A White-eared Bulbul; Lovers in a Garden

Photo: Paul Macapia

A White-eared Bulbul; Lovers in a Garden

1629 - 1635

Riza Abbasi

Persian, c. 1565 - 1635

In this Persian miniature, two lovers enjoy themselves in a garden landscape. An elegantly clad man caresses a woman's face as an attendant holds out cups for them. The golden background and abstracted blue clouds give the landscape a dreamlike quality. The garden is not real but an idealized, perfect setting where the lovers dally. Like the garden the couple inhabits, the landscape depicted in the borders is a mythical, fantastic forest: birds soar, rabbits run, and predators such as leopards and wolves stalk their prey.

A third landscape is painted above the heads of the lovers. Here a realistically depicted bird rests on a rocky outcropping. A small tree and plants are illuminated in gold. Nature plays center stage in this minutely detailed image. Persian painting, unlike Mughal painting, is not known for its interest in naturalistic detail. However, the art world in the seventeenth century was truly international, and Western European and Mughal influences on Persian painting might have encouraged artists to create images that reflected the natural world around them.
Album page; opaque watercolor, ink, gold and silver on paper
13 5/16 x 8 3/4 in. (33.8 x 22.3 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Donald E. Frederick
Provenance: Mrs. Donald E. Frederick to Seattle Art Museum, 1950
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view

Art for the Palace/Tent

Secular Islamic manuscripts feature a variety of themes-some of them fantastic and mythical-illustrating popular literary and poetic works. Other manuscripts represent the lives and daily activities of the people who commissioned them-royal and elite patrons who populated the court in the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

The imagery in these secular Islamic manuscripts mirrors the lives of people in the upper levels of society and depicts their favorite pastimes. The images display a high degree of fantasy: court figures and rulers are represented in an ideal form, as they wished to be seen rather than the way they actually were. A certain tension exists between the real and the imaginary. One cannot be truly certain if what one sees is historically accurate.
The Alhambra, Grenada, Spain
Photo: Jaron Berman

Related Objects in SAM's Collection

Photo: Paul Macapia
Miniature of a bird and scene of lovers with an attendant, ca. 1629-1635, Riza Abbasi, 50.111
Photo: Paul Macapia
Line Drawing of Artist at Work, ca. 1600, Persian, 62.205
Photo: Paul Macapia
Alchemist or magician at work, 18th century, Persian, 40.38


Karen Mathews, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Miami, on the scene depicted in this Persian manuscript
Karen Mathews, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Miami, discusses art for the palace or tent


Exhibition HistoryUtah, Provo, Brigham Young University, Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islam, Feb. 24, 2012 - Sept. 29, 2012.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, Feb. 8, 2020 - ongoing [on view July 16 - Dec. 5, 2021].
Published References"Handbook, Seattle Art Museum: Selected Works from the Permanent Collections." Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1951, cover and frontispiece (color)

"Mostra d'arte Iranica (Exhibition of Iranian Art)." Rome: Palazzo Brancaccio, 1956, p. 278, no. 522, pl. on p. 272

"7000 Ans d'Art en Iran." Paris: Petit Palais, 1961, no. 1109, p. 198, not illus.

Rogers, Millard B. "Engagement Book: Iranian Art in the Seattle Art Museum." Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1972, fig. 46.

"Selected Works." Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1991, p. 140

Emami, Farshid. "All the City's Courtesans: A Now-Lost Safavid Pavilion and Its Figural Tile Panels." Metropolitan Museum Journal Volume #54: pp. 62-86, reproduced fig. 7.

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