"Calligraphic Composition in Shape of Peacock", Folio from the Bellini Album

Object Name: Illustrated album leaf

Date: ca. 1600

Geography: Attributed to Turkey

Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

Dimensions: H. 9 9/16 in. (24.3 cm)
W. 7 1/16 in. (17.9 cm)

Classification: Codices

Credit Line: Louis V. Bell Fund, 1967

Accession Number:


This album, known as the "Bellini" Album because it once contained a portrait of a Turkish prince by the Italian artist Gentile Bellini, was almost certainly assembled in Turkey during the first half of the seventeenth century, probably for Sultan Ahmed I (r. 1603–17).
The somewhat playful practice of weaving an inscription into the form of an animal, bird, flower, or inanimate object such as a ship remains a popular tour de force among Islamic calligraphers to this day. Here, the inscription in divani script follows the outer curve of the elegant peacock's spread tail. It is composed of blessings for an unnamed Ottoman sultan and reverses direction halfway through. Because of the highly decorative nature of the page, the shift from the profile of the body of the bird to the frontal view of its tail does not appear incongruous. The inscription reads:
Beautiful as a houri, of angelic character, of auspicious omen, envy of the perfect ones, parrot of sweet tongue and sweet speech, peacock of the garden of .... the lofty decree, sultan of the sultans of the world, fortunate and august, khaqan of the shahs, Darius of the time, Faridun of the age, hero of the world, [text reverses direction] champion of earth and time, sultans of the sultan of the family of 'Uthman ibn Sultan Ghazi Khan ... may God extend the days of his [happiness] to the day of [judgment?].