recto © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.43
Title
The Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the Bath (painting, recto; text, verso), folio from a manuscript of the Khamsa (Makhzan al-Asrar) by Nizami
Classification
Manuscripts
Work Type
manuscript folio
Date
1584
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran, Shiraz
Period
Safavid period
Culture
Persian
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/165381
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Dimensions
40.1 x 26.1 cm (15 13/16 x 10 1/4 in.)
Provenance
[Christies, London, 18 October 1994, lot 29]. [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
2002.50.43
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
While shaving the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (d. 809) in the bathhouse, a barber impertinently professed his love for the ruler’s daughter and asked to marry her. Astounded at the barber’s audacity, the caliph consulted his vizier, who speculated that the barber might have been standing atop a treasure, which would generate inordinate confidence in any man. The next day, the vizier suggested, the caliph should choose another spot in the bathhouse and observe the barber’s behavior. Standing in a different place to minister to the caliph, the barber behaved in a polite and appropriate manner, not mentioning the ruler’s daughter. Harun al-Rashid immediately ordered the original location excavated, and indeed a treasure was found there.
The illustration represents a lively genre scene of men in a bathhouse being washed, massaged, shaved, and entertained. Depicted at the right of the main chamber are a seated man, his lower body draped in blue, and a standing man in red who shaves his head. These two probably represent the caliph and the barber.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
105

Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the Bath, from Makhzan al- asrār
Recto: text and illustration, with title “Harun al-Rashid being shaved”
Verso: text
Folio: 40.1 × 26.1 cm (15 13/16 × 10 1/4 in.)
2002.50.43

Published: Christie’s 1994a, lot 29.

While shaving the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (d. 809) in the bathhouse, a barber impertinently professed his love for the ruler’s daughter and asked to marry her. Astounded at the barber’s audacity, the caliph consulted his vizier, who speculated that the barber might have been standing atop a treasure, which would generate inordinate confidence in any man. The next day, the vizier suggested, the caliph should choose another spot in the bathhouse and observe the barber’s behavior. Standing in a different place to minister to the caliph, the barber behaved in a polite and appropriate manner, not mentioning the ruler’s daughter. Harun al-Rashid immediately ordered the original location excavated, and indeed a treasure was found there.

The illustration represents a lively genre scene of men in a bathhouse being washed, massaged, shaved, and entertained. Depicted at the right of the main chamber are a seated man, his lower body draped in blue, and a standing man in red who shaves his head. These two probably represent the caliph and the barber.

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), pp. 243-244, cat. 105, 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