A rare and complete pictorial cycle consisting of eight paintings illustrating episodes from Jami's
Lot 77
A rare and complete pictorial cycle consisting of eight paintings illustrating episodes from Jami's love poem Yusuf va Zulaykha, school of the court painters Muhammad Hasan Khan and Ahmad Qajar Persia, dated AH 1230/AD 1814-15(8)
Sold for £319,200 (US$ 391,204) inc. premium

Lot Details
A rare and complete pictorial cycle consisting of eight paintings illustrating episodes from Jami's love poem Yusuf va Zulaykha, school of the court painters Muhammad Hasan Khan and Ahmad
Qajar Persia, dated AH 1230/AD 1814-15
oil on canvas, with pointed arched tops, Persian titles written in nasta'liq script in white, the paint surface of each picture lightly cleaned recently, relined and a few small areas repaired at an earlier date, otherwise in good condition, unframed
each between 166 and 168 cm. high, 83 and 89 cm. wide(8)


  • Provenance:

    On loan to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, since 1981.

    Acquired in 1921 by the diplomat Reginald Francis Orlando Bridgeman CMG MVO (1884-1968) during his diplomatic posting in Tehran, and brought back to England in 1922 (according to a letter dated 17th October 1930).

    The subjects of the paintings are as follows:
    Translation of each Persian inscription provided in italics below the title of each painting:

    1. Yusuf pulled out of the well by passing merchants.
    The picture of Yusuf being brought out of the well, the year 123[0].

    2. Zulaykha buys Yusuf at a market auction in Egypt.
    The picture of Yusuf being sold in Egypt, the year 123[0].

    3. Yusuf tends to a flock of sheep watched by Zulaykha.
    The picture of Yusuf working as a shepherd, and Zulaykha hiding in a tree, the year 123[0].

    4. Yusuf summoned to Zulaykha's chamber where he rebuts her advances.
    The picture of Yusuf dragged by Zulaykha to her seventh chamber, the year 123[0].

    5. Maidens faint or accidentally cut their fingers instead of oranges upon the appearance of the beautiful Yusuf in Zulaykha's chamber.
    The picture of Zulaykha cutting an orange and His Holiness Yusuf's arrival, the year 123[0].

    6. Zulaykha visits Yusuf in prison at night.
    The picture of Yusuf taken to prison and Zulaykha watching from her palace, the year 123[0].

    7. Ya'qub with his favourite son Yusuf upon being reunited in Egypt.
    The picture of His Holiness Ya'qub being united with His Holiness Yusuf, the year 123[0].

    8. The blind Zulaykha sits in Yusuf's path and begs for forgiveness.
    The picture of Yusuf as a monarch, the blind Zulaykha sitting in his path, the year 123[0].

    A rare and complete cycle of eight oil paintings which were intended to decorate the upper walls of a public or private room or hall in a Qajar building. Until the appearance of this cycle, the only other extant cycle outside Iran is in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York.As we have read in Layla Diba's introduction, 'this is the first complete cycle of the subject to come to light'. The cycle focuses exclusively on Joseph, depicting all the important episodes of his life, as listed above.

    Reginald Francis Orlando Bridgeman CMG MVO (1884-1968)

    Reginald Francis Orlando Bridgeman was born in London in 1884, the eldest son of Francis Bridgeman and Gertrude Hanbury. His father, who ended his army career as a brigadier-general, was a descendant of Orlando Bridgeman (d. 1674), Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and was the second son of the third Earl of Bradford.

    Reginald Bridgeman left Harrow at sixteen to study abroad, and began his diplomatic career in 1903, when he was appointed honorary attache in Madrid. In 1908 he was posted to Paris as Third Secretary. During his eight years in Paris he befriended Jean Cocteau and other artists of the city's avant-garde. In 1918 he was promoted to First Secretary to Lord Derby, the British Ambassador to France. Bridgeman was transferred to Vienna a year later, and in 1920 to Tehran, visiting India as well as number of Middle Eastern countries.

    On his return to England in 1922, he retired from diplomatic service altogether and underwent a pivotal conversion from dedicated career-diplomat into anti-imperialist politician and social activist. He involved himself in local politics and the Labour Party, an ideological attachment that would continue for the rest of his life.

    The story of Yusuf and Zulaykha:

    Jami’s poem Yusuf va Zulaykha has been illustrated numerous times in manuscripts of the Qajar period but this is an extremely rare occasion where we find the illustrations depicted on canvas. The painting depicting Zulaykha buying at a market auction in Egypt can be compared with a miniature from a manuscript of Fath 'Ali Khan Saba's Shahinshah Nama, dated 1810. In the painting Fath 'Ali Shah appears to be seated rather awkwardly on a throne in an open landscape with buildings in the background. We can observe in the miniature on folio no. 1245 the Shah sitting in the same awkward position. However, he wears the recognisable Imperial crown, while in the painting he is depicted wearing a headdress which is similar to an Egyptian turban since he is supposed to be the Aziz of Egypt. See Robinson, B. W., Persian Painting in the India Office Library, London 1976, pp. 244-249.

    According to Marianna Shreve Simpson, Yusuf va Zulaykha is universally regarded as the masterpiece of Jami’s Haft Awrang:
    ‘It is also the most popular of many Persian adaptations of this classic story, whose protagonists are better known outside the Near East as Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. It is also the most frequently illustrated of Jami’s seven masnavi’s. The Islamic tradition to which Yusuf va Zulaykha belongs starts with the Koran in which an entire sura is devoted to the Judaeo-Christian prophet and the trials he endured, first at the hands of his brothers, and then because of the propositions of his master’s wife. Later commentators greatly amplified the Qur'anic account, giving Yusuf’s temptress a name and idealising the prophet as a symbol of monotheism. Subsequent literature transformed Yusuf into a “triple paragon of purity, of prophetic inspiration and, above all, of physical beauty”. Jami further embellished this characterisation in his epic-length poem, making Yusuf a revelation of divine beauty, and the relations between Yusuf and Zulaykha an allegory of the mystic’s search for truth and union with God.’ For further reading, Simpson, M. S., Sultan Ibrahim Mirza's Haft Awrang, New Haven and London 1997.

    It was only natural for the Persian artists to choose scenes which originate from Qur’anic and Biblical sources to be found in this great romance. The subject of Joseph’s life appears in the Qur’an (Surat Yusuf, verses 1-104) and in the Old Testament (Genesis 37-50). The story begins by telling how the brother of Jacob’s favourite son was jealous of him and threw Yusuf into a pit in the desert. A passing caravan of merchants rescued Yusuf and took him with them to Egypt, where he was auctioned in the market and was bought by the Aziz who was persuaded by Zulaykha to keep Yusuf as his son. He faced many challenges before attaining a high position within Aziz’s palace, including Zulaykha’s repeated attempts to seduce Yusuf and his eventual imprisonment. He brought his father and brothers to Egypt to live with him (only seven of his ten brothers are depicted in this cycle). The story ends with the reunion of the lovers and the death of Yusuf followed by that of Zulaykha, who could not live without him.

    Compare with two oil paintings depicting Yusuf as a young man with his father Jacob and eleven brothers, and Yusuf embracing his father surrounded by his brothers in the collection of the Berkeley Trust, sold at Sotheby’s, London, 12 October 2004, lots 22 and 23. The two paintings were previously arched but have been extended at the upper corners. Lot 23 was included in the exhibition Treasures of Islam, held in Geneva (see Falk, T. (ed.), Treasures of Islam, London 1985, p. 197, no. 187). A closely related painting of the same scene is in the Sa’dabad Museum of Fine Arts, Tehran (see Keikavusi, M., Promenade in the Picture Gallery: Paintings from the Sa’dabad Museum of Fine Arts, Tehran 1992, no.15). A mid-19th Century oil painting of Yusuf embracing his father Ya’qub upon his arrival in Egypt was formerly in the Amery Collection, Negarestan Museum, Tehran (see Ricci, F. M. (ed.), Qajar Court Painting in Persia, Milan 1990, p. 189).

    For other Qajar depictions of scenes from the story of Yusuf, see Falk, T., Qajar Paintings, London 1972, nos. 37, 40, 41, 42 (now in the Sa’dabad Museum); see also Diba and Ekhtiar, Royal Persian Painting: the Qajar Epoch 1785-1925, New York 1998, fig. xvi, p. 194, and Millstein, R., Biblical Stories in Islamic Painting, Jerusalem 1991, nos. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13. The last work provides the reader with a general view of Biblical themes in Persian painting. Finally, see Sotheby’s New York, 10th December 1981, lot 140A.

    The author:

    Nur-ad-Din Abdul-Rahman Jami was born in Kharjird in the province of Jam in AH 817/AD 1414 and died in Herat, where he spent most of his life, in AH 898/AD 1492. Jami is considered the last of the great classical and mystical poets of Persia. Along with Mir Ali-Sher Nava’i he composed most of his work at Herat, the Timurid capital of Sultan Husain Mirza (reigned 1470-1506). Jami was greatly admired by the Sultan and was rewarded with political and economic favours. He maintained the favour of the Sultan by flattering him in his works. According to Marianna Shreve Simpson, ‘the extended panegyric to Sultan Husayn Mirza in a prelude to Yusuf va Zulaykha, with its flattering evocation of the Sultan’s beauty, character, generosity and justice, typify these dedications.’ Simpson stresses his role as a pir (master) of the Naqshbandi order of Sufi Islam which he joined at a young age. On his death in 1492, Jami was mourned by Sultan Husain Mirza as a son, and Mir Ali Sher helped wash the body and composed an elegy in praise of his departed friend.

    Simpson adds that ‘Jami composed Yusuf va Zulaykha in a single year, AH 889/AD 1484-85, which he gives as a chronogram at the end of the text. The beginning mentions that Jami entered the mystical state of sama’ (the ritual Sufi dance) during the poem’s composition. The masnavi is generally considered to have been written in honour of Sultan Husain Mirza, whom Jami praises in the prologue along with his pir, Khwaja Ubaydullah Ahrar.’ (See Simpson, M. S., Sultan Ibrahim Mirza’s Haft Awrang: a Princely Manuscript from Sixteenth-Century Iran, New Haven and London 1997.)

    The style and setting of the paintings:

    This cycle of eight paintings dated 1814-15 belongs stylistically to a period which spanned the first half of the 19th Century and in which Qajar painting reached its zenith under the patronage of Fath 'Ali Shah Qajar (reigned 1798-1834). According to Toby Falk, 'the Shah maintained a stately court and a large harem of ladies groomed to perfection of Persian taste for the amusement of the Shah. Palaces, hunting lodges and garden pavilions were decorated in exotic and lavish taste and this decor frequently included paintings.' Falk also observes that apart from the images of the Shah, his family, and the Court, the most popular subjects 'were those drawn from popular or traditional Persian classics and romances such as the character Yusuf, who appears in the equivalent of the biblical Joseph and Potiphar's wife, and scenes from the poems of the 12th Century poet Nizami, whose Khamsa, or Quintet, has always been the most popular of Persian books. Refer to Falk, S. J., Qajar Paintings: Persian Oil Paintings of the 18th and 19th Centuries, London 1972, pp. 22-24.

    Among the many painters who worked at the court during the reign of Fath 'Ali Shah were Muhammad Hasan Khan and Ahmad. According to Layla Diba in her introduction to this catalogue, the style of these paintings shows similarities to that of these two artists, especially in the treatment of the faces , costumes and jewellery, which can clearly be observed in the painting depicting the maidens fainting or accidentally cutting their fingers upon the appearance of the beautiful Yusuf in Zulaykha's chamber (5). It is conceivable that they were painted by a pupil or follower of Muhammad Hasan and Ahmad.

    It was fashionable to decorate the walls of public and private rooms of palaces, pavilions and private residences with paintings done either directly on to the wall surface or on canvas and then set into niches as can be seen in the photograph of a house in Isfahan, illustrated in this catalogue by kind permission of Professor John Carswell (see Carswell, J., New Julfa: the Armenian Churches and other Buildings, Oxford 1968, plate 79).
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