Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Lovers In A Landscape
Safavid, dated 1056 H/1646 CE
Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour, gold and ink on paper
Page 21.3 x 30.5 cm; Image 13.2 x 20 cm
Two lovers, their bodies gently framed by foliage painted in gold, are depicted with a wine cup and bottle at the man’s bare feet - all symbols of love - in this classic composition from the Safavid tradition of single-page painting. The artist Afzal al-Husayni’s figures, textiles and gold vegetation closely recall the work of Riza-yi 'Abbasi, the most celebrated painter in this style, according to Sheila Canby. She also suggests that Afzal al-Husayni, may have been a student of Riza’s, working from the 1620s until about 1650 CE and that some false attributions to the master may indeed be the work of Afzal al-Husayni. The emphasis on surface decoration - note the pair of birds depicted on the dark blue cushion fabric - and the seemingly disconnected gazes of the lovers belie the raw physicality of their act. The lady is administering burn marks to her lover, as evidenced by the brand, with its rising wisps of smoke in her left hand. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries love burn (dagh) marks were a sign of a lover’s sincerity, according to Anthony Welch quoting Don Juan of Persia (the former Iranian diplomat Ulugh Beg, who participated in Anthony Sherley’s 1599-1604 CE embassy from Isfahan to Spain. He became a Roman Catholic, adopted the name Don Juan and stayed in Spain; see Welch in Hillenbrand, 2000, p. 304). Burn marks are also visible in contemporary dervish portraits and their presence there implies love for God. Lovers in a landscape, however, depicts passionate, physical, heterosexual love.
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