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Treasures of Islamic Manuscript Painting from the Morgan
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Imaginary Fern
From the Read Persian Album. Persia, Herat and/or Deccan, ca. 1580.
378 x 242 mm.
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1911.; MS M.458.33v.

This apparently imaginary fern is set against a gold background filled with ink drawings of various plants and animals, including the mythical simurgh (phoenix-like bird). The border, containing twelve verses of ˓Urfī's poetry, also includes busts of youths, female-faced suns, and animals by the hand responsible for the ink drawings surrounding the fern. The mount itself is marbled paper, an innovation connected with the court of Sulṭān Ḥusain (d.1506) in Herat. The Frits Lugt Collection, Paris, has a nearly identical fern.

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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