5 minutes with… A 19th-century Islamic manuscript

5 minutes with… A 19th-century Islamic manuscript

Romain Pingannaud, Head of Christie’s Islamic Art department, introduces a beautifully illustrated work whose style crosses dynasties

‘This work came as part of the extensive Mohamed Makiya Library of Islamic Manuscripts, and it was only recently that I discovered the beautiful illustrations hidden within its pages,’ says Romain Pingannaud, Head of Christie’s Islamic Art department.

‘The text tells the story of early Islam, and is centered around the figure of Ali — the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, and the central figure in Shia Islam, which finds its roots between Persia and modern-day Iraq.’


Romain Pingannaud, Head of Christie’s Islamic Art department, examines an illustrated work on the life of Imam Ali. Signed Muhammad Quli Mullah Kuchak Bin Muhammad Husayn, Qajar Iran, dated Friday 21 Safar AH 1224/7 April 1809 AD

‘This image does not depict Muhammad — whose face, traditionally, is never portrayed — but it does show Ali, who appears at its centre, his face obscured by a white veil. To the right of the image, Ali’s legendary two-pronged sword, or Zulfiqar, is said to have been gifted to him by Muhammad.’

‘While a number of illustrated manuscripts survive from the 19th century, the illustrations in this work are exceptional — large and fresh, and extending into the margins in a manner that is typical of Islamic works. It’s beautifully bold; it’s clear that the illustrator had a lot of fun with this.’

‘The colophon closes with a date, telling us that the piece was finished on 21 Safar AH 1224 (7 April 1809), which was a Friday. In terms of style, the illustrations in the work are transitional, combining elements of 18th-century design with later, early-19th-century styles. It’s a work that crosses two dynasties, with the periods’ changing fashions reflected in its design.’

 


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