Youth Flexing a Bow
Leaf from the Read Persian Album, after Ḥabīb-Allāh al-Mashhadī.
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1911
One of the exercises practiced by Persian athletes was bow flexing. Such bows, clearly not meant for hunting, were supplied with discs that produced pleasant sounds when shot. According to Sufi belief, a beautiful adolescent is seen as a mirror reflecting a ray of Allāh's beauty and was to be gazed upon. The line of accompanying poetry expands the Sufi idea of gazing at a youth (naẓar ila'l-murd): If it is a sin to gaze upon your face, Then let my eyes be ever drenched in sin. The miniature is after Ḥabīb-Allāh al-Mashhadī, a major painter at Ḥusain Shāmlū's court.
The Read Persian Album
Pierpont Morgan's 1911 purchase of two albums (one Persian, one Mughal) from Sir Charles Hercules Read, Keeper of British and Medieval Antiquities at the British Museum, London, proved to be an important turning point in the history of the Morgan Islamic collection. Belle da Costa Greene, Morgan's librarian, accompanied by art historian and collector Bernard Berenson, first saw paintings from the albums at the great exhibition of Islamic art in Munich the previous year. She wrote to Read that they were among the finest works exhibited there and that this important school should be represented in Morgan's collection, asking him to give Morgan the right of first refusal. The Persian album was begun by Husain Khān Shāmlū, governor of Herat (r. 1598–1618), and possibly continued by his son and successor, Hasān Shāmlū (d. 1646). Fifteen of its twenty-seven sheets, once bound accordion style, are presented here. Many of the paintings were made in Herat itself.