- Museum number
Bilqis, Queen of Sheba. Single-page paintin mounted on a detached album folio. Bilqis reclines besides a meandering stream while holding a love letter that the hoopoe, perched in a bush at her feet, will deliver to her beloved, King Solomon. Sheba wears a beautifully ornamented dress printed with animal and human faces interwoven with arabesque designs. A single tree and bush frame her on either side, while two flowering plants appear above. No inscription.
Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper.
- Production date
- 1590-1600 (circa)
Height: 10 centimetres (image)
Height: 16.10 centimetres (sheet)
Width: 19.50 centimetres (image)
Width: 22.60 centimetres (sheet)
- Curator's comments
This drawing depicts an important moment in the Quranic tradition (Sura 27:15-44) when the hoopoe delivers a letter from Solomon to the Queen of Sheba who is named in this literature as Bilqis (although she remains anonymous in the Quran). In the Quran Solomon is regarded as not only a great and wealthy king with power over birds, animals and jinn, but also a prophet of God. Believing that the queen worshipped the sun instead of God, Solomon wrote to the Queen: “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Do not exalt yourselves above me, but come to me in all submission” (Sura 27:30-31). The queen responded with a letter and gifts and set off to visit Solomon in his crystal palace. In this drawing Bilqis reclines beside a stream while gazing at the hoopoe which has just landed on the tree stump at the right, holding in its beak a rolled letter from its master, Solomon. Bilqis is shown wearing a remarkable robe which incorporates representations of a hoopoe and other birds and animals, and thus perhaps an allusion to her own potential mastery of these species. The style of the drawing resembles that of artists working at the Safavid court in the 1590s and has been attributed to Sadiqi Beg, the superintendent of the library of the great Safavid ruler Shah Abbas I (reigned 1587-1629). However, despite its narrative theme, the drawing was intended for inclusion in an album rather than being a manuscript illustration.
Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba, reclines beside a meandering stream while holding a love letter that the hoopoe, perched in a bush at her feet, will deliver to her beloved, King Solomon. This composition is a departure from the more standard depiction of Bilqis enthroned beside Solomon.
Perched on a tree stump at the right, the hoopoe brings a message to Balqis, the Queen of Sheba, from King Solomon. Images of beautiful women reclining beside a steam were current in the work of thecourt artists in the 1590s, but only this one refers to a narrative.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2016 21 May-21 November, London, BM, 'Courting to contract: love and marriage in Iran'
2004-2005 17 Oct-13 Mar, California, Bowers Museum, 'Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality'
1931 London, The Royal Academy, 'Persian Art' exhibition
- 50 lux maximum recommended for display
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- Registration number