31 May 2021, 12:00 am
The Haft Awrang of Jami
Programme Type
Films and Exhibitions

The exhibition presents a selection of illuminated manuscripts from the Haft Awrang of Jami, a compilation of seven masnavi poems written in the 15th century. The Haft Awrang is recognised as one of the greatest Persian literary classics; and the sumptuously illuminated and illustrated folios considered a masterpiece of Islamic art.


The Haft Awrang Manuscript

Haft Awrang (Seven Thrones) is a compilation of seven masnavi poems (literally translated as "rhyming couplets of profound spiritual meaning" in Arabic) and constitutes the most famous collection of poetry of Jami from the second half of the 15th century. The Haft Awrang is recognised as one of the greatest Persian literary classics. Nur ad-Din’Abd ar-Rahman Jami or simply Jami (1414-1492) was a well-known Persian poet and scholar, widely regarded as the last great Sufi poet of Iran. Sufism was regarded as the manifestation of mystical practices in the Islamic faith. Through the many mystical paths within Sufism, Muslims sought to encounter divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience with God. Much of Jami's poetry expressed his ethical and philosophical beliefs.

In 1556 Prince Sultan Ibrahim Mirza who was a governor of Mashad and a nephew of Shah Tahmasp I, commissioned his own atelier of painters and calligraphers to create an illustrated version of the Haft Awrang. For the next nine years, five court calligraphers worked on the transcription of the poetic text, and then another group of gifted artists illuminated and illustrated it. This magnificent volume is renowned as one of the most sumptuous works of the Safavid period and a masterpiece of Islamic art. It is comprised of illuminated folios, many embellished with gold leaf. The text is written in nasta'liq, a type of Arabic script common in the 15th century, arranged into four columns on each page. The manuscript is dated to 1556-1566 and contains 304 bifolios with illuminations. 

Since the thirteenth century, intricately designed images have formed an integral part of Persian manuscripts. The genre reached its zenith in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries during the rule of the powerful Safavid dynasty of Iran (1501–1722). The illustrated manuscript or book serves as a significant record of the artistic taste, social relations, and economic conditions of its time.

The Haft Awrang manuscript currently resides at the Smithsonian Institutions' Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The manuscript is divided into seven books with four didactic poems and three romances:

Selselat ad-dhabab (Chain of Gold): a collection of didactic anecdotes
Yusuf-o Zulaikha (Joseph and Zulaikha): Jami takes a figure from the Quran and builds a beautiful romantic tale around it with a Sufi subtext. The romance of Joseph and Zulaikha, wife of Potiphar stands out for its rich poetic language that lends itself to both secular and mystical interpretations
Sabhat al-abrar (Rosary of the Pious): another collection of didactic anecdotes
Salaman-o Absal (Salaman and Absal): a doomed romance between a prince and his nursemaid. The original story is Greek, translated into Arabic and then rendered into Persian poem by Jami.
Tuhfat ol-ahrar (Gift of the free)
Layli-o Majnun (Layla and Majnun): the story of the star-crossed lovers Layla and Majnun is recounted in many works of classical Persian poetry. Prevented by family and social pressures from marrying Layla, Majnun loses his reason and goes off to live in the desert, where he becomes increasingly intimate with nature and its creatures. 
Kheradnama-i Eskandari (Alexander’s Book of Wisdom): an account of events leading to Alexander’s death

Source of images: Smithsonian Institutions’ Freer Gallery of Art, National Museum of Asian Art
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