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Khamsah-yi Navai خمسه نوایی (The Quintet of Navai)


RCIN 1005032

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

Mir 'Ali Shir Nava'i (d. 1501) was the greatest author to write in Chaghatay, the classical eastern Turkic language which was the forerunner of modern Uzbeq. From boyhood, he was a friend of Sultan Husayn Bayqara (1468-1506), the ruler of Herat. It was in that city (in modern Afghanistan) that this 300 page manuscript of Nava'i's five didactic poems was written. The earliest illustrated Islamic manuscript in the Royal Collection, it was completed by the great calligrapher Sultan ‘Ali of Mashhad during the later years of the author’s life. The beginning of each of the five poems illuminated with an intricately-illuminated headpiece and its superb quality led the Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-27) to value the manuscript, ‘one of my most treasured books’, at 1,000 ashrafis, a valuation which Emperor Shah Jahan almost doubled to 20,000 rupees.

Paintings appear to have been added to blank spaces in the manuscript after its transfer to Bukhara in the early sixteenth century (Herat was destroyed in 1506 by the Uzbeqs who established their capital at Bukhara). Six pages contain illustrations, all of which are found within the 52-page section containing the first of the five poems entitled the Hayrat ul-Abrar ('Wonders of Good People'). According to the note added by Jahangir on f. 1b of the manuscript, it entered his library in the first year of his reign (i.e. 1605) and ‘the paintings were completed in my workshop’.

The painting on folio 6r depicts seven couples in a garden and was painted by a Bukharan artist c. 1510 but some of its elements were over-painted by Jahangir’s artist Nar Singh. It shows an enclosed garden with many of the most important features of the traditional Persian garden including a tiled octagonal pool, pavilions, an evergreen cypress and a chenar tree, as well as a multitude of birds and flowering plants.

The painting opposite it of the Last Judgement and Resurrection dates entirely from the early seventeenth century and was completed by the artists Nanha and Manohar. The scene is based on a large print by Adrian Collaert after Stradanus (published in the 1590s) which had recently arrived in India, presumably via Jesuit missionaries. Although at first it may appear a strange choice of illustration for this eastern-Turkish poetic text, the painting follows a section of the poem that describes the Day of Judgement as well as the good fortune of those who experience God’s generosity.

Catalogue entry adapted from Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden, London, 2015.

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