"Shaikh San'an beneath the Window of the Christian Maiden", Folio18r from a Mantiq al-tair (Language of the Birds)

Author: Farid al-Din `Attar (ca. 1142–1220)

Calligrapher: Sultan `Ali Mashhadi (ca.1440–1520)

Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript

Date: ca. 1600

Geography: Made in Iran, Isfahan

Medium: Opaque watercolor, silver, and gold on paper

Dimensions: Painting: H. 2 7/8 in. (7.4 cm)
W. 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm)
Page: H. 13 in. (33 cm)
W. 8 1/2 in. (21.6 cm)
Mat: H. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm)
W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)

Classification: Codices

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1963

Accession Number: 63.210.18


The third and fourth Safavid illustrations depict a scene from a famous story of Shaikh San'an that is often illustrated in other manuscripts of the Mantiq al-Tayr. The story is as follows: A celebrated shaikh named San'an went from Ka'ba to Greece and fell in love with a Christian maiden. At her suggestion, he became a Christian and even looked after swine, which are considered unclean in Islam. When his disciples heard about this, they came to Greece and prayed to God that Shaikh San'an would return to the right path. Due to the disciples' prayers, he revived his Muslim faith and returned to his home in the Hijaz. Then, repenting of her deed, the Christian maiden followed him and converted to Islam. Shaikh San'an sensed that she had true faith in Islam and turned back to seek her with his disciples. When she saw Shaikh San'an, she fainted and this made him cry. Later, when the Christian maiden recovered consciousness, she begged his pardon and died.
The text on this folio illustrates the moment at which Shaikh San'an loses belief in Islam and ignores his disciples' remonstrances. He gazes at the Christian maiden, who stands on a balcony, as his disciples talk to each other with perplexed expressions. The illustration incorporates several Timurid elements; the style of inscription band on the building seems to be inspired by that on the lower part of the Timurid building depicted in folio 63.210.28r. A red fence surrounding a garden was also a popular motif in the Timurid period. However, the style of the building and the maiden's clothing are typical of the Safavid period.