopes in 1900 by Sultan Ahmad Khan, who styles himself the son of one painter Muhammad Fazl Khan and grandson of another painter Muhammad ‘Azim, both of whom are named as artists in the inscriptions. The purchaser must have put them into their present gilt frame and fortunately also preserved the various inscriptions and attestations. All three are supposed to be portraits of some of the wives of the Mughal Emperor Akbar II (r. 1806-37). For a more correct appreciation of who they might be, we rely on that invaluable on-line resource, The Royal Ark. None of these ladies’ names unfortunately appears among the numerous wives of Akbar II, but that does not necessarily detract from the validity of the inscriptions of artistic interest.
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