April 29, 2016

Verses by Jami

This calligraphic fragment includes verses composed by the famous Persian poet Jami (died 1492 [897 AH]), whose name appears in the lower horizontal panel inscribed with the verse: “Jami does not try to seek fame.” In the two diagonal registers in the central text panel, the verses describe mystical union with God: “If your wish is to meet, say so / If you need something from God, say so / When the mystic [i.e., the “intoxicated with ecstasy”] heard the name of the Lord / He sighed and expired from the remembrance of God.” The verses are executed in black nastaʻliq script on brown paper and are framed by cloud bands on a gold background. The spaces left open by the intersection of the diagonal registers and the inner frame are filled with blue, gold, and black illumination. The text panel is framed with several borders, including one painted in white and gold containing verses inscribed in independent registers. The outer frame is dark blue and decorated with white and red flowers; it is pasted to a larger pink sheet of paper ornamented with gold-painted flowers and backed by cardboard. The fragment is neither dated nor signed. However, it appears to have been produced in 16th- or 17th-century Iran and placed later into a muraqqaʻ (album) of calligraphies.

Eulogy to a Ruler

This calligraphic fragment includes a Persian naʼt (eulogy) to a king, describing him as the sayah (shadow) of God on earth. The verses read: “Oh God, You have looked (down) with mercy / Because You extended this shadow to the people / Like a slave, I seek your goodness / Oh God, You Everlasting Shadow.” The verses are written in black nastaʻliq script framed by cloud bands on a beige sheet of paper with a background painted in gold. In the upper-right corner appears an invocation to huwa al-hadi (God as the guide) written in a script known as khatt al-taj (literally, crown writing), in which letters interlace to form decorative coronets. Khatt al-taj is a rather late calligraphic invention, generally appearing in specimens produced during the 19th and 20th centuries. In the lower-left corner of the text panel, the calligrapher has signed his work with the inscription: fidavi dargah Muhammad Husayn tab' namud (the devoted slave at [your] presence [or court], Muhammad Husayn marked [made] it). Although otherwise unrecorded, Muhammad Husayn may have been a calligrapher active in Iran or India at the turn of the 20th century.

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.

“Bayts” (Verses) of Poetry

This calligraphic fragment is unique in the collections of the Library of Congress, as it uses no ink at all. Instead, the text is executed in a style known as khatt-i nakhani (fingernail calligraphy), in which either a nail or a metal stylus is used to create topographical impressions on a monochromatic (usually white) sheet of paper. Although not very much is known about this inkless calligraphic practice, a number of signed and dated specimens held in international collections (e.g., the New York Public Library, the Bern Historical Museum in Switzerland, and the Golestan Palace in Tehran) prove that khatt-i nakhani thrived during the 19th century in Persia (Iran). At least three albums were made by the calligrapher ʻAli Akbar Darvish in 1849−51 for the Qajar ruler Nasir al-Din Shah (reigned 1848−96), while even the daughter of the ruler Fath ʻAli Shah Qajar (reigned 1797−1834), Fakhr-i Jahan, was a master of the technique, herself having created an album of ten “fingernail” paintings and calligraphies. Possibly linked to the rise of lithography and the printing press, this Qajar practice discards the traditional tools of the reed pen and ink in favor of a more abstract and experimental approach towards calligraphy. This particular example of khatt-i nakhani in nastaʻliq script includes one bayt (verse) of poetry on lines two and four that is related to two tak bayts (single verses) on lines one and three. Although difficult to decipher, the verses describe human vagabondage. Lines two and four read: “(For) a friend has placed a rope around my neck, / He drags me where he wishes.” Lines one and three read: “I have no choice in my travels: / He fashions my home sometimes to be the Kaʻba, and sometimes as a monastery.”

Love’s Snare

This calligraphic fragment includes a number of poetical verses written diagonally, horizontally, and vertically in separate panels of beige and gold paper. Two gold horizontal panels at the top and bottom include the following bayts (verses): “Your body that is under (your) shirt, / ‘It is alone, it has no equal,’ what a body it is!” Drawing on the symbolic potential of the Arabic expression for proclaiming the unity of God, “He is alone and has no partner,” the poem describes the divine beauty of the beloved. In the main text panel, a rubaʻi (quatrain) written diagonally in large black nastaʻliq script describes the humiliation of love's untamed passion: “You came riding and you hunted my heart and body for yourself / You cut the rope of reason and leashed in the horse’s passion / I was hiding my crying in my robe, (and) suddenly you passed by intoxicated (with love) / I became disgraced, I with a wet robe and one hundred others with clean robe(s).” In the lower-left gold thumb piece of the main text panel appears the signature of a certain Muhyi, who states that he wrote the text and asks forgiveness for his sins. Muhyi may be identified either as Muhyi al-Din al-Khurasani or Mawlana Muhyi, active circa 1550−1600. This fragment, therefore, probably belonged to a muraqqaʻ (album) of calligraphies produced during the Safavid period in Iran.

Verses by Baba Tahir

This calligraphic fragment includes various excerpts in both prose and verse. In the central blue panel, verses by the 11th-century Persian poet Baba Tahir describe his helplessness and inferiority: “I am that ant which is crushed underfoot / Not the bee from whose sting they suffer.” Other Persian verses appear both above and below the central panel and, in the left vertical, a register contains an elaborate duʻaʼ (prose prayer) wishing a king prosperity and happiness. The texts are executed in black nastaʻliq script on variously colored papers decorated with designs in gold paint, cut out individually and pasted together into one composition. Triangular areas left empty by the intersection of diagonal lines of text and rectangular frames are filled with blue and gold illumination. The whole text panel is pasted to a larger sheet of cream-colored paper decorated with gold flecks and backed with cardboard. The fragment is neither dated nor signed. However, it appears to have been produced in 16th- or 17th-century Iran and placed later into a muraqqaʻ (album) of calligraphies.