Monday, March 05, 2007

Two rams fighting

In their survey The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250-1800, Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom trace developments in the art of the book. Islamic manuscript illustrators may not have painted landscapes per se, but, as with Renaissance painters in the West, some of their work displays a definite interest in depicting nature and it is fascinating to trace the ways in which they incorporated landscape elements. Three examples spanning the fourteenth century:

  • From the late 1290s, a Persian translation of Ibn Bakhtishu’s Manafi’ al-hayawan, a book that describes birds, insects and animals and includes 94 illustrations. Some of the paintings integrate the animals into landscapes of ‘gnarled trees, convoluted clouds , and rocky mountains’ which suggest an awareness of Chinese painting. There are example in the Pierpoint Morgan Library, e.g. Two Rams Fighting.
  • Another manuscript with animal illustrations from the mid-fourteenth century is a copy of the animal fables, Kalila and Dimna (now in Istanbul University Library). There is an extraordinary illustration to the story of Kardana and the Tortoise, with a blue swirling twisted tree and lush green vegetation; in many of the paintings, ‘landscape elements spill out of the confines of the picture frame’.
  • Finally, in contrast to this densely painted image, there is a simple line drawing from 1403 showing a flock of geese flying over a Pastoral Scene (now in the Freer Gallery of Art). The illustration was made to accompany a poem by sultan Ahmad Jalayir, although the landscape does not seem to relate directly to the verse. It may well have been the work of ‘Abd al-Hayy who was particularly renowned for his line drawing.

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