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Yusef gives a royal banquet in honor of his marriage; from a manuscript of the Haft awrang (Seven thrones) by Jami (f. 132)

Safavid period

Opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper
H: 34.2 W: 23.2 cm
Probably Mashad, Khurasan, Iran

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One of the most remarkable manuscripts created in sixteenth-century Iran is the Haft awrang (Seven Thrones) of Jami (d. 1492), commissioned by Sultan Ibrahim Mirza (1543–77), the favorite nephew and son-in-law of the ruler Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–76). It was begun in 1556 when Ibrahim Mirza was appointed governor of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, a period when his aging uncle, the Shah, was developing an increasingly negative attitude towards the visual arts. With few commissions forthcoming at the imperial court, many Safavid artists sought their fortunes in the considerably more supportive environment of Ibrahim Mirza's court.

The 303 folio volume was copied by five calligraphers (Malik al-Dailami, Muhibb 'Ali, Shah Mahmud Al-Nishapuri, 'Aishi ibn 'Ashiri, Rustam 'Ali, and Sultan Muhammad Khandan), who signed their names in the various colophons along with the towns where they worked: Mashhad, Qazvin, and Herat. The colophons also include a series of dates documenting the manuscript's production: It was begun in 1556, the first year of Ibrahim's governorship, and completed in 1565 when his official position was revoked.

Besides its exquisite calligraphy, rich illumination, and elaborate marginal decoration in gold, this luxurious manuscript contains twenty-eight superb full-page paintings. Unfortunately, none bears an artist's signature or a contemporary attribution, but all the painters (probably about seven) were certainly trained in the royal ateliers in Tabriz, and moved to Mashhad, Qazvin, and Herat after 1548 when the original Safavid capital was abandoned.

This particular painting—with its brilliant colors, meticulously rendered figures, intricate textile designs, and curious combination of exterior space— is typical of all of the complex and highly sophisticated compositions in the volume. The illustration comes from the second of the Haft awrang poems, recounting the story of Yusuf and Zulaykha, better known in the West as Joseph and Potiphar's wife. After many years of resisting Zulaykha's passionate advances, the chaste Yusef receives an order from God and agrees to marry her. The ceremony is preceded by a lavish banquet attended by the king and nobles of Egypt. In this representation Yusuf waits quietly for the festivities to begin, his head surrounded by a flaming aura as a mark of his sanctity.

As in other examples of sixteenth-century Iranian painting, all the personages have been depicted as Safavid nobles, wearing the robes and turbans fashionable at that time. Another very appropriate contemporary reference appears in a gold inscription over the archway in the rear: Abu'l Fath Sultan Ibrahim Mirza, the name of the prince who commissioned this remarkable masterpiece.

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