Chagatay manuscript folio, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, 8 lines of fine nasta'iq découpage calligraphy in white in blue ground, illuminated heading panel with title in white nasta'liq, wide borders of gold-sprinkled blue paper
The manuscript from which this folio originates is one of the most remarkable examples of royal book production in the late medieval Islamic world. Throughout the entire manuscript the calligraphy is not written with a pen, as was the norm, but cut out from coloured paper (qit'a) and pasted onto the page. The technical virtuousity that this entails is extraordinary, and the general quality of the manuscript can be seen not only in the découpé calligraphy, but also in the exquisite illumination of the heading panels (as here), the opening double-page frontispiece (see Lentz and Lowry 1989, cat.148, p.268, and Sakisian 1929, fig.66), and the elegant gold-sprinkled borders. In conception alone it is inspiringly ambitious, in execution it is superb. It has been suggested by Anthony Welch that Sultan Ali Mashhadi himself may have been the calligrapher responsible for this masterpiece (Geneva 1985, p.65).
The text is the Diwan of the Timurid prince and ruler of Herat, Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara (r.1470-1506), under whose patronage the arts of the book reached new heights in the last quarter of the 15th century. The School of Herat, among whose leading artists were the master Behzad and Sultan Ali Mashhadi, was the apotheosis and swan-song of Timurid art. Marie Lukens-Swietochowski has commented that "It is universally recognised that the reign of Mirza Sultan Husayn Ibn Mansur Ibn Bayqara Ibn Umar Shaykh Ibn Timur, patron par excellence in the tradition of his family, saw the last great flowering of Timurid art in Iran" (Gray et al 1979, p.179). Sultan Husayn was a literary enthusiast, patronising writers and poets such as Ali Shir Nava'i and Jami, and he wrote poetry himself, in Chagatay, using the pen-name Husayni. In this manuscript the ghazals are arranged alphabetically by their rhyme (Roxburgh 2005, p.170).
The manuscript is incomplete and dispersed. A fragment of 29 folios is in the Turk ve Islami Eserleri Musezi, Istanbul; four folios are in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and one folio each in the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., and the Aga Khan Museum Collection (formerly in the Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection, Geneva). The folio in Washington was acquired by the Freer in 1929, while the four in Los Angeles were formerly in the collection of Nasli M. Heeramaneck of New York, who was collecting from the 1930s to the 1960s, acquired by LACMA in 1973. It is likely that Cary Welch acquired his folios from one of the New York dealers such as Minassian or Kevorkian, whose stock of the Islamic Arts of the Book during the 1920s to 1960s was exceptional.
Another page from the same manuscript is lot 42 in this sale.
For other published illustrations and references see:
Lentz and Lowry 1989, cats.148-149, pp.268-270, 359-60
Roxburgh 2005, fig.92, pp.170-171
Sakisian 1929, fig.66
Geneva 1985, no.35
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