Smithsonian Freer Gallery Sackler Gallery National Museum of Asian Art Gallery Guide Arts of the Islamic World
IntroductioncalligraphyAbstract DesignArts of the Bookpage 1page 2page 3The Art of the Object

Relatively few illustrated manuscripts prior to the devastating Mongol invasion of the 1250s have survived from the Islamic world. Some of the earliest known works were executed in Arab lands, Syria and Iraq in particular. Dating from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, they include medical and scientific treatises, as well as Arab literary classics. In Iran, the Shahnama (Book of Kings), the Persian national epic composed by the poet Firdawsi, was particularly favored. The earliest Shahnamas date from the fourteenth century, and the text has remained the most frequently illustrated literary work in the Islamic world. The lyrical verses of other Persian poets, such as Nizami (died 1209), Hafiz (died 1390), and Sa`di (died 1292), have also inspired numerous painters in Iran and Central Asia since the late fourteenth century. The Ottoman sultans, who ruled over a vast empire centered in present-day Turkey and Anatolia (1281– 1924), preferred lavishly illustrated dynastic histories, celebrating their military and political power. In Islamic India, translations of Hindu texts, Persian literary classics as well as dynastic histories were often embellished with carefully observed and intricately detailed illustrations.
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