Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
A Hunting Scene
Safavid, circa 1580 CE
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper
33.8 x 20.7 cm
This drawing of riders at the hunt reveals one aspect of the process of manuscript making in the Islamic world, which involved the use of a tarh, an Arabic term that refers to a design or model and also suggests a foundation. Thus the tarh could be the underdrawing for a final work that would eventually be covered in pigment and completed as a painting. The artist would create a composition using a brush or pen and ink (usually limited to black and/or red). A colourist, sometimes the same artist, would then add various pigments to the page. In this scene, three men actively pursue their prey in an open landscape inferred by small tufts of rocks and foliage under Chinese-inspired cloud bands. The turbaned rider to the bottom left spears a lion from atop his rearing horse, assisted by his companion who runs toward the beast with a raised sword, ready to finish the kill. A second mounted rider appears to have just shot an arrow at a fallen gazelle while a deer and antelope attempt to flee to the left; the horseman’s positioning at the top of the page follows the convention of illustrating background or depth through vertical placement of objects or figures. Although the few points of colour shown on the figures’ heads and turbans suggest that the illustration could have been destined for a manuscript, the drawing satisfies the eye as much as any finished composition; a circular energy flows throughout the scene, evoking the thrill of the chase and the fear of the victims pursued. The longer figures in and graceful draughtsmanship of this work can be compared to the style of Muhammadi, one of the leading artists active under the Safavid Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524-76 CE). Stock figures and compositions produced by the famous artist and his followers might have served as models for this drawing, which in turn could be reproduced through other techniques (e.g., pouncing) used to transfer designs. As a result, figures or activities appearing in underdrawings were often generic in the sense that the same stock characters could be used to illustrate a variety of stories. This hunting scene could therefore be used to show the legendary Sasanian king Bahram Gur at the hunt or represent any of the courtly figures illustrated in this section.
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