Illuminated “Sarloh” (Frontispiece)


This illuminated double-page frontispiece formed the opening to a text that was never transcribed. It probably was intended to accompany a Persian poetical epic, such as Nizami’s Khamsah (Quintet) or Firdawsi’s Shāhnāmah (Book of kings). It is also possible that it could have framed the introductory pages of a historical text or exegetical treatise. The layout does not suit the composition of the beginning of a Qurʼan, which typically includes a central medallion used for the first chapter entitled al-Fatihah (The opening). The illumination found here is called a sarlawh or sarloh, which literally signifies a tablet or panel at the top of a page. In fact, the decorative panel at the upper part of the right side of the folio is heavily ornamented with interlacing finials and geometric scrollwork, with base hues that alternate between blue, gold, and red. Immediately below the sarloh appears a gold rectangular cartouche left blank but originally included to contain the work’s title. All around the margins of the folios appear vines of leaves and flowers; their light-pink and blue tones give the composition a shimmering quality. Such illumination—with its combination of reds and blues, as well as the lighter blue and pink tones—appears in Persian manuscripts of the 18th century. Unlike earlier illuminated patterns, which are dominated by dark blues and blacks, the palette of this piece is lighter and reveals some of the color innovations in illuminated frontispieces after the waning of the Timurid mode.

Last updated: September 30, 2016