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Illustrations of Timurids in the Zafarnama of Sultan Husayn or ‘Garrett Zafarnama’
Building of the Great Mosque in Samarkand

A larger image of Building of the Great Mosque in Samarkand (left)

A larger image of Building of the Great Mosque in Samarkand (right)

Creation date: 1467-1468, creation date: illumination, ca. 1480s
Author: text by Sharaf al-Din ’Ali Yazdi (Islamic, died 1454)
Painter: illustrations by Bihzad (Persian, 1450-1536).
Held by: John Work Garrett Library John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

The illustrated Zafarnama manuscript of Sultan Husayn, also known as the Garrett or Baltimore Zafarnama (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Library, no shelf mark), is one of the most celebrated and important among Timurid manuscripts. Produced in the fifteenth century, probably in Herat (present-day Afghanistan) for the famous Timurid ruler Sultan Husayn Mirza, the manuscript has survived in its entirety with minor retouching of the paintings, probably done in India.1 All twelve of its miniatures have been attributed to the great painter Bihzad by a later Mughal hand.
Folios 359v-360r: The construction of the Great Mosque (Friday Mosque) of Samarqand, began on 14 Ramadan 801/May 20, 1399 (Fig. 5) [vol. 2, 145]
This is an unusual and significant choice of image in the Zafarnarma, as it applies to both Timur and Sultan Husayn as patrons. The illustration occurs in the middle of a famous poetic phrase which describes the mosque in its finished state, but the painting actually shows the construction of the mosque, and most of the figural groups and their activities are taken directly from the written description in the Zafarnarma.28
    The composition, subject, and figural elements of the painting are unique, and there is no prototype for them. The composition differs from that of the other miniatures in this manuscript because the hero is not central; rather, the subject matter itself is heroic, one long associated with the traditional duties of a Muslim ruler, whose life as a Muslim hero is, after all, the subject of the text. For this reason, the symbolic value of the painting in context should parallel the depiction of Timur's accession scene in the court of Balkh (ff. 82v-83r; see Fig. 1).
    The mosque is shown surrounded by a wall, and one of the portals is under construction. The composition shows the inside and outside of the building at the same time, and this creates an awkward perspective. The stonework is emphasized in the painting as well as in the text, since after the sack of Delhi, Timur took all the Indian stonecutters for himself and for the Friday mosque he was planning to build in Samarqand.29 The artist has paid particular attention here to the marble-columns, capitals, revetments, engraved marble, as well as the large blocks carried by an elephant and a horse. The painter has carefully differentiated ethnic groups of craftsmen and slaves working in the construction site. Such painstaking distinctions do not occur in the battle scenes, where all the figures, whether Turks, Mongols, Christians, or others, are shown in the same way. The painting has small, delightful vignettes, some humorous, such as the elephant wrapping its trunk around one of the workers (at the bottom of the page) or the supervisor getting ready to strike a subordinate (on the top left). Such details become even more successful and effective in the representation of the building of the palace in Khawarnaq in the Khamsa [Quintet] of Nizami (see below).
Source: The Zafarnama [Book of Conquest] of Sultan Husayn Mirza by MIKA NATIF

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