recto © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.5
Title
Burzuy Brings Nushirvan the Book of Kalila and Dimna (painting, recto; text, verso), Illustrated folio from a manuscript of the Shahnama by Firdawsi
Classification
Manuscripts
Work Type
manuscript folio
Date
late 16th - early 17th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran
Period
Safavid period
Culture
Persian
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/165389
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Black ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on off-white paper, with underdrawing in red ink
Dimensions
37.2 x 22.7 cm (14 5/8 x 8 15/16 in.)
Provenance
Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (by 1998- 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
2002.50.5
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
The tale of how the collection of fables Kalila and Dimna was transmitted from India to Iran appears in the Shahnama in the section recounting the life and rule of Khusraw Anushirvan. Given leave by the king, the learned physician Burzoy journeyed to India in search of the plant of eternal life. After arriving at the Indian court, however, Burzoy came to understand that it was not a magical plant but rather a book called Kalila and Dimna that contained the transformative wisdom he sought. Forbidden to take notes as he read, he memorized parts of the book by day and transcribed them secretly by night, sending his transcriptions back to Anushirvan. Upon his return to Iran, Burzoy was received with great honor at the court. Free to choose his reward, he asked that the story of his adventure be included as a preface in the vizier Buzurgmihr’s translation into Pahlavi (Middle Persian) of the Kalila and Dimna.
This painting, of a seemingly generic reception scene at the Safavid court, focuses only subtly on the story of Burzoy. King Anushirvan is shown seated on his throne, surrounded by attendants and officials; courtiers engage in animated conversations and women watch from their apartments.
At center left, however, a young man is busy writing: he probably represents Buzurgmihr, Anushirvan’s brilliant vizier, who is copying either the text of Kalila and Dimna or Burzoy’s story. Burzuy is likely the bearded man sitting opposite him on the right. The exaggerated white turbans worn by the male courtiers and attendants in this painting reflect Iranian headgear fashionable in the early seventeenth century.

Recto: Text tells the story of Barzui reading and memorizing chapters of Kalila and Dimna. Text corresponds with M. Ramazani (1963) vol. 4, p. 512, lines 12238-12242; Text corresponds with J. Mohl (1976), vol. 6, p. 452, lines 3517-3522. In Warner & Warner, text begins vol. 7, p. 423. Warner's subtitle for Section 4 reads, "How Nushirwan sent Barzwi, the Leech, to Hindustan to fetch a wondrous Drug, and how Barzwi brought back the book of Kalila and Dimna."

Verso. Kisra is the title of the kings of the Sasanian dynasty, especially Anushirvan. Text corresponds with M. Ramazani (1963) vol. 4, pp. 512-14, lines 12244-12298. Subtitles in the text of this folio read, "Buzurgmihr tied up by Kisra." Text corresponds with J. Mohl (1976), vol. 6, pp. 452-456, lines 3523-3570. Mohl subtitles read, "Nouschirwan se met en colère contre Buzurdgmihr et le fait enchaîner."

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
115

Burzuy Brings Anushirvan the Book
Kalila and Dimna
Folio from a manuscript of the Shāhnāma by Firdawsi
Recto: text and illustration
Verso: text
Iran, Safavid period, late 16th–17th century
Black ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on off-white paper, with underdrawing in red ink
Folio: 37.2 × 22.7 cm (14 5/8 × 8 15/16 in.)
2002.50.5

The tale of how the collection of fables Kalila and Dimna was transmitted from India to Iran appears in the Shāhnāma in the section recounting the life and rule of Khusraw Anushirvan.[1] Given leave by the king, the learned physician Burzuy journeyed to India in search of the plant of eternal life. After arriving at the Indian court, however, Burzuy came to understand that it was not a magical plant but rather a book called Kalila and Dimna that contained the transformative wisdom he sought. Forbidden to take notes as he read, he memorized parts of the book by day and transcribed them secretly by night, sending his transcriptions back to Anushirvan. Upon his return to Iran, Burzuy was received with great honor at the court. Free to choose his reward, he asked that the story of his adventure be included as a preface in the vizier Buzurgmihr’s translation into Pahlavi (Middle Persian) of the Kalila and Dimna.

This painting, of a seemingly generic reception scene at the Safavid court, focuses only subtly on the story of Burzuy. King Anushirvan is shown seated on his throne, surrounded by attendants and officials; courtiers engage in animated conversations and women watch from their apartments. At center left, however, a young man is busy writing: he probably represents Buzurgmihr, Anushirvan’s brilliant vizier, who is copying either the text of Kalila and Dimna or Burzuy’s story. Burzuy is likely the bearded man sitting opposite him on the right.

The exaggerated white turbans worn by the male courtiers and attendants in this painting reflect Iranian headgear fashionable in the early seventeenth century.[2]

Mika M. Natif

[1] De Blois 1990, 56–57.
[2] See, for example, the artist Riza ʿAbbasi’s double-page painting Picnic with Nobleman, executed in 1612, reproduced in Canby 1996b, cat. 55.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), pp.249-250, cat. 115, 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