Sultan Muhammad (Iranian, active first half of 16th century)
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
page: H. 11 1/4 in. (28.6 cm), W. 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm)
Promised Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Cary Welch Jr.
Partially owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University, 1988 (1988.430)
Sultan Muhammad, probably the most visionary painter of sixteenth-century Iran, dared render the mystically and morally ambiguous verses of the poet Hafiz (ca. 1315–1389) in a palpable, almost grossly carnal and highly expressive form of caricature. The mystically inclined but also sensuous and aesthetic-minded ruler to whom this manuscript was presented, Shah Tahmasp, would have lingered on the extraordinarily minute details—gold-studded crowns, embossed clay wine jars, rippling turban folds, wrinkled foreheads, bulging eyeballs, and rows of pearly teeth in the tiny open singing mouths. Mystical wine, symbol of heaven's divine light, pours into the receiving cup that signifies the devotee's heart; divine wine's devotees—the Sufi dervishes—sing, dance, and faint in mystical ecstasy. The inspired poet is Hafiz himself, who meditates in visionary rapture, suspended between the higher world of archangelic ideas that only he sees clearly and the devotees who yearningly, drunkenly hear and enact their beloved poet's winged words, far, far down in this world below.