Ornamental Composition

Ornamental Composition
(click image to zoom-in)
Miniatures, Gouache and ink, 23.7x13.7 cm
Origin: Iran, 1431-1431, Timurid Dynasty

This is one of the ornamental compositions from the Hermitage's famous Persian manuscript of the Khamsa, an anthology of five poems by the 12th-century poet Nizami, who lived on the territory of present-day Azerbaijan. In 1431 this manuscript of the Khamsawas copied out in Herat by the calligrapher Mahmud for Sultan Shahrukh , son of the legendary Tamerlaine .

A later inscription across the top left corner of the sheet tells us that this manuscript was purchased in 1615 in the town of Hyderabad for Sultan Muhammad Kutb Shah, from the son of Muhammad Ali, a goldsmith, for 300 tumans. At top right are the black seals of different rulers to whom this manuscript book belonged over its 500-year history.

The Khamsa contains 38 miniatures and numerous ornamental compositions and inserts. This title page opens the book. In the centre of the large medallion, created in a fine pattern of blue, white and gold, is the title of the whole manuscript. This round medallion is known as a shams, or "sun" and there is one before each of the five poems, with the title of the poem written in farsi in the nasta'liq script. Nasta'liq became widespread in the late 14th century. The choice of script was particularly important and calligraphy occupied a high place in the hierarchy of art forms in the Muslim world, since it conveyed the Word of God in the Koran.

Each shams is a complete work of ornamental art in itself. Arab poets described such patterns as "music for the eyes". It was thought that their harmony, built up on a mathematical basis, reflected the perfection of the universe created by Allah.

Album: The Khamsa by Nizami
Source of entry: First Branch of the State Hermitage Museum, 1924
School: Herat

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