Album page with a couplet
of poetry

Qazvin or Isfahan, about 1600

Signed by 'Imad al-Hasani (Mir 'Imad)

This image contains a poem written in calligraphy, with a Mughal Indian painting mounted above it. The couplet is separated from the floral illumination of the page by being placed in tahrir, cloudlike forms often used by sixteenth and seventeenth-century Persian and Mughal calligraphers and illuminators.

The couplet reads:

Seize the day, for the world is fleeting,
In the eyes of the wise the moment is better than the whole world,
Alexander, who ruled a whole world,
At the very moment when he died, left the world.

Unlike Europe, where the image of a monarch would appear on coins and in sculpture in public places, the only portraits of Shah 'Abbas I of Iran (15711629) were either produced by non-Iranian artists or for privately-owned albums. Calligraphy (which means beautiful writing) on coins and buildings was the main method by which Shah 'Abbas could display his name and titles to his subjects. As the human form cannot be shown in mosques or the Qur’an, calligraphy was given the highest status among the arts of the Islamic world.

Mir 'Imad (1554–1615) is considered today to be the greatest master of nasta`liq calligraphy or hanging script, and is renowned for the elegance of his long strokes and the consistency of his letter forms. He travelled throughout the Middle East before he joined Shah 'Abbas’s Royal Library in Isfahan in 1599. He eventually fell foul of the shah, either because of his arrogance, his association with out of favour religious groups, or his rivalry with Shah 'Abbas’s preferred calligrapher, 'Ali Riza 'Abbasi. He was assassinated on 15 August 1615.

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Museum number

ME 1937,0710,0.331


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