Laila and Majnun at School: Page from the Khamsa of Nizami (Quintet of Nizami), A.H. 835 /1431–32 a.d.
Artist: possibly Mir Khalil; calligrapher: Ja'far
Herat, present–day Afghanistan
Ink, opaque watercolors, and gold on paper; 12.37 x 9 in. (31.3 x 22.9 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1994 (1994.232.4)
This splendid painting is from a manuscript of the frequently illustrated story of Laila and Majnun by the twelfth-century Persian poet Nizami of Ganja (a city in the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan). It was commissioned by the Timurid prince Baysunghur of Herat, one of the greatest bibliophiles in all Islamic history, who gathered at his court the very best painters from Baghdad, Tabriz, Shiraz, and Samarkand to illustrate his matchless collection of books. The illustration depicts Qais, the future "mad one" (Majnun) for love, and Laila, his beloved, who meet for the first time as children at a mosque school. The painting underscores the closely related aesthetics of figural painting and abstract calligraphy, architectural tiling and royal carpet weaving in traditional Islamic civilization, united here in a visual symphony of flat but dramatically colored patterns. The scene depicts the child lovers framed in the mosque's prayer niche in order to emphasize their mystical status. These visual conventions of Persian art, usually laden, as here, with Neoplatonic symbolism, crystallized in the royal cities of Tabriz and then Herat at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and endured for another 250 years in the court paintings of Iran, Turkey, and India.