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Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.7
Title
Woman Committing Sati, folio from an Album
Classification
Albums
Work Type
album folio
Date
second half 17th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran
Period
Safavid period
Culture
Persian
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/165399
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Black ink, opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper with underdrawing in black ink
Dimensions
32 x 20.7 cm (12 5/8 x 8 1/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: The text reads, “I will seize the kingdoms of the West and the East.” The text box is pasted onto the painted surface.
Provenance
Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (by 1974-2002), 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
2002.50.7
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
This painting dramatically represents a young woman about to commit sati, or self-immolation. The literary subject of a woman’s sacrificing herself on the funeral pyre of her dead husband was popularized in seventeenth-century Iran through the poet Naw'i Khabushani’s narrative Suz u Gudaz (Burning and Melting). Set in India, the poem tells of a Hindu bride who vows to cast herself on her bridegroom’s pyre and will not be dissuaded, even by the Mughal emperor himself.
In many ways, however, this painting does not correspond to Naw'i’s text: the inscription beneath the painting is unrelated to the poem, the body of the bridegroom is missing from the pyre, key figures (such as the Mughal prince who accompanies the bride to the pyre) have been omitted, and the bride’s disrobing is uncalled for. Moreover, examination under transmitted light reveals no traces of text on the reverse side of the manuscript.
In this illustration the young woman kneels next to a small pyre. She rends her gown in grief, exposing her naked torso, and pulls out locks of her hair, which she casts into the fire. Two other women try to restrain her; below them a man crouches, his turban undone and his facial features contorted with grief. Opposite the fire, an older man sits hunched over, his eyes closed. At the horizon is a group of male observers, the one on the right wearing a European hat. Dramatic clouds bracket a tree with leaves similar to those found in early seventeenth-century Mughal paintings.
One may conclude that this painting, which blends Persian and Indian elements with European techniques of modeling and shading and demonstrates knowledge of and interest in the female body, was created as a single-page work illustrating the exotic topic of sati and eroticizing the foreign (here Hindu) woman. This hybrid style is characteristic of Safavid painting in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
130

Woman Committing Sati
Folio from an album
Iran, Safavid period, second half 17th century
Black ink, opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper with underdrawing in black ink
Folio: 32 × 20.7 cm (125/8 × 81/8 in.)
2002.50.7

This painting dramatically represents a young woman about to commit sati, or self-immolation. The literary subject of a woman’s sacrificing herself on the funeral pyre of her dead husband was popularized in seventeenth-century
Iran through the poet Nawʿi Khabushani’s narrative Sūz u Gudāz (Burning and Melting).[1] Set in India, the poem tells of a Hindu bride who vows to cast herself on her bridegroom’s pyre and will not be dissuaded, even by the Mughal emperor himself.[2]

In many ways, however, this painting does not correspond to Nawʿi’s text: the inscription beneath the painting is unrelated to the poem,[3] the body of the bridegroom is missing from the pyre, key figures (such as the Mughal prince who accompanies the bride to the pyre) have been omitted, and the bride’s disrobing is uncalled for. Moreover, examination under transmitted light reveals no traces of text on the reverse side of the folio, indicating that it was not part of a manuscript.[4]

In this illustration the young woman kneels next to a small pyre. She rends her gown in grief, exposing her naked torso, and pulls out locks of her hair, which she casts into the fire. Two other women try to restrain her; below them a man crouches, his turban undone and his facial features contorted with grief. Opposite the fire, an older man sits hunched over, his eyes closed. At the horizon is a group of male observers, the one on the right wearing a European hat. Dramatic clouds bracket a tree with leaves similar to those found in early seventeenth-century Mughal paintings.[5]

One may conclude that this painting, which blends Persian and Indian elements with European techniques of modeling and shading and demonstrates knowledge of and interest in the female body, was created as a single-page work illustrating the exotic topic of sati and eroticizing the foreign (here Hindu) woman. This hybrid style is characteristic of Safavid painting in the second half of the seventeenth century.[6]

Mika M. Natif

[1] Farhad 2001, 122–23.
[2] See Sharma 2007; see also, in this catalogue, Sharma’s essay, “The Sati and the Yogi: Safavid and Mughal Imperial Self-Representation in Two Album Pages,” 147–55.
[3] The text reads, “I will seize the kingdoms of the West and the East.” The text box is pasted onto the painted surface.
[4] Transmitted light further reveals changes in the hand position of the bride and in the facial features of the woman behind her. Quickly sketched underdrawing is visible.
[5] See, for example, Farrukh Beg’s 1615 painting after Dolor of Cornelis de Vos, reproduced in S. C. Welch 1985, 221–22, cat. 147a.
[6] Farhad 2001, 122–23.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), pp. 147-148, ill.; p. 262, cat. 130, ill.

Exhibition History

Re-View: S231 (Islamic rotation: 4) Strolling Through Isfahan: Seventeenth-Century Paintings From Safavid Iran, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 01/08/2010 - 06/13/2010

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