Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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"Dancing Dervishes", Folio from a Divan of Hafiz

Poet:
Hafiz (probably 1325/6–90)
Artist:
Painting attributed to Bihzad (ca. 1450–1535/36)
Object Name:
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Date:
ca. 1480
Geography:
Attributed to present-day Afghanistan, Herat
Culture:
Islamic
Medium:
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Dimensions:
Painting: H. 6 5/16 in. (16 cm) W. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm) Page: H. 11 3/4 in. (29.9 cm) W. 7 7/16 in. (18.9 cm) Mat: H. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm) W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
Classification:
Codices
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1917
Accession Number:
17.81.4
Not on view
This miniature from a dispersed manuscript of the poems of Hafiz depicts Sufis or mystics dancing. In the court style of Herat, the rhythm set up by the whirling of the dancers contrasts with the meditative figures encircling them. Those overcome by the movement of the dance seen in the foreground exemplify the naturalism of this period, while the scene is set against a verdant landscape resembling an earthly paradise.
Painted about 1480, this illustrated folio is from a manuscript of the Divan of the renowned fourteenth-century poet Hafiz of Shiraz. It depicts a ring of sufi dervishes (Islamic mystics) playing music to accompany another group of dervishes performing the celestial dance (sama‘). The mystics in the foreground, who have achieved a state of trance and self-abandonment, are rendered with particular sensitivity. The special care taken in depicting a variety of figural types, expressive facial features, natural movements, and intense emotions sets this work apart from earlier paintings produced in Timurid Herat.

Costume plays a central role here in imparting emotion and spirituality to the scene. As in other Timurid and Safavid paintings, sleeves serve as a metaphor for the emotional state of the wearer, expressing contemplation, reverence, trepidation, and intoxication, both physical and spiritual. Some move in time with the music and rhythm of the dervishes’ mystical dance. Others—belonging to those who stand in contemplation or have succumbed to dizziness and trance—hang limp, crossed one over the other.

Mystical scenes such as this were a popular theme of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century illustrated manuscripts. The naturalism of the painting and its muted palette are all features of the socalled Bihzadian style of Herat. Although there is no concrete evidence supporting an attribution to Bihzad, this painting embodies many of the qualities of paintings assigned to the master. The question of Bihzad’s authorship has, in general, been a topic of much discussion among scholars of Persian painting. Some believe that the attribution of any work to him can be somewhat problematic and misleading because, in all probability, paintings were almost always a result of a collaborative effort, making it difficult to ascertain the extent of involvement of the master himself. The dearth of signed works by Bihzad and the presence of numerous false signatures on paintings attributed to him further complicate matters. Other scholars have assigned works to the master on the basis of style, palette, composition, and approach to painting. In any case, this soulful painting remains among the most moving, spiritually charged representations of dervishes engaged in a celestial dance produced in late medieval Iran.

Maryam Ekhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
[ Georges Tabbagh, New York, until 1917; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi," October 15, 2007–March 5, 2008, no catalogue.

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammedan Decorative Arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. p. 35, ill. fig. 11 (b/w).

Bulletin of the American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology vol. 6, no. 1 (June 1935).

Dimand, Maurice S. Persian Miniatures. A Picture Book. Metropolitan Museum of Art Picture Books. New York, 1940. ill. figs.10, 11, (b/w).

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 44, ill. fig. 23 (b/w).

Dimand, Maurice S. Persian Miniature Paintings, Gallery of Art, (1956). pp. 22-23, ill. pl. VIII (color).

Grube, Ernst J. "The Early School of Herat and its Impact on Islamic Painting of the Later 15th, the 16th and 17th Centuries." In The Classical Style in Islamic Painting. Venice: Edizioni Oriens, 1968. ill. pl. 41 (b/w).

Swietochowski, Marie, and Richard Ettinghausen. "Islamic Painting." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 36, no. 2 (Autumn 1978). p. 20, ill. p. 20 (b/w).

Papadopoulo, Alexandre. Islam and Muslim art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1979. p. 450, ill. fig. 535 (b/w).

Ferrier, Ronald W., ed. The Arts of Persia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989. p. 159, ill. pl. 15 (b/w).

Kreiser, Klaus. "Uber zolibatare Bruderschaften im Bereich des Islam." In Mannerbande Mannerbunde zur Rolle des Mannes im Kulturvergleich. Vol. 1. Cologne, 1990. p. 208, ill.

Bronstein, Léo. Space in Persian Painting. New Brunswick (U.S.A.) and London (U.K.): Transaction Publishers, 1994. p. 16, ill. fig. 2.

Bahari, Ebadollah, and Annemarie Schimmel. Bihzad, Master of Persian Painting. London, New York: I.B.Tauris Publishers, 1996. pp. 94-95, ill. fig. 46 (color).

Brend, Barbara. "Illustrations to Amir Khusrau's Khamsa." In Perspectives on Persian Painting. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. pp. 170, 184.

Barry, Mike, and Stuart Cary Welch. "et l'Enigme de Behzad de Herat (1465–1535)." In L'Art Figuratif en Islam Medieval. Paris: Flammarion, 2004. pp. 176-177, ill. p. 177 (color).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 128, pp. 190-191, ill. p. 190 (color).



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