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The Hunter Rubaiyat: Illustrating Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat in a contemporary Australian setting

June 25, 2018

Joe Howard has sent us the following article about an exciting and unusual set of illustrations for the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, created by Australian artist, Tallulah Cunningham.  We have been aware of this work for some time, but somehow it has never had a mention on our blog.  We are delighted to remedy this omission, thanks to Joe’s contribution.

Australian artist Tullulah Cunningham (TC), has produced an interesting and unusual illustrated Rubaiyat. This work is described in detail in her PhD Thesis: The Hunter Rubaiyat: Illustrating Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat in a contemporary Australian setting. The thesis provides unprecedented insight into the design concepts, sources of inspiration and multiple methodologies employed by an artist in the creation of an illustrated Rubaiyat. It can be read and/or downloaded from:

The thesis contains a total of ca. 222 printed pages and there is just one copy of the final Rubaiyat.  My intention in writing this short article, covering only a few key points, is to make a broader audience aware of this work.

TC’s illustrated Rubaiyat is based on Fitzgerald’s first version. It consists of five woodblock prints, covering the Kuza Nama quatrains, and two hand-painted scrolls, each ca 4.5m long by 0.3m wide. These scrolls are called Summer Scroll and Winter Scroll.

TC initially rearranged the rubai into sequences representing the cycle of the four seasons. Several methods were used to accomplish this division, including identification of specific wording (spring, summer, snow, harvest), interpretation of less explicit words and phrases and the analysis of mood or temperature. To better represent the Australian climate, she then combined these into two roughly six-month intervals, representing summer and winter,

The primary inspiration for the illustrations is the flora, fauna, geography etc. of the Hunter Valley region on the east coast of Australia. In support of her work, the artist carried out extensive field studies at both industrial and rural locations.

TC describes many sources of her artistic and creative visions in addition to the Hunter Region, such as named Australian artists and the cultures of Britain, Persia and Japan. The Persian influence, for example, is evident in her use of geometric patterns that are mainly employed as beautiful backgrounds. Most of the quatrains are enclosed with cartouches and are calligraphed in a script TC developed. Extensive details are provided concerning the selection of materials and the physical construction of the wood blocks and scrolls.

The original artwork has been shown at exhibitions within Australia. In her thesis TC, refers to an “Image Appendices DVD/Draft Scrolls” which contains full images of the final work. I have been unsuccessful in obtaining a copy from the University. She also states, “In addition to exploring other physical locations to display The Hunter Rubáiyát, I will create an interactive website for the illustrations, making them accessible online.” An excellent image (shown above) from her Rubaiyat is given on her website:

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