• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7615

    Art of The Islamic And Indian Worlds

    7 October 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 281



    Price Realised  


    Nasrallah's Persian version of Bidpai's Khalila wa Dimna, Persian manuscript on paper, 165ff. each with 13ll. of black naskh, many within gold and blue outlined text panels, catchwords, important words and headings picked out in red or gold, page numbers added later in the upper margins, with eighteen contemporary miniatures in gouache heightened with gold, colophon signed Farrukhshah ibn Haydar al-Abarquhi and dated 12 Ramadan 750, incomplete at beginning, some minor marginal repair and water staining, in brown morocco with stamped medallion and borders
    Folio 9¼ x 6½in. (23.5 x 16.5cm.); text panel 5¾ x 4in. (15.2 x 10cm.)

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    The original text of the Khalila wa Dimna was composed in Sanskrit in around 300 AD in Kashmir, by an unknown author who has come to be known in European sources as Bidpai. It has since however become one of the most important secular works of Islamic literature and has inspired some of the most important and impressive of illustrated Islamic manuscripts. The text is an Indian mirror for princes to advise on moral and ethical themes through animal fables. It was translated into Pahlavi by the order of the Sassanian King Khusraw Anushirwan (r. 531-579) who sent his physician Burzoe to India for this purpose. It was later translated into Arabic by 'Abd Allah ibn al-Muqaffa' in around 750 and the work as it is known is principally his creation. It was subsequently translated into many other languages, including Persian, as the present example, and Turkish. Nasrallah's translation, made for his patron, the Ghaznavid Bahramshah (r. 1099-1115), was the Persian text that is most frequently illustrated (until it was superseded by a work by Husayn Va'iz Kashifi entitled Anvar-i Suhaili at the end of the fifteenth century).

    The oldest surviving copy of the work is in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (3465), and was copied in Syria between 1200 and 1220. The miniatures are simple in design with a horizontal plane containing the main characters of the tale sometimes divided by a flowering plant or seated beneath a simple arched or flat-roofed building. The paintings in that work appear to have become the prototypes for later versions. Whilst there are no other known copies which date from the 13th century, the text experienced a revival in the 14th century, and was copied and illustrated in both Arabic and Persian. The most important Arabic examples are one in the Bodleian Library in Oxford dated 1354 AD (MS Pococke 400) and an undated one in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (3467). The remainder date to the second half of the 14th or the early 15th centuries.

    In the canon of Islamic painting, the Kalila wa Dimna had become by the 13th and 14th centuries one of the most popular texts for illustration because of its lively stories involving a wealth of picturesque subjects. The tendency to copy and illustrate the text has left a plethora of manuscripts in its wake. In 1991, Ernst Grube recorded 90 illustrated manuscripts with more than 4000 paintings (Ernst J. Grube, Prolegomena for a corpus publication of illustrated Khalila wa Dimnah manuscripts, Islamic Art, IV, New York, 1992, p. 301).

    Important to note is the probability that the miniatures of the present manuscript were completed by a number of different artists. The bold depictions of animals are far removed from the more cautious and delicate figural miniatures. Even within the figural group there are stylistic variations, with some miniatures executed on a larger, bolder scale and others, as mentioned above, appearing small within the relatively sparse spaces left for them. The fact that some of the miniatures have frames whilst others lack them supports the suggestion that there are at least two distinct groups and periods of work within the miniatures. Loosely speaking it would appear that the majority of the group of framed miniatures appear somewhat later in production than those that are unframed.

    A number of the miniatures can be placed into the 14th century. For example, that of the hare and lion at the well, illustrated here, appears to evolve from the Syriac tradition (Leroy, J., Les Manuscrits Syriaques a Peintures Conservés dans les Bibliothèques d'Europe et d'Orient, 2 Vols, Text and Album, Paris, 1964, Album pl. 79, no. 4 (Baptism of Christ) and others in the same manuscript in the Monastery of Mar Mattai near Mosul). The date of that manuscript has now been re-read as equivalent to 1260 suggesting a relatively early date for the comparable miniatures in our manuscript. The bold paintings of the lion and white leopard, with its use of oversized blossoms set against coloured grounds, recalls Mamluk painting and the Bodleian's Khalila wa Dimna (Pococke 400), which is attributed either to Egypt or Syria and dated AH 755/1354 AD. Furthermore the rendering of the figures in a number of the miniatures, such as those in the bed scene, recall those of the Süleymaniye Khalila wa Dimna manuscript of the mid-fourteenth century which is attributed to Syria (Ettinghausen, Arab Painting, 1977, p.159).

    Other miniatures, however, such as that of a figure seated on an elephant, appear to relate to early 15th century Byzantine painting. See for example a miniature from a manuscript now in Venice that depicts a bride of Mehmet II seated on an elephant, which is very similar in its treatment (Helen C. Evans (ed.), Byzantium, Faith and Power, New York, 2004, figs 12.1 and 12.8, pp.389 and 394).

    On the basis of the above it seems that there is obviously more than one period of production for the miniatures of the present manuscript. One period is probably contemporary with the date of the manuscript and emerges from the Arab tradition (perhaps being produced in Iraq or Syria) whilst the second, generally confined within frames, most probably dates from around the early 15th century and appears to be influenced by the Byzantine tradition. This group was perhaps executed in the same location as the manuscript itself or in eastern Turkey.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

    Pre-Lot Text

    (lots 281-379)

    Djafar Ghazi arrived in Europe relatively young, and found himself in Paris shortly after the war as that very rare and popular commodity for the period, a young man with a car and a little money with which to run it. Having found Europe so promising he remained based there. Starting as a businessman, over time he gradually becoming more and more interested in old Islamic manuscripts. What had started as a hobby gradually became increasingly important in his life, occupying greater and greater amounts of his time. As a gifted linguist who travelled extensively, he was one of the few collectors who was happy to read old Ottoman Turkish manuscripts as well as Persian and Arabic ones. He knew his own manuscripts extremely well, but kept few written records. For somebody whose life was increasingly focused on the written word, he personally retained a near purely verbal tradition for his own life.

    He attended every sale that included Islamic manuscripts, quietly smiling and bidding on the lots that he wanted. Always good-natured, always discreet. He also bought privately from dealers, travelling around Europe to do so and then took the manuscripts back to his flat in Munich. The flat however, which he had lived in for years, was gradually allowed fewer and fewer visitors and for the last fifteen to twenty years nobody but him came in or out. He came to the sales and visited dealers and collectors, often carrying a number of his treasures with him. He would arrive without appointment, without any fuss. If the person he wanted to see was not there then he would quietly go away. But if they were there he would pull something out of the bag. It might be of little interest, or it might be spectacular. You never knew. But he did. For Djafar Ghazi the calligraphy was paramount. Despite the condition of a manuscript, if the quality of the calligraphy was good enough then it joined the library in Munich. He had a very clear idea of the importance of his collection, and realised that he needed to think about the future life of the increasing numbers of important manuscripts in it. We are delighted to have been asked to catalogue and handle the sale of this fascinating collection. It is one whose importance and discerning eye it takes time fully to appreciate; then, when you think you have appreciated it, it grows on you further. It is a truly remarkable collection.

    The library will be sold over three seasons, with sales at King Street and sales at South Kensington through to the end of 2009. The auction at Christie's South Kensington has a large group of manuscripts from this library due to be sold on October 6th.

    We would like to thank our consultants, Manijeh Bayani-Wolpert, Nabil Saidi, Nabil Safwat and Bora Keskiner for their very generous assistance in the cataloguing of this section of the sale.