A deluxe 16th-century Safavid copy of Jāmī’s allegorical romance Yusuf and Zulaykha.

The poem Yusuf and Zulaykha

The Story of the Qurʼanic prophet Yusuf and the biblical Joseph was particularly fascinating to the Sufi imagination. At least eighteen Persian poets wrote their own versions, each adding their own details. The most famous is by the 15th-century Persian Sufi poet ʻAbd al-Raḥmān Jāmī, who included it as one of the seven books in his Haft-awrang (‘Seven Thrones’). Jāmī’s poem Yusuf and Zulaykha, telling of human passion and its transformation into divine love, became a classical example of Sufi interpretation of Qur’anic narrative material, and one of the masterpieces of Sufi mystical poetry.

The illustrations

Based on the Sūrat Yūsuf of the Qurʼan, in Jāmī’s poem, Yusuf, son of Yaʻqub, is abandoned in a well by his eleven brothers (f. 69r, digitised image 2). Rescued by merchants his true beauty is revealed after bathing in the Nile (f. 73r, digitised image 3) and he is sold to Zulaykha’s husband ʻAziz (f. 76v, digitised image 4). She, having dreamed of him as a young girl (f. 38v, digitised image 1), now falls in love with him (f. 98v, digitised image 5) and attempts to seduce him but is rejected. From prison, Yusuf emerges as an important person. One day he sees Zulaykha, now a blind and wretched widow. Her youth is restored and they marry (f. 155v, digitised image 7).

View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.