New exhibition at the Bodleian Library Oxford
Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond
This new exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford celebrates the beauty of Persian manuscripts, and the stories of human and divine love they tell. According to the online description, the display features “more than sixty visually stunning Persian manuscripts from the library’s collection. They include rare examples of 13th- to 18th-century Persian, Mughal Indian and Ottoman Turkish illustrated manuscripts. These magnificently illustrated works come from one of the richest periods in the history of the book and give a fascinating insight into the great artistic and literary culture of Persia and its timeless stories.”
In a section on Setting the scene, the online description continues with the following text:
“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
The familiar quatrain above, made famous by Edward Fitzgerald, is a paraphrase of a number of quatrains by the Sage (Hakīm) ‘Umar Khayyām (1048-1131). Khayyām, a Renaissance Humanist before the advent of the term, was better known in Iran as an astronomer and philosopher than as a poet, but, like many polymaths of his type, penned verse in his spare time.
Fitzgerald’s paraphrase captures the essence of the idealised romantic setting of Persian poetry which is reflected in a number of the miniature paintings in this exhibition. The typical motifs are the bucolic setting, the food, the music, the verse, and the wine, which, as a symbol for the spiritual wine poured out by the Sāqī (cupbearer) from the flask of wisdom, is lawful in the ‘Madhhab-i ‘Āshiqān’ or Religion of the Lovers. This scene is often a prelude to the act of the contemplation of pure theophanic matter – human or natural beauty as a mirror which manifests the beauty of the divine – leading to direct witness of the divine.”
The website http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/about/exhibitions/online/love-and-devotion has much more of interest, and the exhibition itself should be well worth a visit. Unfortunately it seems as though the Ouseley 140 MS of the Rubaiyat will not be on display. But this can now be seen online (see our following post). The Love and Devotion Exhibition is on from 29 Nov 2012 – 28 April 2013, in the Exhibition Room, Bodleian Library, Old Schools Quad, Catte Street, Oxford OX1 3BG. There will be a series of lunchtime lectures accompanying the exhibition, and items are also available online in a series of image galleries.