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Mir 'Ali

Page of calligraphy in nasta'liq script
Iran, 16th century (calligraphy); India, c. 1650 (margins)
Ink, gouache and gold highlights on paper
Calligraphy: H. 15.9 cm; W. 7.7 cm
Page: H. 38.6 cm; W. 25.1 cm
Musée du Louvre, Georges Marteau Bequest (1858-1916); purchased from Georges Demotte
OA 7157

The present poem, copied in the first half of the sixteenth century, was part of an imperial Mughal album whose sheets were dispersed in the late nineteenth century.
The marginal decoration was executed in India in the imperial Mughal workshops, towards the end of the reign of Shah Jahan. The Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C. has a number of pages identical in size to this one (c. 36.9 cm x 25.3 cm), doubtless from the same album; a smaller number of other sheets from the album may be seen in other collections. The marginal decoration of the pages differ slightly from one another: in the sixteenth century, animal motifs in the form of gilded silhouettes were highly prized as marginal decorations for sumptuous Persian manuscripts, to imitate the motifs on Chinese fabrics and vases. Here, the motifs are given a much more naturalistic treatment, similar to the bestiaries so beloved of Mughal rulers in the early seventeenth century.
The oblique calligraphy in the center of the page records the text of a Persian quatrain or rubâ'i: "The heart is a lamp that draws its light from the face of the beloved, and [...] its life will begin again because of sorrow; if the hermit of the town tastes this wine, he will go the tavern of the magi and seize the cup."
The work is signed by the Persian calligrapher Mir 'Ali, otherwise known as Mir 'Ali Haravi, a highly prolific master, active in both Herat and Samarkand (d. Herat 1544-45).
The script, known as nasta'liq, is on colored grey-green paper, against a background of clouds with a gilded field decorated with volutes and small flowers. The writing is set off by the decoration, which is itself indicative of the high esteem in which the art of calligraphy was held. The inner frame contains narrow bands with hemistichs from a Persian poem, by another calligrapher, which seem to have been cut from another manuscript and mounted here. Their function is essentially decorative, with little attention paid to their meaning. The lines are also written in nasta'liq script.

Mir 'Ali
Mîr 'Alî
OA 7157
© 2006 Musée du Louvre / E. Revault