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Royal Asiatic Society : Gulistan of Sa‘di


Royal Asiatic Society

<p style='text-align: justify;'>One of the finest illustrated manuscripts contained within the collections of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland is the <i>Gulistan</i> (Rose Garden) composed by the renowned Persian poet Sa‘di (1203-1292). It is noted not only for its exquisite paintings of birds and animals which decorate the pages of the text but also for its <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(261);return false;'>colophon portrait</a> which depicts the eminent scribe Muhammad Husayn al-Kashmiri known as <i>Zarrin Qalam</i> (Golden Pen) and the artist, Manohara as a youth, who later had a long and illustrious career at the court of Shah Jehan (1592-1666).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript comprises 128 folios and measures 31.8 x 20.3 cm and was copied in 990 Hijra (26th January 1582 - 24th January 1583) in Fatehpur Sikri during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556-1605). It entered the collections of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1841, bequeathed by Neil Benjamin Edmonstone (1797-1841) who was employed by the East India Company and was a member of the Supreme Council in Calcutta between 1812-17 and later became a director in 1820.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The text, written in <i>nasta’liq</i>, is set in both horizontal and vertical panels with dividers separating the hemistichs. The pages have broad margins of blue paper which are decorated with scrolls and figures of animals and birds in gold. Attached to the recto of fol.1a is a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(11);return false;'>Mughal drawing</a> which must have been added at a later date, showing a bearded and turbaned teacher with a class of female students and attendants. The <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(262);return false;'>verso of the final folio</a> and two additional folios have similar blue margins with Persian texts written in <i>shikastah</i> script.  The third and fifth pages bear the signature of Murid Khan Tabataba’i (d.unknown) who was a noble at the court of Muhammad Shah (1719-1748) and a noted calligrapher.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>On the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(261);return false;'>colophon page</a>, the painter Manohara and the calligrapher Muhammad Husayn Kashmiri are depicted seated opposite one another and are identified by the text of two letters they are shown writing. The text of the letter in front of the calligrapher reads ‘God is great, picture of the likeness of Husayn Zarrin Qalam’ and the sheet of the young man in front of him contains the words ‘work of Manohar, son of Basavana’. Sellyer has described this as ‘one of the most widely reproduced Mughal paintings of Akbar’s reign’ and is one of only three self-portraits of sixteenth century Mughal painting<sup>1</sup>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>It has been argued that the portrait may have been added some thirty years after the manuscript was written as it appears long before the next earliest example of a colophon portrait (1596-7) and it follows the model of the 1595 British Library <i>Khamsa</i> of Nizami ( British Library, Or.12208) where the calligrapher and painter of the manuscript are depicted together<sup>2</sup>. However, it is dubious that the artist Manohara would have chosen to represent himself as a youth if he had added the painting to the manuscript some thirty years later. It is also considered unlikely that this was the work of Manohara, as suggested by the inscription, as he would have only been a boy of thirteen or fifteen years old at the time the manuscript was copied.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Sellyer suggests that the painting was most probably the product of a collaborative effort on the part of Basavana, Manohara’s father and his young son and that Basavana used this opportunity to promote the work of Manohara by copying both their names on the page in front of him<sup>3</sup>. As Sellyer demonstrates, the fine painting of the figures of Muhammad Husayn al-Kashmiri and Manohara should be attributed to Basavana, ‘one of the foremost masters of the imperial atelier’ along with several of the charming animal scenes. Manohara was, no doubt, responsible for the paintings of colourful birds which fly over the pages<sup>4</sup>. However, the placement of Manohara’s name on the folio in front of the young man in the colophon portrait, suggesting that this was his own self-portrait, marked the beginning of his career, establishing a reputation which ultimately eclipsed that of his father.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'><sup>1</sup> J.Sellyer, ‘The Colophon Portrait of the Royal Asiatic Society <i>Gulistan</i> of Sa‘di’, <i>Artibus Asiae</i>, Vol.LXVIII, No.2, 2008, p.333.<br /><sup>2</sup> Ibid, p.334; see D. Barrett and B. Gray. <i>Painting of India</i>, Geneva, 1963, p.82 who first proposed this argument.<br /><sup>3</sup> J. Sellyer, op.cit., 2008.<br /><sup>4</sup> Ibid., p.334. </p>

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