recto © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.146
Title
Sultan Sanjar and the Old Woman (painting, recto; text, verso), folio from a manuscript of the Khamsa (Makhsan al-Asrar) by Nizami
Classification
Manuscripts
Work Type
manuscript folio
Date
1584
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran, Shiraz
Period
Safavid period
Culture
Persian
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Dimensions
40 x 26.2 cm (15 3/4 x 10 5/16 in.)
Provenance
[Christies, London, 18 October 1994, lot 31]. [Mansour Gallery, London, 1994 or 1995], sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (1994 or 1995 - 2002), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Accession Year
2002
Object Number
2002.50.146
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
Makhzan al-asrar contains stories dealing with religious and moral values, worldly power, and spiritual concerns. This episode of Nizami’s poem tells of an old woman who complained to the Seljuk ruler Sultan Sanjar (d. 1157) about the harsh treatment that she had received from his police. After recounting the physical and mental suffering inflicted on her by Sanjar’s men, she proceeded to describe the immoral conduct of the ruler himself and the disapproval of his subjects throughout the empire, warning him that his tyranny and lack of justice would lead to his demise.
In this illustration, the sultan is shown astride his horse and surrounded by the men of his retinue, one of whom shades him with a parasol. The old woman approaches, and she and the sultan gesture with extended arms, indicating that they are conversing. Although she is the subject of Nizami's story, she is a minor figure in this painting, which is dominated by the image of Sultan Sanjar. The episode takes place in a flowery green meadow, behind which is a hill with rocky outcroppings that suggest human faces—a common convention in Safavid painting.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
104

Sultan Sanjar and the Old Woman, from Makhzan al- asrār
Recto: text and illustration, with title “Story,” indicating the beginning of a new episode
Verso: text
Folio: 40 × 26.2 cm (15 3/4 × 10 5/16 in.)
2002.50.146

Published: Christie’s 1994a, lot 31.

Makhzan al-asrār contains stories dealing with religious and moral values, worldly power, and spiritual concerns. This episode of Nizami’s poem tells of an old woman who complained to the Seljuk ruler Sultan Sanjar (d. 1157) about the harsh treatment that she had received from his police. After recounting the physical and mental suffering inflicted on her by Sanjar’s men, she proceeded to describe the immoral conduct of the ruler himself and the disapproval of his subjects throughout the empire, warning him that his tyranny and lack of justice would lead to his demise.

In this illustration, the sultan is shown astride his horse and surrounded by the men of his retinue, one of whom shades him with a parasol. The old woman approaches, and she and the sultan gesture with extended arms, indicating that they are conversing. Although she is the subject of Nizami's story, she is a minor figure in this painting, which is dominated by the image of Sultan Sanjar. The episode takes place in a flowery green meadow, behind which is a hill with rocky outcroppings that suggest human faces—a common convention in Safavid painting.

Mika M. Natif

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), p. 243, cat. 104, ill.

Exhibition History

In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2013 - 06/01/2013

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu