Calligraphy; An artist at work

Photo: Paul Macapia

Calligraphy; An artist at work

ca. 1600

Some Islamic manuscripts feature members of the court at work. A royal court was filled with a variety of people, including soldiers, scribes, doctors, magicians, entertainers, artists, cooks and pages. Artists such as the one depicted here in great detail played important roles in court life. Through their work, artists entertained and amused the ruler and his entourage and demonstrated the ruler's worldliness and sophistication as a supporter of the arts. The importance of painters, particularly those who created illustrations for books, can be seen in the large number of illuminations that exist to this day.

In this image, we see an artist at work in a landscape setting. The artist copies the work of another master, with the original propped up before him. Copying works by others was not considered derivative or unimaginative in the Islamic world. Aspiring painters were required to perfectly copy the works of known masters before they were allowed to branch out and develop their own styles.
Ink, gold, and watercolor on paper
6 9/16 x 4 1/2 in. (16.6 x 11.4 cm)
Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection
Provenance: Purchased from A. Vecht, Amsterdam, July 5, 1952
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 artist depicted in this Persian manuscript
Karen Mathews, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Miami, discusses art for the palace or tent


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, Feb. 8, 2020 - ongoing [on view Feb. 8, 2020 - July 11, 2021].

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