painting / manuscript
Four men worshipping at a fire altar and idol shrine; detached folio from an illustrated manuscript. At left, two Zoroastrian men hold their hands out in prayer toward a fire-altar, while at right, two men in European dress worship a seated and crowned idol. No text.
Ink, opaque watercolour, silver and gold on paper.
- 1650-1700 (circa)
- Made in: Iran
- (Asia,Middle East,Iran)
- Height: 20 centimetres (sheet)
- Width: 13.1 centimetres (sheet)
- Height: 15.1 centimetres (image)
- Width: 10.4 centimetres (Image)
With their hands held out in prayer, the four men in this painting demonstrate acts of worship associated with two different faiths. At left, two men pray to a fire altar, most likely representing Zoroastrians. The right side of the composition, however, distinguished by an architectural framework suggestive of a shrine, is more difficult to interpret without an accompanying text. Identified as Europeans by their hats and dress, these two men appear to be worshipping an idol, once embellished in silver (now oxidized) and gold, distantly reminiscent of a seated Buddhist sculpture yet dressed in contemporary costume and crown. It is possible that the painting, which was cropped and reformatted onto a gold-flecked page, once illustrated a copy of an Islamic cosmography belonging to the ‘wonders-of-creation’ genre first known to have been developed in thirteenth-century Iraq, Iran and Central Asia after the Mongol invasion.
The best known version of this ‘wonders’ genre is the Ajā`ib al-Makhlūqāt wa gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt (The Wonders of Creation and Oddities of Existence) of Qazwini, written in Arabic in the thirteenth century by Qazwini (1203–1283). A Persian copy (Jām-i Gītīnāma, or The World-Showing Glass, by al-Tusi, who was active in the 12th century), dated 1388 AD and probably produced in Baghdad (Paris, BNF), contains some images in which both idols and fire are represented (as noted by Persis Berlekamp, 24 May 2013).
Not unlike the ‘books of wonder’ produced in medieval Christian Europe, Islamic wonders-of-creation covered the entire range of subject matter related to anything in the universe that induced wonder, whether in the heavenly or earthly realms, real or fantastical; drawing from earlier sources rooted in classical, ancient Iranian and Islamic traditions; and combining aspects of religion and science, astronomy and astrology, cosmology, geography and more. For the most recent scholarship on illustrated copies of these texts, see Persis Berlekamp, Wonder, Image, & Cosmos in Medieval Islam (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011).
This painting and 1949,1210,0.6 were once believed to come from the same original illustrated cosmographical manuscript, ). The two paintings, however, differ stylistically and the papers on which the compositions were executed are also unrelated. The earliest known illustrated examples of these date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
This painting was previously attributed to circa 1600; it has been reattributed stylistically to the latter half of the 17th century (24 May 2013).
Not on display
2016, 19 Mar-29 May, National Museum, Delhi, The Everlasting Flame
2013 Oct-Dec, Brunei, SOAS, 'Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination'
2009-2010 Oct-Jul, G34, 'Looking East, Looking West'
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Object reference number: RFM813
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