A Group of Paintings by the Pre-eminent Bukhara Artist, Mahmud Muzahhib
Mahmud was undoubtedly the most important artist of his generation in Bukhara, the leading proponent of the Bukhara school of painting under the Shaybanids, especially the great bibliophile Sultan 'Abd al-Aziz. He was accomplished in all the arts of the book although, as is typical in the West, it is his painting that has been most studied. Binyon, Wilkinson and Gray note that he was "the best and apparently the leading miniaturist of the the so-called Bukhara school" (Laurence Binyon, J.V.S.Wilkinson and Basil Gray, Persian Miniature Painting, New York 1971 reprint, p.106); Ashrafi-Aini, among many plaudits, comments that "Mahmud Muzahhib, a brilliant miniaturist himself, followed in the footsteps of Bihzad's compositions in their general structure, but each time sought to introduce his own scheme of rearrangement and changes. He did it skilfully, never disturbing the general harmony and inner rhythm and order" (Mukaddema Mukhtarovna Ashrafi-Aini, 'The School of Bukhara to c.1550, in Basil Gray (gen.ed.), Arts of the Book in Central Asia, Paris and London 1979, p.270). He was the leading individual artist at the court whose opulence and artistic sensibility was compared, as noted below, to that of Sultan Husayn Mirza at Herat. It is extraordinary to be able to see so many works by this leading artist together in one collection, now being offered for sale to benefit Oxford University.
Mahmud Muzahhib (Mahmud the illuminator) was an accomplished calligrapher, illuminator and artist, yet contemporaneous sources say little about him. One mention is made by Mirza Muhammad Haydar Dughlat who wrote in the first half of the seventeenth century. He noted that Mawlana Mahmud was superior to Yari in illumination (quoted by Ebadollah Bahari, Bihzad, Master of Persian Painting, London, 1996, p.236). As a calligrapher he was said to be a pupil of Mir 'Ali in Herat, (Armenag Sakisian, 'Mahmud Mudhahib, miniaturiste, enlumineur et calligraphe person ,Ars Islamica, IV, 1937, p.339). As with many artists, including his calligraphic master, he was taken to Bukhara, by the newly ascendant Shaybanid ruler 'Ubaydullah Khan (1512-39) whose capital it was (Thomas W. Lentz and Glenn D. Lowry, Timur and the Princely Vision, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles, 1989, p.306). Mahmud worked particularly closely with his 'Ubaydullah Khan's son and eventual successor 'Abd al-Aziz Bahadur Khan (1540-1549), a noted bibliophile. His later works, including all three works in this sale, come from the period of 'Abd al-Aziz's successor 'Abdallah. 'Abdallah inherited a city described by Mirza Muhammad Haydar Dughlat, who as a Chagatay was no apologist for the Uzbeks, "Bukhara has become such a centre of arts and sciences that it recalls Herat in the days of Mirza Sultan Husayn" (Ashrafi-Aini, op.cit., Paris and London 1979, p.264). This is high praise indeed.
It is as an artist that he is best known. He was asked to illustrate a number of the wonderful manuscripts that were captured from Herat by the Shaybanids, including a copy of Jami's Tuhfat al-Ahrar copied in AH 905/1499-1500 AD by Sultan 'Ali Mashhadi now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris (Supplement Persane 1416). His work was used to illustrate manuscripts by many of the most famous calligraphers, including Muhammad Khandan (Rachel Millstein and Na'ama Brosch, Islamic Painting in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1984, no.27, p.55-57), but by far his most successful cooperation was with his former calligraphic master Mir 'Ali Harawi with whom he worked to create at least four magnificent volumes. None of his works survive that are definitely from his time in Herat, although Millstein suggests that the Qirani Sa'dayn of Amir Khusraw Dehlawi in the Israel Museum was written while he was still there. Sakisian also suggested that the inclusion and placing of the word/name Mahmud in an inscription on a painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which from the combination of painting style and the turbans we can be sure was painted in Safavid Herat, was an example of his early Herati work dating from 1525 (Armenag Bey Sarkisian, La Miniature Persane du XII au XVII sicle, Paris and Bruxelles, 1929, fig 127, pl.LXXIII). This interpretation was however strongly questioned shortly thereafter in 1933 (Binyon, Wilkinson and Gray, op.cit. p.108).
An undoubtedly incomplete list of the manuscripts which he illustrated is below. The first three are earlier manuscripts that were illustrated by him at a later date, (these are indicated below by a *). In some he worked with other artists who signed paintings, or to whom there are early attributions in the same manuscript.
Author, Title, Hijri Date, Scribe, Inventory no.
Jami, Tuhfat al-Ahrar, 905*, Sultan Ali Mashhadi, BN Supp.Pers.1416
Amir Khusraw Dehlawi, Qirani Sa'dayn, 925*, Muhammad Khandan Israel mus
Jami, Diwan, 926*, Sultan Ali Mashhadi, NYPL M&A Pers.ms.1
Nizami, Makhzan al-Asrar, 944, Mir Ali Haravi, BN Supp.Pers.985
Sa'di, Bustan, 949, Mir 'Ali Harawi, Gulbenkian .
Various, Rawdat al-Muhibbin, 956, Mir Ali Harawi, Salar Jung A.Nm.1611
Jami, Baharistan 958, Mir Husayn al-Husayni, Paris formerly E de Lorey Colln.
Sa'di, Gulistan, dispersed, 968?, 2 paintings lots 12+13
Sa'di, Bustan, 969-70?, Lot 14
Sa'di, Bustan, 970, Mir 'Ali Harawi, Golestan Palace no.2164
Jami, Yusuf wa Zulaykha, 973, Mahmud b. Ishaq, Art and Hist Trust no.80
Jami, Diwan, ??, Lot 15
Jami, Tuhfat al-Ahrar, ca1550 AD, Mir Ali Haravi, Sackler S86.0046
Sa'di, Bustan, ??, Keir III-330-1