Arts of the Islamic World and India

Arts of the Islamic World and India

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 36. An important illuminated album of nasta‘liq calligraphy by Mir Ali, Central Asia, Bukhara, dated 950 AH/1543 AD, with imperial Mughal library notes and inscriptions by the emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan.

An important illuminated album of nasta‘liq calligraphy by Mir Ali, Central Asia, Bukhara, dated 950 AH/1543 AD, with imperial Mughal library notes and inscriptions by the emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan

Auction Closed

April 24, 03:45 PM GMT


70,000 - 90,000 GBP

Lot Details


ink, gouache and gold on paper, 6 leaves, 3 lines per page written in large and small nasta‘liq script, headings written in blue thuluth, narrow inner borders and wide outer borders decorated with gold foliate motifs on blue, cream and buff paper, opening heading within an illuminated panel, contemporary Safavid binding of gilt-stamped leather with cloud-scrolls and foliate tendrils, doublures of red leather with medallions and corner pieces of gilt filigree over blue ground and border cartouches of black filigree over blue grounds, opening doublure with label “INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION OF PERSIAN ART LONDON 1931 MK 15”

text panel: 6.9 by 11.2cm.

leaf: 19 by 29.1cm.

This lot should have no VAT symbol in the printed catalogue. The item will be sold under the auctioneer’s margin scheme and VAT will not be charged on the hammer price. Please refer to the printed catalogue for further VAT information.

Sotheby’s, London, 12 October 2000, lot 55

Sotheby’s, London, 9 April 2008, lot 31

International Exhibition of Persian Art, Burlington House, London, 1931

This is a highly important album of calligraphy by one of the most celebrated masters of the sixteenth century and is notable not only for the exquisite quality of Mir Ali’s calligraphy, but also for the fact that it was in the Mughal imperial library from the reign of Akbar onwards and bears inscriptions in the hands of Jahangir and Shah Jahan.



The calligraphy consists of two parallel texts. The large nasta‘liq script consists of calligraphic exercises on individual letters and letters in combination and the small nasta‘liq consists of selections from the poetry of Amir Shahi Sabzavari (d.1453). Amir Shahi Sabzavari was a poet and calligrapher during the first half of the Timurid period and was associated with the bibliophilic Timurid prince Baysunghur ibn Shah Rukh (see GIS, vol.X, pp.262-3).



The opening page bears several important inscriptions and seal impressions stating that the album was in the Mughal imperial library from the final years of Akbar’s reign through to the eighteenth century.  In addition to the inspection notes are two inscriptions reading awwal awwal (‘first first’). This refers to the system used in the Mughal imperial library to categorise the manuscripts according to one of several classes of importance and value (for a full analysis of the system of imperial Mughal library inscriptions and valuations see Seyller 1997). The top grade awarded to any manuscript was awwal awwal, indicating that the manuscript in question was of the first class and the first grade. The scale continued in descending order through first class second grade, first glass third grade and so on, then second class, third class, fourth class and fifth class and their respective sub-grades (Seyller 1997, pp.273-5). Thus, a valuation of awwal awwal indicated that the manuscript in question was considered by the emperors and librarians as being of the highest possible quality and importance. Seyller listed all the manuscripts with Mughal imperial library inscriptions known to him at the time of writing (1997) and the present album does not appear, meaning that it is an important addition to the known examples. Among those recorded as being first grade-first class are some of the most celebrated manuscripts in the Mughal library, such as the British Library Khamseh of Nizami (Or. 6810) and the Khamsa of Mir Ali Shir Nawa’i in the Royal Library, Windsor (RCIN 1005032). Even the Victoria and Albert Museum Akbarnama and the Ramayana in the City Palace Museum, Jaipur, two of the most important early Mughal manuscripts, were below this in ranking, being accorded a grading of first class second grade (Seyller 1997, p.274).


The Mughal emperors had a great love and respect for the best examples of Persian calligraphy, and among all the calligraphers Mir Ali Haravi was one of the most revered. Examples of his hand appear in most of the major Mughal royal albums and Wheeler Thackston commented that “Of the great masters of calligraphy whose works were avidly collected for display on album pages, …. None was as eagerly collected as were the works of Mir Ali of Herat.” (Thackston in Wright 2008, p.154). This aspect no doubt contributed to the grading of the present album as of the first grade and first class. Abu’l Fazl comments in the Ain-i Akbari that “the illustrious Mawlana Mir Ali …. Brought his art to perfection …. The new method, which he established, is a proof of his genius; he has left many masterpieces.” (Ain-i Akbari 1977, vol.1, p.108). The Mughal library inscriptions in the present album are as follows:


1. The earliest inscription is from the late Akbar period and notes that the album was inspected on 8 Bahman in the 42nd regnal year (January 1597).

2. A librarian's note records that it was transferred to the librarian Mulla Ali on 6 Ordibehesht in the 47th regnal year of Akbar’s reign (1601). (Seyller notes (p.347) Mulla Ali as being a royal librarian in the regnal year 49 of Akbar’s reign, so this establishes his role two years earlier).

3. In Jahangir’s hand: the album became part of Jahangir’s royal library on the 13th of Bahman in the first year of his reign (22 Ramadan 1014 AH/1 January 1606 AD).

4. It was inspected once in the regnal year 1, probably of Jahangir’s reign (1606).

5. A librarian's note records that it was transferred from Mulla Salih to Chalabi on 8th Shahrivar in the 3rd regnal year (15 September 1608) (Seyller records Salih and Chalabi Khan as librarians in the years 1 to 5 of Jahangir’s reign; Seyller 1997, p.347).

6. It was transferred back to the care of Mulla Ali in the regnal year 4 of Jahangir’s reign (1610).

7. In Shah Jahan’s hand: the album became part of Shah Jahan’s library on the 5th of Bahman in the first year of his reign (8 Jumada II 1037 AH/14 February 1628 AD), which was his accession day. Shah Jahan himself notes the awwal awwal grading and that it was valued at 2,500 rupees (this is the seventh highest value of any of the manuscripts recorded in Seyller’s list and the same value as given to the Gulistan of Sa’di in the Art and History Trust Collection (see Seyller 1997, p.274).

8. Inspected on 2nd Rabi’ I in the 12th year of Shah Jahan's reign (June 1639).

9. Inspected on 4th Rabi’ I 1192 AH/April 1778 AD. (1778 was the year that Shah Alam II acceded to the throne, and this inspection may have been associated with that event, although the inscription does not say so).

On the same page are illegible traces of round and pyriform seal impressions associated with the inscriptions.



Mir Ali Haravi was one of the greatest calligraphers of the sixteenth century and is considered to have been the greatest exponent of nasta‘liq script. He studied under Zayn al-Din Mahmud and Sultan Ali al-Mashhadi and entered the court of the Timurid ruler of Herat Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara (hence his sometime usage of sultani or katib al-sultani). After the city was taken by Shah Isma'il I Safavi, he stayed in Herat until the Uzbeks captured it in 1528-29, after which he was taken by Ubaydallah Khan to Bukhara. There he was given the responsibility of teaching Ubaydallah Khan’s son Abd al-Aziz and continued to his prolific productivity until his death, which is said to have occurred in 951 AH/1544-5 AD. His earliest surviving work is dated 914 AH (1508-09 AD), and the present album is his latest recorded work, dated 950 AH (1543-44 AD). He was highly esteemed in his own day and Qadi Ahmad tells us in his late sixteenth century treatise on calligraphers that Mir Ali “brought the art of the large and small script and the writing of samples to the utmost degree of perfection and set it on so high a vault that the hand of no calligrapher can reach it”. (Qadi Ahmad, p.126). For further information on Mir Ali see Bayani 1984, pp.493-516; Soucek 1985.


Sotheby’s is grateful to Marcus Fraser for cataloguing this lot.