This magnificent manuscript is a testament to the production of 16th century Bukhara. Copied by Mir ‘Ali only a few years after he was taken to Bukhara by ‘Ubaydullah Khan in AH 935/1528-29 AD, it has illumination of the finest quality, a wonderfully intricate binding and two paintings at the end which demonstrate the style that was developed there by artists such as Mahmud Muzahhib and ‘Abdullah.
The manuscript opens with a bifolio of fine illumination which bears remarkably close comparison in both overall design and minute detail to that of two manuscripts which sold in these Rooms, 4 October 2012, lots 14 and 15. Lot 14 was an unsigned Bustan of Sa’di dated 1561-63 AD. Lot 15 was an unsigned and undated copy of Jami’s Yusuf wa Zulaykha attributed to the 16th century. Both were copied in Bukhara and were illustrated with paintings by the celebrated painter Mahmud Muzahhib. It was suggested in those catalogue entries that the opening bifolios of each of the manuscripts were attributed to the same artist. It is for the skill of illumination that Mahmud Muzahhib acquired his name; no illumination is signed by him but for those which are incorporated into his painterly compositions. He is known to have worked on a sumptuous double page for Sultan Husyan Bayqara in Herat at the end of the Timurid period (Armenag Sakisian, ‘Mahmud Mudhahib, miniaturiste, enlumineur et calligraphe person’, Ars Islamica, Vol. IV, Ann Arbor, 1937, p.338). It seems very possible that our manuscript was thus also illuminated by the same master illuminator, or by someone in the same workshop.
The colophon of the manuscript is followed by two full page illustrations. There is a small vignette in the painting on the left-hand side of the bifolio, in which a beautiful lady stands with her back arched, the bottom of her cloak clutched by a persistent lover. The same little scene, though mirrored, is found in a painting by Shaykhzade painted in Bukhara in around 1530 (Abolala Soudavar, Art of the Persian Courts, New York, 1992, p.197, no.75). The practice of using stencils and ‘stock’ figural groups is one of the features of Bukhara paintings. The Soudavar painting and ours even share small details, such as the gold-embroidered, fur-lined coat worn by the lady. A painting by ‘Abdullah, also Bukhara, mid 16th century and published by Binyon, Wilkinson and Gray, depicts another very similar figure, wearing an identical cloak and gold crown (Laurence Binyon, J.V.S. Wilkinson and Basil Gray, Persian Miniature Painting, New York, 1971 reprint, PL.LXXVII-A.114).
The embossed and gilt leather binding of this manuscript hosts a myriad of mythical and exotic creatures arranged in a kaleidoscopic manner on both front and back. The design is associated with the legend of the talking tree, the waq waq, in Firdawsi’s Shahnama, which rebuked Alexander the Great for his lust of conquest and foresaw his forthcoming demise (Istanbul, Isfahan, Delhi. 3 Capitals of Islamic Art. Masterpieces from the Louvre Collection, Istanbul, 2008, p.196). The motif is found on four fragments of a carpet in the Louvre attributed to the late 15th or early 16th century (inv.5212; Istanbul, op.cit., pp.196-197, no.78). In her discussion on that carpet, Susan Day writes that the motif is reminiscent of manuscript illumination of the Herat school. It is possible that the design travelled with craftsmen taken by ‘Ubaydullah Khan from Herat to Bukhara in the early 16th century. The level of detail and the finesse of the execution of our binding indicates a commission of the highest standard. A binding in the Museum Calouste Gulbenkian has a similar decorative arrangement (LA 169; Thompson and Canby, 2003, p.170, cat.6.13a-b). The Gulbenkian binding is attributed to Iran, mid-sixteenth century although the manuscript that it protects is from Bukhara and dated 1547 AD, about ten years after ours. Given that both the Gulbenkian binding and ours protect Bukhara manuscripts of similar period, it is tempting to suggest that there was a workshop in Bukhara producing bindings of this type in the second quarter of the 16th century.
For a note on the illustrious scribe see the note to lot 180 in this sale.