Sultan Sanjar and the Old Woman

Sultan Sanjar and the Old Woman
(click image to zoom-in)
Miniatures, Gouache, 23.7x13.7 cm
Origin: Iran, 1431-1431, Timurid Dynasty

This is the only miniature illustrating the poem "The Treasury of Secrets" from the Hermitage's famous Persian manuscript of the Khamsa, an anthology of five poems by the 12th-century poet Nizami. In 1431 this manuscript of the Khamsa was copied out in Herat by the calligrapher Mahmud for Sultan Shahrukh , son of the legendary Tamerlaine .

In this poem, written in 1173, Nizami expresses his admiration for the science of all sciences - wisdom. Nizami preaches a sermon close in content to the ideas of those sufis - representatives of the mystic trend in Islam - who fought against violence and arbitrary rule, who called on the wearers of the crown not to live in luxury but to care for their subjects, or else be threatened with divine retribution. The poem is a combination of various novellas and parables , a structure typical of literature of the Near and Middle East,

The miniature illustrates the parable of the old woman and Sultan Sanjar. Once a poor old woman stopped the sultan and began to reproach him that he is not a ruler but a slave, for he knows only how to bring harm, but is weak when it comes to doing good.

The artist follows Nizami's lines closely, showing the tiny old woman doubled over with age, her grey hair unkempt, in despair and anger grabbing the hem of the rich robe of Sultan Sanjar as he bends towards her. The scene is set against a background typical of 15th-century Persian miniatures, a desert-like landscape with scattered clumps of bright flowers and a cypress tree.

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

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