Saturday, 26 March 2011

A Prince's Manuscript Unbound: Muhammed juki's Shahnamah

On view at Asia Society Museum, New York
February 9 through May 1, 2011

To visit the splendid website, click HERE

Asia Society Museum presents an exquisite fifteenth-century manuscript commissioned by the Timurid prince Muhammad Juki (1402–1444). This rarely exhibited volume, now in the collection of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, features more than thirty richly painted and illuminated miniatures that illustrate scenes from the Persian national epic, the Shahnamah (Book of Kings). This is the first time that the illustrations in the manuscript—recently unbound and conserved—have all been exhibited together.
Although it is not known when the epic was first illustrated, countless copies of this poem have been made through the ages. The intricately colored and gilded manuscript illustrations on view are among the finest examples of Persian painting.
Written by the Persian poet Firdausi (ca. 935–1026), the nearly 60,000 couplet poem is based on a history of the kings of Persia, depicting legendary accounts of the beginnings of civilization until the Arab Muslim conquest that ended Persian rule in the seventh century.
―This is one of the most superb Persian manuscripts of its day,‖ said Asia Society Museum Director and Vice President of Global Art Programs Melissa Chiu. ―The rich colors, striking compositions, and intricate detail make the work truly remarkable in the long tradition of miniature painting. It has been one thousand years since this story was
first written, and we are so pleased to celebrate this anniversary with a manuscript of such artistic and historical importance.‖
The exhibition is organized by Adriana Proser, Asia Society Museum’s John H. Foster Curator for Traditional Asian Art, in consultation with independent scholar Barbara Brend. The exhibition is accompanied by Brend’s book Muhammad Juki’s Shahnamah of Firdausi, published by the Royal Asiatic Society/Philip Wilson Publishers, 2010, the first complete study of the manuscript.

About Muhammad Juki’s Shahnamah
Prince Juki’s Shahnamah was produced in the 1440s in Herat, the fifteenth-century capital of the Timurid empire located in present-day Afghanistan. When Babur, a later descendant of the Timurids, founded the Mughal dynasty in Northern India in 1526, the manuscript was taken there, where it remained until the eighteenth century. It later entered British hands as a gift to the Marquess of Hastings, Governor General of India. Presented to the Royal Asiatic Society by Lt. Col. C.J. Doyle in 1834, the manuscript is thought to have been a parting gift to him from Lord Hastings on leaving India. It bears the seals of Mughal emperors Babur, Humayun, Jahangir and Awrangzib, as well as the seal and an autographed note by Shah Jahan.
Juki’s Shahnamah boasts sumptuous colors, striking compositions and elegant calligraphy. The manuscript contains thirty-two miniatures created by several different hands as well as two pages of intricate textual illumination, all of which are on view in the exhibition. As is typical in court painting from Iran in this period, the influence of both native and foreign traditions is seen in the style of the illustrations. For example, landscape elements derived from Chinese painting appear in the stylized rock and mountain formations, while Chinese influence is also found in the depiction of clouds and flames.

Timurid patronage
Iran and much of Central Asia were ruled by the Timurid empire from 1363–1506. The Timurids, who were great patrons of the arts, presided over an empire that stretched from Anatolia to India at its height. They supported important architectural projects and the production of decorative arts and, under their patronage, Persian painting was elevated to a major form of artistic expression. Their reign is still considered as the time when Persian book arts reached their height. Prince Juki was a grandson of Timur and the seventh son of Shah Rukh. This manuscript is the only work he is known to have commissioned. It was left unfinished when he died; indeed, its later pages show some signs that additional planned pictures were sacrificed in the endeavor to finish before his passing.

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