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The reader

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Raphaël Chipault

Islamic Art
The Modern Empires (1500–1800)

Françis Richard

Sumptuous late 16th-century Persian manuscripts often opened with a double page evoking the joys of poetry and reading. Here, the costumes of the young poetry-lover and, facing him in the original binding, the girl holding a cup, are decorated with an assemblage of juxtaposed silhouettes, rather in the manner of the hybrid animals - elephants or horses - seen in contemporary Moghul miniatures from India.

A work by two painters

This double page sems to have been painted during the reign of Imam Quli Khan, ruler of Bukhara from 1611-42, or slightly earlier. The other half of the image is now in the Sackler Gallery, Washington D.C. The figure of the young man seated on a terrace is signed by the painter Muhammad Sharif Musavvir (his name is inscribed in the colored margins of the manuscript which the man is reading). Another work by the same painter is in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. The sheet's margins are executed in a spirited style by the painter Muhammad Murad Samarqandi, whose name is inscribed on a stone beside the stream. Muhammad Murad also painted the margins of the Washington sheet, and collaborated on the illustrations for the Chester Beatty manuscript. He may also have contribued to a copy of Firdawsi's Book of Kings, and a poem on Timur (Tamburlaine) dated 1628, both in Tashkent.
The young man is holding an oblong volume - a type of notebook designed to be carried inside the sleeve of a robe, and used for noting down poetry. The silhouettes decorating his garment include a number of animals, and entwined couples, symbolizing his feelings for the young princess facing him in the original binding, her head circled by a coronet. The two figures are caught in a dream-like trance, as if spell-bound. The wall of the terrace around their pavillion is heavily decorated with pairs of fighting animals (deer, dragons, qilin etc.), in contrast to the bare, tiled floor. The young man's garment is closely similar to that of another figure, in an Iranian Safavid work painted in the mid-16th century, signed by Muhammad Haravi, and now in the Freer Gallery of Art, in Washington D.C. In the latter, the robe is decorated with the silhouettes of chained prisoners. The work testifies to the existence of a recognized tradition of representations of this type.

An enchanted scene

The marginal decorations evoke a springtime scene, with figures installed along the banks of a stream, painted with a lively imaginative touch, both here and on the facing sheet, now in Washington D.C. Their clothes are of the type fashionable in Transoxania in the early 17th century, painted in a range of bright colors, like the figures in the central scene. A musician plays his instrument, while other men are shown eating and drinking. A simurgh (a mythical bird) is depicted in the upper left part of the sheet. Below this, the figure wearing a headdress of leaves is a peri (a Persian fairy or sprite), holding a small bottle. Both of the artists who collaborated on these superb pages were clearly fascinated by fantastical, mythological subjects.


Arabesques et Jardins de paradis, Collections françaises d'art islamique, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1989, n 171, p. 223
L'Étrange et le Merveilleux en terres d'Islam, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2001, n 1 p. 20
G.D. Lowry et M.C. Beach, An Annotated and Illustrated Checklist of the Vever Collection, Washington, 1988, n 362 pp. 310-311
Y. Porter, "le kitâb-khâna de 'Abd al-'Aziz Khân (1645-1680) et le mécénat de la peinture à Boukhara", in Cahiers d'Asie centrale, t. VII, 1999, pp. 118-120
Esin Atil, The Brush of the Masters : Drawings from Iran and India, Washington, Freer Gallery of Art,1978, n 15.A p. 47

Technical description

  • Muhammad Charif Musavvir

    The reader

    C. 1600-1630

    Bukhara, Uzbekistan

  • Gouache and gold on paper

    H. 19.2 cm; W. 11.4 cm (excluding margins)
    Page: H. 37 cm; W. 24.4 cm

  • Georges Marteau bequest, 1916; from Georges Demotte , 1916

    Left leaf of the initial double page of a manuscript

    OA 7109

  • Islamic Art

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