An illustrated 16th-century account of the lives of the Prophets, in Persian.

The Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʼ

There are several different collections in Arabic and Persian with the title Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʼ, based on stories of the prophets adapted from the Qur’an and other Islamic literature. One of the best-known and most illustrated is the collection composed in Persian by the 12th century writer Isḥāq ibn Ibrāhīm al-Naysābūrī.

This manuscript

This manuscript is one of sixteen known illustrated copies of al-Naysābūrī’s compilation, all produced in Safavid Iran between 1565 and 1585. It contains thirteen illustrations including a double-page composition at the end. Originally consisting of 229 folios, only 165 survive today and it is possible that the remaining leaves may derive from two separate manuscripts. The binding, now back to front, is typical of the period with its use of block-stamped gold and doublures with filigree work over blue, red, green and black ground.

What do we see here?

The illustrations include familiar figures that are common to both qur’anic and biblical traditions, such as the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (f. 11r, digitised image 1). Pursued by a figure with a club, they are accompanied by the peacock and dragon who, at Satan’s instigation, had been responsible for their fall. Another familiar theme is that of Noah and his family in the ark with pairs of animals (f. 19v, digitised image 2). In addition to themes shared by both traditions, the stories include accounts of the ancient Arabian prophets. An example is the prophet Hud who was sent to convert the people of ʻAd. When they refused to follow him, God punished them by sending a storm which threw them up and dashed them to the ground (f. 22v, digitised image 3).

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