The Conferences of the Birds

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The encounter between fashion design and a mystical Persian poem: Conversation with Moroccan fashion designer Said Mahrouf

Interview

The Conference of the Birds, also known as The Language of the Birds is certainly the most celebrated work of the twelfth-century Persian poet, Farid al-Din Attar.
It tells the story of a flock of birds that set out to seek their king and god, the Simurgh. Only thirty of them survive the perilous path, on which they traverse seven dangerous valleys and reach their ultimate destination: a lake. There they see their image mirrored in the water and recognize themselves as the very god they were seeking.This mystical poem clearly lends itself to numerous interpretations and, even if the author is not himself a Sufi,, the tale is full of Sufi references and meaning.
The mystical and evocative nature of the plot has its visual counterpart in an exceptional medieval…

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On display in the Treasures Gallery: Humayun’s meeting with Shah Tahmasp from The British Library Blog

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).

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A Mughal Shahnamah – British Library Blog

By Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections

More: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2016/06/a-mughal-shahnamah.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29

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.

Razmnamah: the Persian Mahabharata by Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies, British Library Blog

One of our most important Mughal manuscripts is Or.12076, the Razmnāmah (ʻBook of Warʼ), copied in AH 1007 (1598/99) and containing the concluding part, sections 14-18, of the Persian translation of the Sanskrit epic the Mahābhārata. It is currently on display at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, in the exhibition Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts curated by Amy S. Landau of the Walters Art Museum Baltimore where it was originally exhibited. As a result of the Library’s participation in the exhibition the whole volume has now been digitised and is available online for everyone to look at — whether they are lucky enough to be able to visit the exhibition or not!

See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2016/04/razmnamah-the-persian-mahabharata.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29#sthash.7d6yQFss.dpuf

Cats in Persian manuscripts – From Asian and African Studies Blog, British Library

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Double-page opening to the tales of the two jackals Kalilah and Dimnah, by Naṣr Allāh ibn Muḥammad, dated AH 707/1307-8. Here the king is enthroned on the left, surrounded by courtiers with two lions beneath and, on the right, hunting cheetahs, a horse and a hawk – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2015/08/cats-in-persian-manuscripts.html#sthash.zofw507e.dpuf

Since August 8th is International Cat Day, it seemed a good excuse to publish some of the more picturesque felines from the manuscripts we have been working with during the last three years of our project ‘Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts’. – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2015/08/cats-in-persian-manuscripts.html#sthash.zofw507e.dpuf

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British Library loans to Sultans of Deccan exhibition in New York

A superlative exhibition Sultans of Deccan India opened at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in April with an important accompanying catalogue (Haidar and Sardar 2015).  The arts of the Deccan (upland peninsular India) are among the rarest survivals from Muslim India and the exhibition concentrated on its greatest period, namely 1500-1700, so that the quality of the exhibits was uniformly high.  The three major sultanates emerged from the earlier Bahmanid kingdom around 1490 and survived until conquered by the Mughals in the 17th century, when most of their paintings and manuscripts seem to have perished. The British Library has an outstanding collection of this rare material and several of the key pieces from it were lent to the exhibition. – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2015/06/british-library-loans-to-sultans-of-deccan-exhibition-in-new-york.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29#sthash.yt7hZN02.dpuf

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.