Shaykh San'an and the Christian maiden, signed by Muhammad Zaman, Persia, Safavid, dated 1087 AH/1676-77 AD
- Gouache on paper
- painting: 14.5 by 13cm.
leaf: 32 by 20.3cm.
Note on reverse of frame: ‘(No. 51 du Catalogue: 200 gulden)’
Belgian private collection, mid-20th century
At the upper edge, in gold: huwa. hasb al-amr al-a’la
'He (God). As commanded by the most exalted'
Beneath the painting: be-tarikh-e shahr-e rajab al-murajjab sanah 1087 be-raqam-e kamtarin bandagan ibn-e haji yusif muhammad zaman ast etmam yaft
'In the month of Rajab al-Murajjab the year 1087 (1676-77 AD) [this painting which] is by the most humble of servants, son of Haji Husif, Muhammad Zaman, was completed’
This rediscovered painting represents an extremely rare work of the Safavid master-artist Muhammad Zaman Ibn Hajji Yusuf Qumi (fl.1649-1704). Last seen at auction in Amsterdam in 1937, it exemplifies the classic European style for which the artist is known, executed during the height of his career in 1676-77
Muhammad Zaman was a talented Persian-born artist who worked at the court of Shah 'Abbas II (r.1642-66), and continued painting until the end of the seventeenth century. Unlike his contemporary 'Ali Quli Jabbadar, who was European-born but who developed a more Persianate style, Muhammad Zaman gradually turned towards more European modes of painting. Most details of the artist's life have been derived through the content of his body of works, as little biographical detail for Muhammad Zaman exists.
At one point, it was thought that he had travelled in Italy, since his paintings imitate a European style and perspective, but it is far more likely that his inspiration was gained from the many European paintings and prints that circulated in seventeenth century Persia. What is known about the artist, however, is that he worked for royal patrons, and was employed in painting three additional miniatures for the Shah Tahmasp Khamsa (British Museum, Or. 2265), dated 1086 AH/1675-76 AD, the year before the execution of the present painting (see A. Langer (ed.), The Fascination of Persia, Museum Rietberg, Zurich, 2013, pp.225-6, no.121 for one of these illustrations depicting Bahram Gur slaying the dragon). A further painting, 'Majnun visited by his father', previously sold in these rooms, 11 July 1966, lot 31, is also thought to have been intended for the same Khamsa manuscript (see Soudavar 1992, pp.374-5, no.151). During the same period Muhammad Zaman also painted his depiction of the 'Simurgh assisting at the birth of Rustam', which was added to the Shahnameh of Shah 'Abbas (r.1588-1629), now housed in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (Per 277, fol.3, see A.J. Arberry (ed.), The Chester Beatty Library - A Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts and Miniatures, Dublin, 1962, p.49, no.277, pl.38). A.A. Ivanov has pointed out that these royal commissions suggest that at one time Muhammad Zaman was present at the royal atelier (kitabkhaneh) of the Safavids (see A. Ivanov, Persian Miniatures, in E. Kostioukovitch (ed.), The St. Petersburg Muraqqa', Milan, 1996, p.5).
The subject of the painting to hand is the story of Shaykh San'an and the Christian maiden, illustrating the willingness of a lover to endure suffering. In this instance, Sheikh Sanan came to experience the Sufi's true earthly love of God, but only after having renounced his Muslim faith after falling in love with a Christian maiden, only to revive it follwing his disciple's prayers, before the maiden's conversion to Islam herself.
In the accompanying catalogue to the 2013-14 Rietburg exhibition The Fascination of Persia, Axel Langer has noted that Muhammad Zaman followed "European landscape conventions", and these too can be found in the present painting, including the treatment of the clouds and distant trees (A. Langer, op.cit., p.224). It seems likely that the present painting was once part of the Davis Album, which contained miniature paintings and drawings from both Persia and India. The borders, with colourful and finely-rendered naturalistic flowers, are almost identical to two other leaves of the same size now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, one by Muhammad Zaman (18.104.22.168), and the other by 'Ali Quli Jabbadar (22.214.171.124).
A number of paintings by Muhammad Zaman were recently exhibited at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, in the exhibition Pearls on a String - Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts, and the subject of an essay in the accompanying catalogue by Amy Landau entitled 'Man, Mode, and Myth' (see Landau (ed.) 2015, pp.157-194). See also E. Sims, 'Muhammad Zaman', The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, vol.3, Oxford, 2009, pp.21-22.
Works by Muhammad Zaman appear on the market extremely rarely. A painting of the Madonna and child after a European model, signed by the artist and dated 1093 AH/1682-83 AD, sold at Christie's London, 7 April 2011, lot 261.