Object Record

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Catalog number 2011.34
Artist Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
Title Masnavi
Date 1856
Object Name Manuscript
Description The Masnavi is an extensive poem written in Persian by by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273 AD), the celebrated Persian Sufi saint and poet. It is one of the best known and most influential works of both Sufism and Persian literature. The Masnavi is a series of six books of poetry that each amount to about 25,000 verses or 50,000 lines. It is a spiritual writing that teaches Sufis how to reach their goal of being in true love with God.
This manuscript was copied in Nasta'liq calligraphy in 1856. The manuscript is bound in a Kajar style lacquer binding of pasteboard painted with floral design and a lacquered doublure (inner lining) decorated with yellow narcissus flowers. The manuscript text is illuminated with opaque watercolor, lapis pigment and gold. A possible translation of the colophon reads: "this book was finished by the pen of Molave [another name for Rumi or his order] in 1243 [1856 AD] of the Year of the Hijra in the Islamic calendar." The manuscript was likely bound close to this date as well.

Islamic civilizations produced illustrated manuscripts of both religious and secular texts. Due to the broad geographic and chronological range of Islamic cultures, these manuscripts are written in numerous different languages and dialects. While only a relatively limited population in the region of the Middle East spoke Arabic during the prophet Muhammad’s lifetime in the 7th century, it spread around the entire Islamic world in the 300 years following, becoming the dominant language of government, religion, commerce, and literature. Written and read from right to left (like Hebrew and Syriac), Arabic has an alphabet that includes 18 different letter forms used to express 28 distinct sounds (or phonemes). There are many different styles of Arabic script; these appear not only on manuscripts but also on ceramics, metalwork, textiles, and architecture. In addition to The Quran, Islamic manuscripts include scientific treatises, histories, romances, and poetry.
The earliest Islamic manuscripts are written on parchment. Islamic craftsmen learned the art of making paper from China in the 8th century. The primary advantage of paper over parchment was that the ink could not easily be erased or altered. It was also a far less expensive technique, making manuscripts available to a greater percentage of the population. Also, since it is thinner than parchment, more pages could be bound in a single volume.

Medium/Material Mineral Pigment, Gilt, Ink, on Paper
Dimensions H-11 W-7 inches
Search Terms Iran
Holy Quran
19th century AD
Ottoman Empire
Exhibition and Publication History *"SUMMERSCAPE: an exhibition of artists' books, prints, & kite designs," Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Queens College, CUNY, June 16 - August 7, 1986.
*"Interwoven Worlds: Exploring Domestic and Nomadic Life in Turkey," GTM at Flushing Town Hall, March 9-April 29, 2012. A. Winter and A. Bauer, Curators.
Culture Persian/Ottoman