Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
A Musical Gathering
Ottoman, 18th century CE
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper
38.2 x 24.8 cm
This colourful ensemble of musicians and entertainers illustrates the royal taste for music and dance in the Ottoman world, an interest shared with other Islamic and European courts. While single-page paintings had been introduced to the artist’s repertoire over a century before, the formation of the figures and the fact that they appear to direct their performance to an audience at their right suggests that this image formed one half of a double-page manuscript painting. Falling in line with earlier princely images depicted in Persian illustrated manuscripts, the audience would probably have consisted of a king and his attendants or courtly lovers enjoying a musical interlude in the country (Welch and Welch 1982, p. 42). Three women stand next to the musicians, dressed in peach- and crimson-coloured robes, while a fourth sits on her knees to play the ektar, a one-stringed lute. Meanwhile, a young boy sits to the left of the lute player and taps his tambourine to the music. The painting, once mounted on an album, retains part of a margin that was decorated in gold vegetal scrolls. While illustrated Ottoman manuscripts first tended to emphasize history and geography - sieges and battles and maps of conquered territories - this painting seems to fit into a later interest in the more peaceful aspects of courtly life. It probably dates to the early eighteenth century, during the reign of Sultan Ahmad III (r. 1703-30 CE), when war was not at the forefront of the political agenda and the sultan could refine his artistic taste, inspired by seventeenth-century Persian painting. Yet Ottoman features also abound: the cypress trees and cherry blossoms surrounding the musicians are reminiscent of such depictions on Iznik tiles made for the Ottoman court in the mid-sixteenth century under Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520-66 CE).
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