Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Folio From The Manafi' Al-Hayawan Of Ibn Bukhtishu: The Shiqraq, Or Green Magpie
Il-Khanid, circa 1300 CE
Materials and technique
Ink and opaque watercolour on paper
40.1 x 32.2 cm
Ibn Bukhtishu (d. 1085 CE) composed his bestiary, the Manafi' al-hayawan (Usefulness of Animals) around the middle of the eleventh century, describing the entire range of species from humans to insects, including their characteristics and medicinal properties. The original Arabic text was then translated into Persian by 'Abd al-Hadi ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmud ibn Ibrahim al-Maraghi by order of the Il-khanid ruler Ghazan Khan (r. 1295-1304 CE). This folio belongs to a Persian translation of the bestiary, although its headings are written in Arabic in an eastern-style kufic script. The illustration on this folio corresponds to the heading painted in blue, and reads, “Concerning the uses of the shiqraq”, or magpie. The text that follows describes the habits and qualities of the green magpie, which perpetually seeks flies for food. It also explains that the droppings of the shiqraq, when boiled in fat with gall, will darken white hair, and that the carat value of gold will increase if warmed up under the bird. The text above the heading belongs to a preceding discussion about the properties of the khuttal, or swallow. The paintings on both sides of this folio reveal characteristics of early Il-khanid painting. Most noticeable is the Chinese-inspired large-petalled lotus blossom, reinterpreted by Iranian artists unfamiliar with this species as a flower that grows on land. Lotuses identical to this one appear ubiquitously on tiles from the Il-khanid palace at Takht-i Sulaiman in Iran. The twists and turns of the willow tree foreshadow the dramatically gnarled trunks and branches appearing in the Great Mongol Shahnama (circa 1318-35 CE) and extant illustrated manuscripts of the Il-khanid vizier Rashid al-Din’s (d. 1318 CE) Jami' al-tavarikh (Compendium of Chronicles) produced in the early fourteenth century. The simple ground line and the lack of a backdrop suggesting depth, however, more closely relate to a contemporaneous copy of the same manuscript, most folios of which are preserved at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. This codex was copied in 1297-1300 CE at Maragha in northwest Iran and supports a similar attribution for the manuscript to which this folio belongs.
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