This folio once illustrated a magnificent manuscript of Nizami’s Haft Paikar (Seven Portraits). The story of the Seven Portraits comprises a series of moralizing tales as told to the Persian hero Bahram Gur by seven princesses. This lively and lyrical scene illustrates a story in which a youth spies upon maidens swimming in a garden pool by moonlight. The voyeur is barely visible here, peering out of the shuttered window, unbeknownst to the playful bathers below.
The manuscript from which these three folios (188.8.131.52–.6) are taken contains the Haft paikar (Seven Portraits), one of the five books of Nizami’s Khamsa. Its delicate calligraphy, elaborate opening illumination, and five full-page illustrations are characteristic of manuscripts produced in Timurid court circles during the second quarter of the fifteenth century, probably in Herat. During the sixteenth century, the manuscript was taken to India, where it entered the libraries of the Mughal rulers Akbar and Shah Jahan.
Nizami’s poem, composed in 1197, explores the life of the Sasanian ruler Bahram Gur. Opening with descriptions of Bahram’s prowess as a hunter and closing with accounts of his actions as ruler, the work is mainly structured around the weekly rotation of the ruler’s visits among the palaces of seven different princesses. Each of the princesses comes from a different region of the world, wears clothing of a specific color, and entertains Bahram with a story that is both sensual and edifying.
Notes made at the courts of Akbar and Shah Jahan describe the manuscript as having seven pictures, two more than it contained when it reached the Metropolitan Museum in 1913. Two of the surviving pictures, on folios 10a and 17b, illustrate Bahram’s early exploits as a hunter, while aspects of his visits to the princesses are shown in the other three. One records his visit to the Black Pavilion (fol. 23b; no. 184.108.40.206); the remaining two illustrate stories told by the Princesses of the Green and White Pavilions (fol. 33b, no. 220.127.116.11; 47a, no. 18.104.22.168). The missing paintings may have depicted Bahram’s visit to the Princess of the Golden Pavilion and his conflicts with the ruler of China.
Despite the high quality of this manuscript, its origin has been periodically the focus of debate because its colophon (on fol. 56b) combines the signature of a well-known fifteenth-century calligrapher, Maulana Azhar, with a completion date of A.H. 988/1580 A.D., which accords with the moment when the courtier Khan Khanan donated it to Akbar rather than with the time of its original transcription. John Seyller’s examination of the manuscript’s Mughal inscriptions has revealed that the Mughal rulers, or their librarians, gave it a monetary value that rose from five hundred rupees in the reign of Akbar to one thousand in that of his grandson Shah Jahan.
Priscilla Soucek in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: Text inscribed in Persian nasta'liq script by Maulana Azhar (d. A.H. 880/ A.D.1475-6).
The inscriptions on the building were retranslated with the help of Abdullah Ghouchani (08/15/2008). They read as follows: at the top of building, "Allah and nothing but He, and we never worship anyone but He"; above the right window, "Continuous glory, the Everlasting"; above left window, "The glory the Sultan, the power"; above the door, "O Ye (God) who opens doors." It should be noted that the inscription above the left window is grammatically incorrect in Arabic (the English, too is awkward, because a literal translation has been provided). This raises questions about whether the inscriptions are original to the manuscript. Additionally, the last word of the script above the right window is unclear; Dr. Ghouchani guessed that it might be "Al-Baqa" in Arabic, which would translate as "the Everlasting." (Mariam Rahmani, Volunteer, Undergraduate at Princeton University, 08/15/2008)
In Persian in nasta‘liq script
Khamsa of Nizami , هفت پيكر story نشستن بهرام گور روز آدینه در گنبد سفید و افسانه گفتن دختر پادشاه اقلیم هفتم
(Nizami Ganjavi, Sab’a-yi hakim Nizami Ganjavi, Haft Paykar, ed.Hasan vahid Dastgirdi, Muassaa-ye Matbu’ati Ilmi publication, 2nd ed., 1363/1985, p.299-300..)
On the building in thuluth script:
الله و لا سواه و لا نعبد إلا ایاه
God and no other one else and we do not pray to anyone else but him.
Above the door in kufic script:
يا مفتح الابواب
O you who are open the gates (who answer our problems)
Emperor Akbar, India (from 1580); his grandson Shah Jahan, India (in 1680); Alexander Smith Cochran, Yonkers, NY (until 1913; gifted to MMA)
Washington. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. "Timur and the Princely Vision. Persian Art and Culture in the Fifteenth Century," April 14, 1989–July 6, 1989, no. 62.
Los Angeles. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Timur and the Princely Vision. Persian Art and Culture in the Fifteenth Century," August 13, 1989–November 5, 1989, no. 62.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Perfect Page: The Art of Embellishment in Islamic Book Design," May 17, 1991–August 18, 1991, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Princely Patrons: Three Royal Manuscripts of the Timurid Dynasty," March 4, 1995–June 4, 1995, no catalogue.
Valentiner, William Reinhold. "The Cochran Collection of Persian Manuscripts." Museum of Metropolitan Art Bulletin, old series, vol. 8 (1913). pp. 80-86.
Jackson, A. V. Williams, and A. Yohannan. "Presented to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, by Alexander Smith Cochran." In A Catalogue of the Collection of Persian Manuscripts, Including also Some Turkish and Arabic. 1914. no. 10, p. 71.
Robinson, B. W. "Prince Baysonghor's Nizami." Ars Orientalis vol. II (1957). pp. 383-391, ill. fig. 11 (b/w).
Grube, Ernst J. "from Collections in the United States and Canada." In Muslim Miniature Paintings from the XIII to XIX Century. Venice: N. Pozza, 1962. pp. 56-58 (discussed).
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. 19 (b/w), fol. 47a.
Museum of Metropolitan Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (1975). p. 24, ill. (color).
Lentz, Thomas W., and Glenn D. Lowry. "Persian Art and Culture in the Fifteenth Century." In Timur and the Princely Vision. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1989. no. 62, pp. 173, 175, 342, ill. p. 175 (color).
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. p. 110-111, ill. p. 110 (color), folio 47r.
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. 123C, pp. 4, 183-184, ill. p. 183 (color).