Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Sample Of Calligraphy By Shah Mahmud Nishapuri
Safavid, circa 1540 CE
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper pasted on an album folio of marbled paper
26.7 x 16.7 cm
Albums played a significant role in the cultivation of royal virtues; the assembling of these codices traces back at least to the Timurid (1370-1506 CE) period in Iran. Just as princes were trained in the skills of hunting, war and politics, they also had tutors to teach them about the sciences, philosophy and the arts. Extant album collections and dispersed album folios from the Safavid period also reveal the interest in collecting single-page drawings and paintings, designs and calligraphies. This example of Persian poetry was written and probably composed by Shah Mahmud Nishapuri (d. 1564-65 CE), a well-known and respected scribe and poet. He was considered one of the three greatest Safavid calligraphers by the historian Qadi Ahmad, along with Sultan ‛Ali Mashhadi and Mir ‛Ali Shirnava’i. Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524-76 CE) recognized Nishapuri’s gift by bestowing upon him the laqab, or honorific title, of Zarin Qalam (Golden Pen) (Welch and Welch 1982, pp. 76-78). The poet has signed his name in the left corner of this writing sample in a small space surrounded by vegetal ornament in green, blue, red, white and gold: “Mashqahu al-‛abd al-khafir Shah Mahmud al-Nishapuri” [the poor servant of the protector, Shah Mahmud al-Nishapuri, wrote it]. The beautifully scripted letters are executed with black ink in an elegant nasta‛liq that stands in contrast to the plain surface on which they appear; peonies and other flowers painted in ink and gold add a subtle embellishment. The verses express a lover’s longing for his beloved:
“O my heart, overwhelmed by [its] yearning for you
May your face never be absent from the eye
My soul’s eye becomes brightened upon [seeing] your face
When should my heart not wish to be joined to you?
Joyful would be that moment, if fortune becomes my friend, and I see,
For a moment, myself as a companion of your compassion!”
Nishapuri’s poem was probably designed as a single page and may have been intended for a muraqqa‛, or album, of calligraphy. The blue and gold-flecked album folio is decorated in the marbled technique and provides a complementary frame around the writing.
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