Category Archives: Islamic Art

Going Green

Folio from a Khamsa by Nizami, Bahram Gur in the turquoise-blue pavilion on Wednesday; Safavid period Iran, 1548

Folio from a Khamsa by Nizami, Bahram Gur in the turquoise-blue pavilion on Wednesday;
Safavid Iran, 1548, F1908.275

Those fine folks at Pantone, “the world’s experts on color,” have selected the color of the year for 2013. And the winner is … emerald green, or, as it’s known by designers all over the world, 17-5641.

There are so many shades of green and each one would be welcome today, on a drizzly, gray afternoon in DC. Rather than wait for spring, I decided to search the collections and look for some of my favorite green objects. The range is vast: from the robe of a sixteenth-century Persian youth to the grass and trees in a Thomas Dewing landscape to the aged patina of a bronze Chinese vessel, and, of course, the folio above from the Khamsa (or Quintet), a collection of five poems by the poet Nizami.

The Khamsa ranks among the great masterpieces of Persian literature. It tells the story of a prince and seven princesses, each from a different land, and each depicted in a colored pavilion. The turquoise pavilion is the setting for Wednesday’s tale, a romantic poem recited by the princess from Magrib. But delving deeper, the poem offers a glimpse into Islamic mysticism (Sufism), with each day of the week representing the journey of the soul. Here, at stage five, the soul is satisfied, on its journey to become wholly purified and at one with god.

Check out other scenes from this tale, including a visit from the Indian princess in the black pavilion.

All Eyes on Venus

Folio from Aja’ib al-makhluqat (Wonders of Creation) by al-Qazvini, F1954.34

With this evening’s transit of Venus keeping everyone looking at the skies, we thought we’d tempt you with something on the screen. This folio from a 15th-century copy of the Aja’ib al-makhluqat (Wonders of Creation) shows two figures. On top is Venus, called al-zuhara in Arabic. In Islamic astronomical and astrological treatises, she is usually shown as a seated (cross-legged) female playing a musical instrument, typically a lute. The planet’s name comes from the Arabic for “to shine” or “to illuminate” because of Venus’s exceptional brilliance in the sky. Below Venus is the sphere of the sun.

The Aja’ib is a two-volume work on cosmology and geography, originally written by al-Qazwini in 13th-century Iraq. The text is divided into two sections, one devoted to heavenly bodies and the other to natural history and terrestrial beings. It was one of the most popular medieval manuscripts and many illustrated copies have survived. Like most scientific works, they are profusely illustrated with schematic but lively images inserted into the body of the text.

Learn more about our collection of Arts of the Islamic World.

Here’s some more information on the transit of Venus from the Smithsonian “Surprising Science” blog.