This miniature once belonged to the fourth volume of a six-volume work devoted to the life of the Prophet commissioned by the Ottoman sultan Murad III (r. 1574–95). Depicted are the encounter of the Archangel Gabriel and the shepherd 'Amr ibn Zaid, set against a landscape dominated by rocks and trees.
Mustafa al-Darir al-Erzerumi spent most of his career at Cairo in service to the Mamluk sultans for whom he composed a biography of the Prophet, Siyer-i Nebî, completed in 1389. Perhaps because it was written in Anatolian Turkish, this work found its most receptive audience not in Egypt but in Ottoman Turkey, where it spawned both literary imitations and a lavishly illustrated sixvolume copy produced for the Ottoman sultans Murad III (r. 1574–95) and Mehmed III (r. 1595–1603) from which this painting derives. Darir’s account of the Prophet’s life combines a narrative drawn from Arabic authors such as Ibn Hisham (d. 833) and the thirteenth-century Abu’l Hasan al-Bakri with tales of the Prophet’s miraculous exploits that are believed to have circulated in the Anatolia of his day. Many of the latter are colored by Christian and Jewish traditions.
In Darir’s text, the angel Gabriel performs varied services for the Prophet, his family, and the young Muslim community. Here he offers a shepherd named ‘Amr ibn Zaid his own spear and instructs him to use it to produce water by striking it on the ground. A picture of ‘Amr employing Gabriel’s spear is this manuscript’s next illustration, which is preserved in the text’s fourth volume (Chester Beatty Library, Dublin). Only knowledge of Darir’s text permits Gabriel to be identified as an angel, as he has no special attributes such as wings or a halo. Perhaps, due to the ambiguity of this image, someone has added to it the names of Gabriel and ‘Amr ibn Zaid.
According to Ottoman court records, at least five painters were responsible for the Siyer i-Nebî manuscript’s 814 illustrations. Of those artists, just the painter of the first volume, Hasan Nakkaş, is identified by name. This page, illustrating the conversation of Gabriel and ‘Amr, displays a simplified composition and uses a large-scale script, a feature characteristic of the manuscript as a whole.3 Although the circumstances surrounding the production of this royal manuscript commission are well documented, the stimulus for Sultan Murad to order such a lavishly illustrated version of Darir’s text has yet to be established.
Priscilla Soucek in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Tanindi 1984, pp. 28–30.
2. Minorsky, Vladimir. The Chester Beatty Library: A Catalogue of the Turkish Manuscripts and Miniatures. Dublin, 1958, no. T. 419, fol. 74a, p. 35. Minorsky identifies this painting as "Two Youths . . . by a Spring."
3. Tanindi 1984, pp. 26–37.
Inscription: The inscriptions in Ottoman Turkish prose identify the figures as: "Jabra'il 'Alayhi as-salaam" [Gabriel; left] and "Omar ibn Zayd" [the shepherd; right]
Sultan Murad III, Istanbul (from ca. 1595); Princess Se'adetlü Bâsh-Rûkhshah, Turkey (in 1753); Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, Cairo(in 1939); sale, Drouot-Richelieu, Paris, April 14–15, 1994, no. 2,to Lucien Solanet for MMA
Tanindi, Zeren. Siyer-i Nebi : Islam Tasvir Sanatinda Hz. Muhammed'in Hayatii. Istanbul: Hurriyet Vakfi Yayinlari, 1984. pp. 26–37.
Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 52, no 2 (1993–1994). pp. 16-17, ill. (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. 201, pp. 289-290, ill. p. 290 (color).