Kalīla wa-Dimna


Kalila wa-Dimna (Kalila and Dimna) is a widely circulated collection of Oriental fables of Indian origin, composed in Sanskrit possibly as early as the third century BC. The fables were translated into Arabic in the eighth century by the Persian Ibn al-Muqaffa’, a highly educated writer and influential courtier. In the course of time, this well-known collection of fables developed into a kind of popular literature. The present manuscript with its text influenced by dialect and its rather artless illustrations reveals traces of frequent use and thus bears witness to this development. The manuscript belongs to a corpus of little-known illuminated manuscripts produced in Egypt during the Ottoman Empire. The paintings are schematic, the expression of faces and gestures is stereotypical, and the colors are limited to red, green, and fawn, with occasional use of silver and gold. A comparison of the 101 illustrations with older Arabic pictorial cycles displays, however, an iconographic connection with Mesopotamian and North Syrian painting of the 14th century. The painter applied the repertoire of traditional patterns as well as using contemporary motifs, such as carnations or certain types of clothing. Elements of perspective painting are visible. The illustration on folio 17 recto depicts the physician Bursuya, who brought the Fables of Bidpai, as the book is also called, from India to the Persian court. After his successful return, Bursuya is shown reading Kalīla wa-Dimna to King Anushirwan and numerous courtiers while a servant holds the book for him. The king’s exalted position is emphasized by his size and the pinnacle-like ornament above the upper margin. Bursuya is also given a prominent role in the pictorial composition: he is shown seated face-to-face with the king.

Last updated: December 21, 2017