Library seals at the beginning and end of this manuscript indicate that it was in the Mughal Royal Library. It entered the library under the reign of Akbar in 1593, was inspected several times under Jahangir. Transfers were then made during Shah Jahan's reign and it was inspected again during 'Alamgir's.
Akbar’s fascination for calligraphy and painting is well attested. He honoured master calligraphers with prestigious titles such as Zarrin Qalam and Shirin Qalam and collected manuscripts himself - for instance a Diwan of Hafiz now in the Collection of the Raza Library in Rampur or a copy of the Gulistan, copied in Bukhara and now in the Royal Asiatic Society, London. Both bear Akbar’s name and titles (Gian Carlo Calza (ed.), Akbar, The Great Emperor of India, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 2012, pp.36-37). Akbar employed a number of foreign calligraphers in his atelier, such as the Bukhara scribe Mir Husayn al-Katib who worked on the great Hamzanama. Works of Persian calligraphers were particularly prized at the Mughal court, such as those of Mir ‘Ali al-Katib (d. 1556), and many of these works found their way to royal albums. Some of Mir ‘Ali’s works were probably brought to the Mughal court by way of his son Muhammad Baqir who emigrated to India and was mentioned by Abu’l Fazl’s Chronicle of Akbar’s reign, the Ain-i Akbari (Islamic Calligraphy, exhibition catalogue, Geneva, 1998, no.54, pp.170-71).
This manuscript was copied in 1504-05 by Sultan 'Ali Mashhadi during the last years of Sultan Husayn Bayqara’s reign in Herat. Born around 1437-38, Sultan ‘Ali was considered the first among equals by calligraphers of the period. In his famous treatise, Qadi Ahmad describes his writings as the sun among other planets. He spent most of his life at Sultan Bayqara’s court in Herat but returned to Mashhad where he died 10 Rabi' I AH 926/2 March 1520 AD after the invation of Herat by the Uzbeks (V. Minorsky, Calligraphers and Painters, A Treatise by Qadi Ahmad, son of Mir Munshi, Washington, 1959, pp.101-103).
A celebrated copy of Jami’s Khamsa in the Chester Beatty Library, from which a detached folio sold at Christie’s, London, 4 October 2012, lot 25, shares a parallel and fascinating history with the present manuscript. Signed by Sultan ‘Ali Mashhadi in August 1520. It was copied for Badi’ al-Zaman Mirza, Sultan Husayn’s son. It entered Shah Isma’il Safavi’s library as a gift from one of Sultan Husayn’s amirs’ sons, Mirza ‘Ali Beg Amir Muhammad Baranduq Barlas, who appears in the Chronicles of Babur, alongside our scribe. The manuscript found its way to the library of ‘Abd al-Rahim Khan Khanan (1556-1627 AD), one of the most powerful Mughal nobles of his time, who was educated at Akbar's court and was then gifted to Jahangir who recorded its provenance in his own hand. It is very tempting to think that our manuscript found its way to India either through Bukhara and the Uzbek link or following the path of a learned amirs from Akbar’s entourage.
The exquisite marbled borders decorating this manuscript are executed in the 16th century fashion and are of the highest quality. Originating in Iran in the 15th century, the taste for beautiful coloured ‘clouded’ papers reached India in the last quarter of the 16th century (Navina Najat Haidar and Marika Sardar, Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2015, p.157). It is tempting to suggest that the manuscript was re-margined in India, as it was the case for the Khamsa discussed above. The palette of bright orange and green are reminiscent of Indian manuscript illumination. However, Indian attempts at marbled paper in the 1580s appear to be too rudimentary to achieve such fine result. See for instance a copy of the Divan-i Anvari executed for Akbar in Lahore in 1588 which is copied on marbled paper (Harvard Art Museum, No.1960.117). The earliest attempt to produce marbled paper in India is recorded in Bijapur in 1580. It is possible that the manuscript was re-margined after its entry to the Royal Library in 1593.