On the Path of Madness: Representations of Majnun in Persian, Turkish, and Indian Painting

, Harvard University Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum
  • Layla visiting Majnun in the Desert (painting, verso; text, recto), illustrated folio from a manuscript of the Haft Awrang (Seven Thrones) of Jami (d. 1492)
  • Plea for Tax Relief, folio from an album
  • Layla and Majnun
  • Illustrated Manuscript of the Khamsa by Amir Khusraw of Delhi (d. 1325)
  • Illustrated Manuscript of Layla and Majnun by Hamdi
  • An Image of Majnun with Verses from the Poem Layla va Majnun
  • Layla and Majnun at School (painting, verso; text, recto), illustrated folio from a manuscript of the Khamsa (Quintet) of Nizami
  • Majnun as a Sheep Looking at Layla (painting, recto; text, verso), illustrated folio from a manuscript of Mantiq al-Tayr (Conference of the Birds) by Farid al-Din Attar (d. 1221)
On View Harvard University Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum

No tale is told the same way twice, not even a story as universal as the romance of Majnun and Layla, archetypal star-crossed lovers of 7th-century Arabia. Transmission inevitably introduces transformation as a tale is stretched for new audiences, and the story of Majnun, whose longing for his beloved Layla sets him on the path of madness, has traveled far from its origins. This exhibition includes independent images of the lovers as well as illustrations for Persian, Turkish, and Indian poetic texts. Variations in these paintings reflect the broad geographical and chronological ranges of their production, but the differences also speak to the nature of the story itself—at once universal and elastic.

Organized by Mary McWilliams, Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art, and Sunil Sharma, senior lecturer, Boston University.