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Mir 'Ali Shir Nava'i (d. 1501)

Khamsa (Quintet) of Nava'i. 1492

Manuscript written in nastaliq script on gold-flecked paper with illuminated frontispiece and section headings throughout in opaque watercolour including metallic paints and gold leaf. | 34.4 x 23.0 cm (book measurement (conservation)) | RCIN 1005032

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  • Indian binding of black morocco, with gilt stamped medallions and borders and a flap.

    The earliest illustrated Islamic manuscript in the Royal Collection.

    The author, Nizam al-Din Ali Shir (1441-1501), also known by his penname nava’i meaning 'melody maker', is considered ‘the Chaucer of the Turks.’ Navaʾi composed six masnavis (narrative poems) in Chaghatai Turkish. His Khamsa (Quintet) contains five of them. This manuscript copy of the Khamsa was written in Herat during the author’s lifetime by the celebrated calligrapher Sultan Ali Mashhadi (1453-1520).  It contains fine illuminations including a signed frontispiece by the Herati illuminator Haji Mahmud and illuminated headings for each of the poems.

    The manuscript’s paintings are all found within 30 pages of each other in the first of the four poems, Hayrat al-Abrar. The painting on folio 35 contains an inscription with the date 947AH (1540 AD), almost 50 years after the text was completed. This suggests that the original manuscript may have been left incomplete and that paintings were added to it in Bukhara. In 1506, the city of Herat was taken by the Shaybanid dynasty whose court was based at Bukhara. A number of artists and calligraphers, including Sultan Ali Mashhadi, then migrated to the Shaybanid capital. The painting on folio 35 is the only one that survives on the original paper. The others appear to have been subsequently removed and Mughal paintings dating to c.1605 on thicker paper were pasted onto the reverse of the original text folios.

    Folio 1a bears Mughal seals and inscriptions attesting to the manuscript’s ownership by Hamida Banu Begum and Emperors Jahanigr, Shah-Jahan and Almagir. Jahangir describes the volume as ‘one of my most treasured books' and gives a value of 1,000 ashrafis, a valuation which Shah Jahan almost doubled to 20,000 rupees.

    The manuscript was later in the Royal Library in Lucknow from where it was sent to George III with five other volumes in 1798. In 1872, Queen Victoria acquired another manuscript of the author’s poetry written by the same calligrapher (RCIN 1005033).

    Provenance

    Presented to King George III by Lord Teignmouth, Governor-General of India, c. 1799.

  • Medium and techniques

    Manuscript written in nastaliq script on gold-flecked paper with illuminated frontispiece and section headings throughout in opaque watercolour including metallic paints and gold leaf.

    Measurements

    34.4 x 23.0 cm (book measurement (conservation))