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Treasures of Islamic Manuscript Painting from the Morgan
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Lovers Observed by a Youth
Leaf from the Read Persian Album. Persia, ca.. 1630, by Muḥammad Yūsuf al-Ḥusainī.
378 x 241 mm
; MS M.386.15.

Several opinions have been offered regarding this enigmatic trio: has the astonished observer removed his hat because he does not approve of what he sees, or does he raise his finger to his mouth because he is next in line for the courtesan's service? The woman, however, is married, as is indicated by the triangular diadem with an oval flange that hangs over her forehead. She playfully holds her young husband's large turban above his head, its golden sash cascading over her arm and body. The observing youth may be a family member.

The artist was especially fond of depicting rich brocades. The inscription at the bottom states that it is The work of Muḥammad Yūsuf al-Ḥusainī, that at the top, in the library of Ḥasan Shāmlū, Ḥusain's son and successor as governor of Herat. Ḥasan added this work, along with others, to his father's album.

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.

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