A pocket encyclopaedia containing the Khamsah (‘Quintet’) of the poet Niẓāmī and twenty-two other works, compiled for Jalāl al-Dīn Iskandar ibn ʻUmar Shaykh, grandson of Tīmur, who ruled in Fars in south-west Iran from 1409 to 1414.
A pocket encyclopaedia
This pocket encyclopaedia was especially commissioned for Tīmur’s grandson Iskandar Sultan the ruler of Fars. It was copied between 1410 and 1411 by two different scribes, Muḥammad al-Ḥalvāʼī and Nāṣir al-Kātib. Each of the twenty-three works is most exquisitely decorated and the manuscript also contains one double-page and forty single-page paintings in addition to an illuminated frontispiece, headings and many marginal decorations. The volume includes a selection of literary gems ranging from the five poems which constitute Niẓāmī’s Khamsah, excerpts from Firdawsī’s epic poem the Shāhnāmah (‘Book of Kings’), Sufi works such as ʻAṭṭār’s Manṭiq al-ṭayr (‘Conference of Birds’) to treatises on religious observances, astrology and alchemy.
What do we see here?
Included here is the illuminated opening (ff. 2v–3r, digitised image 1), with upper and lower panels written in an especially ornate version of floriated kufic script, together with a prayer in Arabic for the patron of the manuscript, Iskandar Sultan, which is inscribed in thulth script in the lobed circular central panel. As part of Niẓāmī’s Khamsah, the Prophet is portrayed ascending to heaven above the Ka‘bah on the mythical creature called Burāq, guided by Jibrāʼīl and escorted by angels (f. 6r, digitised image 2), while the lovelorn Majnūn is depicted in the desert with the animals (f. 118r, digitised image 3). Further on in the volume is a translation of Euclid's Elements of geometry with diagrams (f. 344r, digitised image 4) and marginal illustrations from Rawz̤at al-munajjimīn, an extensive treatise on astrology (f. 542v, digitised image 6).
A double-page painting (ff. 362v–363r, digitised image 5), part of a text on Islamic jurisprudence, illustrates pilgrims on the hajj. On the left we see the Kaʻbah and the sanctuary of Mecca. Angels hover above. On the right a pilgrim caravan approaches the city.
- Article by:
- Sophia Arjana
- Islam, Pilgrimage, text and place
Hajj is the most well-known pilgrimage in Islam. Here Dr Sophia Arjana discusses its role in the religion, whilst also looking at Shi‘a and regional pilgrimages, sainthood and sacred space in Islam.
- Article by:
- The British Library
Wonder at these amazing hand-painted books of past ages and marvel at the vibrant colours used – these are works of art that were made for kings and queens, monasteries, bishops and counts.