Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Sample Of Calligraphy From An Album Made For Shah Jahan
India and Iran
Safavid and Mughal, circa 1520-1640 CE
Safavid and Mughal
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour, and gold paper
Page 36.9 x 25.2 cm
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries witnessed a growing interest in art and the art of collecting in the three “gunpowder” empires, beginning with the Safavids in Iran and followed by the Ottomans and Mughals. Not only did more artists exhibit a hitherto rare sense of self-awareness by increasingly signing their works, but the royal and wealthy patrons who compiled or commissioned the albums had the chance to express their own taste and connoisseurship through their collecting. These extraordinary codices were filled with specimens of calligraphy, painting and drawing, including single-page, finished compositions as well as elements of illustrated manuscripts and calligraphy exercises. Artists’ and calligraphers’ works were recognized within the albums for their individual talents and styles - sometimes by glosses added by the patron himself. This album folio contains a writing sample signed by one of the greatest masters of the nasta'liq script, Mir 'Ali (d. circa 1544 CE), who served in Herat and Bukhara at the Timurid, Uzbek, and Safavid courts and was extolled by Qadi Ahmad in his sixteenth-century treatise on calligraphers and painters (Qadi Ahmad in Minorsky 1959, p. 131). While the text might be attributed to the early sixteenth century, the careful rendering of the botanically accurate representations of flowers on the outer margins of this page have led to its identification as part of an album made for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58 CE). It is typical of the Mughal style, influenced by European plant manuals that reached India via Jesuit missionaries. It is possible the Mughals admired Mir 'Ali not only for his talent but also because of the praise he gave to Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, in one of his poems (Welch and Welch 1982, p. 220). By the time Shah Jahan’s album was compiled, however, Persian poets had been emigrating to the Mughal courts in Agra and Lahore, and the influence once coming from Iran to India now began to move from east to west, initiating the sabk-i hindi, or Indian style, in Iran (Welch 1976, p. 9). These poets and calligraphers must have exercised great influence on the education of princes in the royal household as well.
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