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Sultan Muhammad bin Nurullah, also known as Sultan Muhammad Nur (d. circa AH 940/1533-34 AD) was a pupil of Sultan 'Ali Mashhadi and a scribe at the court of Mir 'Ali Shir Nawa'I (d. 1501), minister to the Timurid ruler Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara (d. 1506) in Herat. His recorded works are dated between AH 912-938/1506-32 AD (Bayani, 1345 sh., pp.272-9). Sultan Muhammad Nur was an innovative calligrapher, renowned for his work in colour (Blair, 2008, p.55). In the folios of this lavish manuscript, he is clearly playing with it - juxtaposing different coloured text panels, margins and inks. In 1544 Dust Muhammad compiled an album of calligraphy and painting for the Safavid Prince Bahram Mirza, which contained thirty signed specimens of Sultan Muhammad's calligraphy, many of which were written on paper of different colours (now in the Topkapi Saray Library, H.2154, published in Roxburgh, 2005, pp.245-307). In the introduction Dust Muhammad lavishes praise on Sultan Muhammad for his 'accomplishment and purity' as a scribe and stresses his special expertise in writing with coloured inks (Thompson and Canby (eds.), 2003, p.52).


The frontispiece of our manuscript is attributable to the illuminator Shaykhzade on account of its extremely close resemblance to the frontispiece of a copy of Hatifi’s (d.1521) Haft Manzar (Seven Visages) which is dated 1538 (fig.1 illustrated on the previous page). That manuscript includes signed illustrations by Shaykhzade, and a magnificent illuminated frontispiece which Soudavar has attributed to him (Smithsonian Institution collection inv. no. F1956.14, see Soudavar 1992, p.96). Shaykhzade, a court painter and illuminator of the Safavid period (active 1510-50), is famed for his signed works and his associations with renowned calligraphers such as Mir ‘Ali (they collaborated on a copy of a Guy-o chogan in 1519); and Muhammad Qasim Shadishah (with whom he collaborated on a Bustan of Sa’di). Spending his early career in Herat, his style was influenced by Bihzad, who is recorded by the Ottoman chronicler Mustafa 'Ali Efendi as his tutor. His last work copied in Herat was a Khamsa dated to 1529, the same year as the conquest of the city by the Ozbak Ubaydallah Khan (in the British Library, inv. no. After this upheaval, he is believed to have moved to Bukhara to work under the royal library-atelier patronised by Ubaydallah Khan. Shaykhzade’s painting style evolved slowly as he continued to work with the same late Timurid elements of design. By the 1520s, his work was akin to that of the best illuminators, filled with fine arabesque patterns and intricate geometric motifs designed in a minute scale, such as those found throughout our manuscript.
Every border of our manuscript is unique in its dyed paper and richly illuminated designs which comprise over twenty shades of greens, pinks, blues, oranges and creams. The main vegetal dyes were saffron, turmeric, safflower, lac, sappanwood, henna, pomegranate bark, indigo and sunflower-croton. The minerals include Verdigris, orpiment, ceruse, and blue vitriol (Blair, 2000, pp.24-25). The use of coloured paper became highly fashionable in royal manuscripts during the 15th century. A treatise on the methods of dyeing paper and for preparing perfumed and tinted inks written in Herat in the 1430s suggests that this colourful manuscript derives from a well-established tradition (Thompson and Canby, 2003, p.52). The single folio painting in our manuscript which depicts an elderly scholars and three of his disciples is typical of illustrations from the same period with short stumpy figures depicted in simple robes using solid colours on a highly illuminated solid gold ground with flowering bushes.


The Persian mystical poem the Tuhfat al-Ahrar (Gift of the Free) is composed by ‘Abd al-Rahman Jami (d. 1492), who wrote it in response to the Makhszan al-Asrar (Treasury of Mysteries) by the 12th century writer Nizami. It was Jami’s conscious references to the Persian literary past that made his work so popular both during his life time in the Timurid court, but also well into the 16th century. Jami was Sultan Husayn’s court poet and a close companion of Mir 'Ali Shir Nawa'i making it no surprise that his highly regarded text on morals and mystical nature of life was one of the most popular copied texts by court calligraphers. A Tuhfat al-Ahrar, copied by Muhammad Qasim, attributed to Safavid Iran in the first half 16th century and with an opening illumination attributed to Shaykhzade sold at Sotheby’s, London, 22 April 2015, lot 103. A similar highly illuminated Tuhfat al-Ahrar, signed by the court calligrapher Mir ‘Ali Katib and completed in Shaybanid Bukhara in 1535 with multi coloured papers and extremely elegant opening bifolio was sold in these Rooms, 26 October 2017, lot 85.

Given Sultan Muhammad’s recorded activities in the royal atelier and Shaykhzade’s extensive collaborations with royal scribes and extent works which support his presence in Herat in the early part of the 16th century, the overall superb quality of our manuscript strongly indicates that it was a courtly commission.

Our manuscript is missing seven folios, two of which are now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of art (inv.nos. 46.178.1 and 46.178.2). They were sold to the museum by Princess Annette Sagaphi in 1946, who was the wife of Mirza Mahmoud Khan Sagaphi, a Persian Prince and diplomat in New York.


  • D. AH 898

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