- Barbara Brend on the 'Khamsa' of Nizami & the 'Khamsa' of Amir Khusrau
[Over a richly coloured Persian miniature painting of a prince surrounded by courtiers, the following text appears in a black box: State Library of Victoria. Love and devotion: Persian cultural crossroads: The Khamsa of Nizami and the Khamsa of Amir Khusrau: some similarities and differences reflected in their illustrations – Dr Barbara Brend. Chair: Susan Scollay.]
[The logos for the State Library of Victoria, the Bodleian Libraries at University of Oxford, Melbourne: UNESCO City of Literature, and the State Government of Victoria appear on the far left of the screen.]
[Dr Barbara Brend stands at a podium in front of detail from a Persian manuscript showing a seated man, with a flaming aureole around his head, and a woman holding hands.]
[Note to the reader: Some of the slides referred to by Dr Barbara Brend in this lecture are not shown in the video.]
Dr Barbara Brend: Thank you. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Perhaps you know that I had previously assigned to me a rather smaller slot, so that what I'm going to talk about has a sort of extra unit stuck on the front. And this is, I now realise, rather simplistic in comparison with some of the talks you've just listened to yesterday. So, if you already know this, I hope you'll pardon me. And if you're just getting into it, perhaps you can treat some of it as revision.
Now, this picture you have already seen with Charles Melville. We're now into Persia and beyond, and it is, indeed, far beyond my capacity to introduce this topic for all cultural forms. So I'm going to concentrate mainly on painting, with a little teeny bit of architecture and a little schematic bit of history behind them. And my main purpose is to sort of sweep the path in front of Susan Scollay and Lesley Forbes. I'm going to treat this little introduction bit in rather broad strokes, without the proper academic nuances. So I hope, again, you'll pardon that and make the finer points for yourselves.
This is the map of the Persian Empire at its greatest extent, about 513 BC, under the Achaemenian Darius. Modern Iran, as you doubtless know, forms only a small, central part of this, but Persian influence persisted or returned over much of the former empire. So some areas of what we are going to consider as 'beyond' may once have been under Persian rule. But it's quite evident that the Indus formed a very strong barrier. Actually, it's not quite evident 'cause the colour doesn't come up very well on this. But the Indus did form a barrier to much Persian invasion. As you also doubtless know, the name 'Persia', as marked just above the Persian Gulf, derives from the province of Fars. This is a little picture, a tiny detail, from the Achaemenian capital of Persepolis, and I put it there just as a sort of hint of what was happening in the old days before the bit we're going to look at. I shall just assert that there is a certain relation to what we see later in things like the restrained elegance of line. I'm not, this moment, going to go deeply into whether this is a matter of revival or survival or just a coincidence resulting from the geography and the strong light of the area. Then the other thing I wanted to do was ... [off-topic aside] I just wanted to point out where Anatolia is. At the moment, in this Persian Empire, it's under Persian rule, but it's going to come, obviously, under modern Turkey eventually. So we're going to start off with a look at the Turkish world and then we're going to have a tiny little look at north India. [Off-topic aside] The Turks, as, again, you probably know, didn't originate in present-day Turkey, but in Central Asia. In the 11th century, headed by a group known as the Seljuqs, they moved into and conquered Iran.
[On a screen, the left-hand photo shows the interior of a room built of pale brick. A relief in stucco can be seen above three archways. It is captioned, 'Friday mosque, Ardistan, late 11th century.']
Dr Brend: The mosque on the left at Ardistan was built in the later 11th. And here we're looking up into the vault of the great ayvan. The material is brick, the form is arcuate, and the embellishments are in stucco. The Seljuqs moved westward into Anatolia and established themselves in Konya, and by the early 13th century, they're building away there vigorously. They continue to build even when they get overtaken by Mongol rule in 1243.
[The right-hand photo shows an elaborately carved stone facade. The caption reads, 'Ince Minareli medrese, Konya, c. 1260.']
Dr Brend: On the right, we have the Ince Minareli medrese of Konya, which is about 1260. We're looking up into the half vault of the main portal. The material is now stone, the form is rounded rather than arcuate, but there are carved embellishments that are in the tradition of Persian work – the important inscription bands and the palmettes of Seljuq Iran, in this version, vastly magnified. Not much material survives to make clear the earliest stages of Persian painting, but we can guess at it from decorations on pottery, as on the left. It's a sherd in the mina’i technique, which I won't go into, probably of the early 13th century from Iran, perhaps from the city of Kashan. This style is clearly to be related to that of the manuscript on the right, which is a romance in Persian by the name of Varqa u Gulshah. The manuscript contains the name of a painter and a match to this name is found in Konya, so it's considered probable that the manuscript was produced there in the mid 13th century. Anyway, you'll see the obvious similarity in horses, for example. Now here we come to a bit of jump. By the 15th century, the Ottomans, one of the successor groups to the Seljuqs, are located in Bursa in the north-west corner of Anatolia, just opposite the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. On the left, the mosque of Murad II of 1426 draws on the ceramic tradition of Iran …
[The left-hand photo is a close-up of hexagonal tiles in light blue and dark blue, with their borders and centres decorated with gold. The caption reads 'Muradiya camii, Bursa 1426.']
Dr Brend: … in the form of glazed tiles with applied gold, and it represents the colourful splendour of the 15th century right through from Iran and into Anatolia. Murad's son, Mehmed II, captured Constantinople in 1453, and the city gradually became known as Istanbul. Probably had been a bit before, but we won't go into that. This is the period about which Dr Scollay is going to talk. So I'm going to pass over this formative period of Ottoman art to have a quick look at what happens afterwards, sort of where it's going to. And I'm doing that on this side in the form of the mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent in Istanbul …
[A slide shows the exterior of a large mosque built in stone with domes of increasing size visible above a line of elongated archways. The caption reads 'Süleymaniye camii, Istanbul, 1557'.]
Dr Brend: ... which was built in 1557. Now, there are tiles in the interior, not quite like the Persian ones, and there is a debt to Byzantine architecture, but I'm not going to enter into either of those. What I wanted to convey here is the feeling of Ottoman Empire, which is what this building gives me. The dominant impression of mature Ottoman architecture is this sense of order and decorum. It's like the Ottoman polity. It's formed of diverse elements, but they're held in check, and moulded into an empire. And the whole thing is extremely complex, but it has a sort of logical serenity to it.
Here, just a year later, 1558, is an Ottoman manuscript, the Süleymannama, which is history. And, again, it shows the particular interest in the empire. It's showing you how it was run, it's showing you current history. Its pages convey the same dignified order. Here, we look into Topkapi Palace. The functions of various people can be deduced. And the roof has been lifted off the divan so that we see into it and we can see the innermost workings of the state. The general conception of the picture is Persian in origin. The scene is laid out with its high viewpoint, and it has a certain diagrammatic character and carefully placed colours. There is even a memory of Persian landscape conventions in the sparse grass tufts. There is, though, a trace of Europe in the treatment of the trees and some arbitrary shadow. But wholesale European influence is, as it were, held at arm's length. I think this is because the Ottoman state is a front-line state in regard to Europe. It'll take a bit, but it has to be careful. So, anyway, the whole picture is in Ottoman dress. Now we'll go to India. The Turkish forces who invaded India in 1192 discovered a vigorous tradition of architecture and of sculpture, Hindu and Jain.
[A photo shows ornate stone pillars running along the edges of a courtyard. The caption reads, 'Quvvat al-Islam mosque, Delhi, 1198'.]
Dr Brend: The Quwwat al-Islam Mosque at Delhi was first constructed from the spoils of numerous Hindu and Jain temples. I think the number is estimated at 27, but the precise number doesn't matter. The columns and beams of this trabeate architecture have been richly adorned. And in spite of being in a mosque, you may notice that there is some survival of figural representations here. Lady. Well, a goddess, presumably. So these sort of seem to have got by with only being slightly defaced. In 1198, a screen of arches was added ... That's the bit over here.
[In a photo of a courtyard, ornate stone pillars frame a towering stone archway, which is flanked by two smaller archways. The caption reads, 'Quvvat al-Islam mosque, Delhi, 1198’.]
Dr Brend: … to give it a more Islamic appearance. The visual impression is from the Persian tradition, though the construction is of stone, and the arches are formed not with radiating voussoirs, but are corbelled out, as is clearly shown by the horizontal lines of colour variation. Now, for three and a half centuries, there is a tract of history that can loosely be called the 'Sultanate period'. During this, a great variety of buildings and manuscripts were produced, some close to Persian prototypes and some more divergent from them. A rather Persianate cluster of manuscripts was produced in Mandu in western central India in the late 15th to early 16th century. One such manuscript is the Ni‘matnama, on the right, a book of recipes and other practical advice, such as how many musicians you need to take if you're going on a hunting trip.
Dr Brend: So the Ni‘matnama was started by one ruler by the name of Ghiyas al-Din Khalji, who had retired with a view to being served entirely by women, and it's completed for his son, Nasir al-Din, after 1500. The Persian tradition is evident in the general lines of the style, but we have some different features in the architecture … and a sort of different look about it. So you wouldn't mistake it for Persian, is what I'm trying to say. We are in a close match for the pool on the other, which is in a little pleasure pavilion also produced for Nasir al-Din in 1508. So you can see how the architecture matches what's shown in the picture. And in many Sultanate manuscripts, one argues that they are from India on the grounds of the architecture. Though the Mughals first entered India in 1526, evidence of their patronage is mainly known from the 15th century, the mid century, onwards, when Humayun, the second Mughal ruler, acquired the services of several artists from Iran.
The picture on the left shows Mir Musavvir, one such artist, and is either by the subject himself or by his son. It is in classical Safavid style – elegant and informative in an abstract kind of way. The drawing of the reader on the right represents the transformation that took place in Mughal India during the following quarter century. Unfortunately, it's not dated, so one can't be frightfully sharp about that. The drawing is attributable to Basawan, one of the numerous Hindu painters to serve the Mughals. While it has elements in common with the Persian picture, in conception, flowing line, costume, it has new effects of volume and some more down-to-earth detail. I particularly like the toes, if you look at those. I think this change is because the Hindu painters, with their strong background of three-dimensional sculpture, are able to take up ideas that come flowing in from Europe more easily. And, again, unlike the Ottomans, they don't need to feel resistant to European things because they're at a safe distance from them.
Here we are in the time of Akbar, in 1595, a picture for him in a Nizami on the left. Mughal painting, of course, continues afterwards, as Lesley Forbes is going to explain to you. What's happening here is that an old woman castigates Sultan Sanjar for the oppression she's experiencing. The influence of Europe is very clear in the treatment. We have realism, volume, the suggestion of shadow, and a magnificent effect of recession. But this manuscript was produced during a phase of renewed interest in Persian literature on the part of the patron. The Mughal picture makes an interesting comparison with this on the right, which is basically the same story, but applied to a different sultan, Malikshah. The text of this manuscript, which is one of the works of Khwaju Kirmani, was copied in Baghdad in 1396, and the pictures are probably of about 1390. And it's got a curious similarity to the Mughal picture in that the lady is waving her arms and has a long trailer down the back, whereas, in many other pictures, she's a little, bent, old lady. So something I'd like to look into further. So, anyway, this is my introduction. I hope it's of some use.
Now we come to the particular matter of Nizami and Amir Khusrau. In the late 12th century, the celebrated Persian poet Nizami composed his Khamsa, a quintet of books. The first book contains a set of didactic essays reinforced with brief parables, and the other four books are romances, three of which have a quasi-historical background. At the turn of the 13th to 14th century, Amir Khusrau Dihlavi, Amir Khusrau of Delhi, who was born in India and lived there, though he is of Central Asian/Turkish extraction and Persian culture, so that he's really a sort of paradigm of Persia and beyond, he composed a Khamsa of his own that, in some respects, follows that of Nizami and, in some, departs from it. The works of both poets have been illustrated both in Iran and India, and, in consequence, we have a great wealth of illustrations. In order to treat this subject within reasonable limits, I intend to use the State Library of Victoria's Amir Khusrau as a central focus. The Amir Khusrau is going to come up on … mostly on the left side of the screen and it's going to be unlabelled. The comparisons are mostly on the right and labelled. The manuscript … the Amir Khusrau, as you may see in the exhibition, is dated to 1599 or 1600. Here, I'm comparing it with a much earlier picture, which is from a Nizami. The basic iconography of this stays very much the same. Some illustrations, though from different times and places, have the same iconography in pictures for both poets, and this is especially evident in the illustrations that give a framework to the tale of the Sassanian Prince Bahram Gur, which Nizami calls Haft Paykar, ‘Seven fair forms’ and Amir Khusrau calls Hasht Bihisht, ‘Eight paradises’. Amir Khusrau is sort of notionally paying tribute to Nizami, but he's always trying to sneak in something that he's a little sort of more so. We have ... Bahram Gur goes and visits a pavilion of a princess every day in the week.
[Seven colourful artworks appear on the screen, each depicting a couple framed by an arch or pavilion. The first is predominantly black, the second saffron, the third green, the fourth light red, the fifth features a violet gazebo against a blue sky, the sixth a light brown gazebo in a garden and the seventh, unfinished, is white against a light red background.]
Dr Brend: It's rather interestingly the same sort of structure as we have with those jinns that Dr Carboni was talking about yesterday. A jinn for each colour. But I noticed that the colour sequence wasn't quite the same as it is in these. But, you know, it all hangs together in a conception of cosmology, what the world is made of.
Here, we have the black pavilion of Saturday. [Non-lecture aside] The Amir Khusrau pavilion on the left has a similar iconography to that on the right, which illustrates a Nizami text of 1411. Those who are deeply into this subject will know that it's not a complete Nizami. It's part of an anthology, but, for present purposes, it's a Nizami text. What the pictures do not reveal is that Amir Khusrau embellishes the title of the pavilion. For him, it is not simply the black pavilion, but the musk-black pavilion. And in it, the princess will tell a story that is a bit different from that in Nizami. There we have the black one. Some manuscripts confine themselves to the illustration of the first two pavilions – just the black and the pavilion that, for Nizami, is yellow, and, for Amir Khusrau, is saffron. Some manuscripts of either poet show the pavilions of all the days of the week. And, as you imagine, when all pavilions are shown, there is a risk of repetitive dullness. But the illustrator of the Melbourne Amir Khusrau triumphantly takes us through seven days of the week with a delightfully varied architecture. Where the Nizami pavilion would be green, Amir Khusrau's is verdant. Where Nizami's would be red, Amir Khusrau's is pomegranate-coloured, the designation perhaps emphasised by a pomegranate tree growing beside it. Where Nizami's pavilion is blue, Amir Khusrau's is violet. And here, the painter introduces variety by rendering the pavilion as a delicate gazebo. And to return for a moment to the narrative, it will be no accident that Amir Khusrau accords the more romantic stories of his collection to the pomegranate and the violet pavilions, the fruit and the flower. For once, Amir Khusrau follows Nizami in naming the Thursday pavilion 'sandalwood'. Presumably, he could not think of an additional poetic way of saying 'brown'. The pavilion of Friday, the holy day, is white for Nizami and camphor-white for Amir Khusrau. The camphor pavilion in the Melbourne manuscript is of particular interest since it's unfinished. The story told in it concerns the conduct that distinguishes a chaste and pious wife. It is, however, interesting that the Melbourne illustration was intended to portray …
[A close-up of the white and light red image reveals that the drawing of the couple is unfinished. On the right, a similar picture shows a couple in brightly coloured clothing framed by a pink and gold archway. To the left an attendant carries a golden dish and to the right two musicians play.]
Dr Brend: … a slightly greater degree of intimacy between Bahram and the princess than is shown in the other pavilions. And we may perhaps wonder whether this is the reason it's not completed. The other thing it shows, of course, only I don't know if you can see it frightfully well on the screen, but that sort of little unit of arabesques sticking up above the picture must be a later addition because it runs over a white dome.
[Non-lecture aside] We now move from the story of Bahram Gur to that of another Sasanian prince named, like the author, Khusrau. So Amir Khusrau on this side for once. This prince has journeyed to Armenia, met and fallen in love with the Princess Shirin, and is entertained by her aunt. In this illustration, it is by no means clear to me whether the lady in conversation with the prince is intended as Shirin or as her aunt. Indeed, the whole picture could be taken for one of Bahram Gur's pavilions were it a little more definite in colour. This demonstrates the fact that some pictures have a generic iconography that could well be used in other manuscripts for other subjects. Both from the Amir Khusrau. Similarly, in the following scenes from the Amir Khusrau, we have a very charming effect. But the pictures, the compositions, the precise compositions, could have been used the other way round. And, indeed, it seems to me not impossible that the artist got them the wrong way round. In the left-hand one, Khusrau and Shirin are enthroned at night and entertained by ten youths and ten maidens.
[A colourful image shows a couple sitting together on a platform in an outdoor setting. Attendants, musicians and a dancer entertain and wait on the couple.]
Dr Brend: Khusrau invites the attendants to pair off with the promise that he will unite them. However, Shirin and Khusrau themselves quarrel and fail to follow suit. In the second fête champêtre on the right, Khusrau has journeyed to Isfahan to find solace with the beautiful Shakar …
[A slide shows couples in colourful Persian dress sitting in a landscape of flowers, shrubs and rocks. One couple sits on a deep blue carpet.]
Dr Brend: … who is a rather shady lady, though technically chaste. She welcomes him and entertains him with music and, in the morning, they marry. This moment comes a little later in the story. Shirin has heard of the marriage. A young sculptor-cum-civil-engineer named Farhad has fallen in love with her. Khusrau has caused the death of Farhad. Here, Khusrau has come to the door of Shirin's castle to plead with him for admittance. And the same composition with the same storyline we find in Nizami, I think, in the exhibition. Now, this is, I think, an extraordinarily important composition type, and I would like to sort of go into it for a moment. I see it as a sort of L-shaped – vertical on the left, of course, and horizontal coming towards us. I think it is a sort of paradigm of Persian painting in that it tells you what is going on but it is not realistic, naturalistic. I mean, if you imagine it in cinematographic terms, you couldn't do a shot which would show the gentleman at the bottom of the castle and the lady at the top of it without panning. So space is reduced. And, again, they couldn't really hold a very long and discursive conversation from that sort of distance, but it's telling you what happens. So this character in Persian painting is what I mean by 'diagrammatic'. It's like a chart – it shows you. You know what the narrative is, everything's perfectly plain. And on top of that, it has a certain sort of symbolism because, obviously …
[Slide shows two Persian miniature paintings of a woman looking down from a window at a turbaned man on horseback. In the left-hand painting, the woman is dressed in white and looks from an arched window, while the woman in the right-hand image is dressed in black and stands in a rectangular window. In the right-hand image, the horse stands in a garden. Two male attendants stand behind.]
Dr Brend: … Shirin at the top of the window has the upper hand in psychological terms. And, furthermore, in symbolic terms relating to mysticism, it places her more suitably as the divine object with the lover below asking to come in and come up. So it's a very important composition and had been used in other works from the 14th century onwards, and it gets used in many, many different sorts of narratives and places.
Another point where the Amir Khusrau and the Nizami stories are quite close – they're not identical – occurs in their third book, which is set in pre-Islamic Arabia, as we were hearing yesterday. Majnun's mad for love of Layla, a girl from a different tribe, or a different tribe in Amir Khusrau. When Majnun is wandering in the desert, he is befriended by Naufal, a Bedouin chieftain. Naufal offers to obtain Layla as Majnun's bride, and a tribal battle ensues. For the work of both authors, this scene is distinguished from a generic scene of warfare by the presence of camels. In the Nizami – this side, from the 1411 text – Majnun is watching … and he's going to intervene in the battle. In the Amir Khusrau story, Majnun is not yet present at the initial battle, which is what we've got in the Amir Khusrau side. Later, he comes to hear of a plot to kill Layla, so he goes and clutches at Naufal's stirrup, to prevent further warfare. Then there's the matter of visits to Majnun in the desert. Amir Khusrau also diverges from Nizami in the matter of visitors to Majnun when he is in the desert, pining for Layla. In Nizami, Majnun is visited by his father and then by his uncle and mother. In Amir Khusrau, he's also visited by his father, but later by friends who seek him out and invite him to join their joyful gathering. This subject gives rise to very endearing scenes of affection, both in the Melbourne manuscript, in a fairly simple but sweet effect, and in a manuscript of 1495, in Herat style, in which we may possibly see the hand of the celebrated painter Bihzad. One story starts off somewhat similar and then diverges, as Dr Abdullaeva has shown in the exhibition book. We have the slave girl whom Bahram Gur takes out with him on a hunt. She is named Fitna in Nizami and Dilaram in Amir Khusrau. The girl raises Bahram's ire and he casts her off. By long practice, Fitna, the Nizami one, acquires the capability to carry a calf up a flight of stairs …
[The right-hand image shows a woman standing on a rooftop carrying a cow across her shoulders. She faces a man, while more wait near the door below. The left-hand image depicts a woman playing a harp seated next to a man by a stream and surrounded by animals. A boy waits nearby with a horse and three others observe from behind a hillside.]
Dr Brend: … as one does, and so confounds Bahram and is reunited with him. Dilaram, on the other hand, learns from a wise man how to draw wild animals into an enchanted sleep, and thus she achieves the same result. And I think that's clearly Amir Khusrau trying to upstage Nizami.
Now, the parables in the first book of the quintets are quite different in both. So here is a sequence of the Amir Khusrau ones. These pictures run fairly true to a tradition of Amir Khusrau pictures. The picture on the left and, indeed, on the right shows us a group of travellers in the desert who are stricken with thirst. A man comes along and offers them water, but since each refuses to drink and passes the water to his friend, they all die of thirst. The Melbourne manuscript has several features, figures and colours which relate it to a version probably of the 1520s in the style of Bukhara. I won't elaborate. I hope you can see them. We now come to the Mughal effect. The Amir Khusrau manuscript on the right was copied in Mughal India in 1598 and can be considered as a companion volume to the Nizami of 1595 of which I showed you a picture before. In this parable in the first book, a young man wanders in a garden and an old man makes an approach to him. The young man taunts the old man for his stooped posture. The old man replies that he's looking on the ground for the coin of lost youth and that, one day, this will be the lot of the other. In the Melbourne picture, the young man and the old are shown separated symbolically by a tree. In the Mughal painting, we have a great deal of luscious detail and background added, but the essentials are the same. The figures are separated by a tree, youth still wears his vermilion garment, and the old man still wears a blue gown, though he has taken off his yellow coat. Sometimes, both Persian and Mughal comparisons can be brought to bear. This subject provides us with an interesting example of a rather stable iconography.
Another of the parables, this parable, deals with the longing of the soul for the divine. A furnace stoker looks at a king and loves him and weeps. The king understands and smiles. The smoky heat of the furnace is to be identified with the mystical passion experienced by the stoker. The iconography of the Melbourne picture is quite close to that of an illustration, probably from the Caucasus, that precedes it by some hundred years. But then its fundamental elements are also to be found in the Mughal manuscript of 1598, its near-contemporary. At first, we see a confusing mass of figures. But if we take out a detail … that eliminates some two-thirds of the picture, a similarity to the Melbourne picture becomes clear, albeit with much augmented landscape.
We return to the story of Khusrau and Shirin. Farhad, you will recall, has fallen in love with Shirin. Shirin asks Farhad to build a channel that will bring to her the milk from the flocks in mountains, and she comes to visit him at work. The Melbourne picture is unusual in showing Farhad hugging his knees, but I'd like you to note this point. The Mughal composition shows the more usual iconography as it might be found in a Nizami. In spite of this difference, the Melbourne and the Mughal manuscripts have in common Shirin and a horse and a rocky background, as might be expected. But, looking more closely, it becomes clear that there's an odder similarity. Shirin's rather distinctive costume in the Persian manuscript – orange and blue with a draped headdress – has been transferred to one of the attendants in the Mughal picture. How this comes about actually is a mystery to me. I mean, there's obviously a back tradition, but I can't quite see what it is.
Now, in Nizami … Khusrau becomes jealous of this slight connection between Farhad and Shirin, and he sends a messenger who gives Farhad false news of the death of Shirin, which caused Farhad to die. In Amir Khusrau, this is slightly elaborated because, first of all, Khusrau goes himself disguised as a shepherd. So, on the far side, we have Khusrau himself visiting Farhad, disguised as a shepherd, but it's using the format which, in a Nizami, would be the messenger. On this side, in the Mughal manuscript, we have the messenger bringing the false news. He's finding Farhad in conversation with a shepherd. But the remarkable thing in the present context is that we see here Farhad in a hunched position, which matches that that we had in this. So there's some sort of cross-current. I don't quite know what it is, but something has connected there.
A final point I should like to make touches both on similarity and divergence and on the legacy of Persian painting in India. We're both Nizami here. In Nizami's work, at a climactic moment in the narrative, Majnun is led by a well-wisher to the encampment where Layla is, or possibly the town where she is, and both the lovers faint from emotion. The well-wisher tries to revive them. This subject has a long history, as you can see from the – at least the 1411 upwards. And I'm not sure if it's before that, but, anyway, it's long. Though the Mughal, of course, treats it in a slightly different manner. Now, this episode doesn't occur in Amir Khusrau, but, instead, we have Layla deciding to visit Majnun, not Majnun going to Layla. Layla goes to Majnun. She equips herself with a camel …
[A slide shows a painting of a man being cradled in the arms of a woman among trees and forest animals. A camel sits a short distance away. In a second colourful image, a couple sit facing each other near a hill. Nearby, brightly dressed women stand watching, and a man holds a camel. The caption reads, 'Layla visits Majnun, Rajasthan, 18th century, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne AS 62-1980.']
Dr Brend: … and a mahmil, the litter on top of a camel, and she goes and finds Majnun. She finds him asleep and takes his head on her lap. On waking, Majnun faints, and stays thus for a while. And then they both revive and talk to each other of love. In the Mughal Amir Khusrau, we don't, unfortunately, have a camel, which can be quite a key piece, but we have a conversation in the desert. But in later Mughal pictures ... There are quite a number of later pictures in various Mughal albums and on show in the exhibition. And Mughal pictures, so far as I know, show the couple in conversation and with a camel, and, if they do, they are in the tradition of Amir Khusrau and not in that of Nizami. Camel again. I mean, it's got an extra man leading it, who's extraneous, I think, but it's the basic fact. And so we see that there's a web of traditions of illustrations that meet and diverge between the two Khamsas. How the traditions are handed down or transferred from centre to centre is, most often, not certain. For the most part, we do not know if ways of portraying things were carried in complete manuscripts, in isolated sketches, or in the memory of painters. Thank you.
[On a black screen, under the words, 'Images courtesy of', appear the logos of the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, State Library of Victoria, and National Gallery of Victoria.]
[The logos for the State Library of Victoria and the State Government of Victoria appear in white on a black screen.]
'There's a web of traditions…that meet and diverge between the two ‘Khamsas’.'
- Barbara Brend
About this video
Join Barbara Brend for a discussion about two remarkable versions of the ‘Khamsa’.
Adorned with beautifully illustrated miniatures, the ‘Khamsa’ of celebrated 12th-century Persian poet Nizami is considered one of the finest examples of the Indo-Muslim arts of the book.
Inspired by this work, several other notable poets later wrote Khamsas in Persian and in Turkish.
Discover the similarities and differences in the ‘Khamsas’ as Barbara contrasts the Persian version with that of famous Indian poet Amir Khusrau, created over a century later.
Barbara Brend is an independent scholar whose research focuses on form and meaning in Persian and Mughal manuscript illustration.