Iran Zamin – Highlights From The Catalogue

Highlights from our recently published catalogue Iran Zamin, as picked by the head of our new Islamic department, Roxana Kashani.

Spring is in the air and with the Iranian New Year upon us, we enter a new century of the Iranian calendar with the year 1400. To celebrate this season of new beginnings we are delighted to launch the inaugural catalogue of our Islamic department: Iran Zamin. Literally translating to ‘the land of Persia’, this catalogue features twenty-five printed books and manuscripts spanning almost 800 years of history and showcases important Persian literature as well historical as voyages and travels through the region.

One of the earliest manuscripts featured is a bifolium from a fourteenth-century Shahnameh. Considered one of the founding literary texts of the Farsi language and one of the most celebrated texts in Persian history, this epic poem by Abdul Qasim Ferdowsi is fundamentally void of any Arab influence and consequently considered a pillar of Iranian social and artistic culture. The absence of miniature illumination in the present manuscript is very uncommon, a rare curiosity, and comparable examples are yet to be identified.

Following similar pre-Islamic themes akin to the Shahnameh, our next highlight is a rare illustrated manuscript copy of Assar Tabrizi’s Mir’o Mushtari. This is a story of the spiritual and plutonic love shared by the two male protagonists ‘Mir’ (meaning the sun) and ‘Mushtari’ (meaning Jupiter). The themes relayed in this romance make it a rare survival; the present example was copied in Shiraz by the scribe Pir Hussayn al-Katib Shirazi in the year 908 AH (1503 AD).

Illustrating the historic landmarks of Persia, we turn to the trans-Asian expedition of Cornelius de Bruin Reizen over Moskovië door Persië en Indië: verrykt met driehondert kunstplaten. This work, printed in Amsterdam in 1714, features superb illustrations of the region including some exceptional panoramas of Ispahan and Persepolis and as well as finely engraved costume plates of Persians.

Our next feature is a rare collection of devotional poetry in praise of the Prophet Muhammad and the ‘pure ones’. With strong shi’ite muslim influences, this collection of prophetic poetry is called ‘Arba’un’ literature, because it features forty separate anecdotes in poetic form. The present example is richly illuminated and copied in a striking and unapologetic naskh script by Abdullah Ahmed al-Qazvini in the year 1186 AH (1772 AD).

One of the most celebrated poets in Iran is Sheikh Sa’adi of Shiraz. Our next highlight is a scarce bi-lingual publication of Sa’adi’s Pand-namah, translated into English by Francis Gladwin and printed in English and Farsi in Calcutta by the Press of Stuart and Cooper in 1788.

One of the most famous voyages through Persia was by Sir John Chardin, featuring numerous engravings and an account of his journey to the region, important for the narrative describing life in late Safavid Persia. This 1811 printing of Voyages du Chevalier Chardin, en Perse features a hand-coloured map of the region and over 85 engraved plates, present here in a highly attractive and uncut state.

One of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts featured in this catalogue is a fine Qajar copy of Nizami’s epic Leila wa Majnun retold by Maktabi Shirazi. This tragic romance is often called the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ of the East and recounts a similarly devastating story of unrequited love between the protagonists Leila and Majnun. This immaculate manuscript copy was inscribed by Karam’ali in 1254 AH (1838 AD) and features 26 exquisite Qajar-style miniature paintings in the text.

The final entry in the catalogue brings us to modern-day Iran with a panel of calligraphy from a living artist. Sajad Haghjuoy (b. 1986) is one of a small group of artists in Iran practicing the Safavid style of calligraphy and manuscript illumination, whose quality artwork is gaining international recognition, and making them modern masters of traditional arts in Iran.