A Beautifully Illustrated and Illuminated Manuscript
Jami (Nur al-Din 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Ahmad Jami, 1414-1492).
Yusuf and Zulaykha [in Persian]. [Kashmir, late
18th or early 19th century]. Manuscript in Persian on polished
cream paper with rounded corners. Small octavo (7.875 x 5.375
inches; 201 x 136 mm.). Complete with [2, blank], , [3, blank]
leaves, unfoliated (the blank leaves appear to be integral with the
text). Written space: 5.375 x 3.1875 inches; 137 x 81 mm. Written
in neat nasta'liq script in black ink, with chapter titles
in red or orange, in double columns of twelve lines within cloud
bands outlined in black on gold grounds, and intercolumnar foliate
decoration in gold and red. The text on each page is enclosed on
three sides within a frame of floral decoration in gold, green, and
red, and black, red, gold, and orange rules on all four sides, with
an outer black rule border near the edge of the page. Some pages
with text written diagonally, the resulting triangular spaces
filled with floral decoration in gold, green, and red.
in Persian of Jami's Allegorical Romance
Yusuf and Zulaykha
Recto of first leaf with a circular gold medallion outlined in black; verso of first leaf and recto of second leaf with a richly illuminated hand-painted double-page frontispiece in gold and dark blue, with minute floral decoration, and rules and outlines in green, orange, red, light blue, and white, the central rectangular panels containing the opening verses in double columns of six lines within cloud bands on a gold ground. Sixty-five beautifully illuminated hand-painted miniatures illustrating the text, all but one with tissue guards. Each miniature with at least one line of text above and below (some with as many as five above and two below). Catchwords written obliquely on the verso of each leaf across the border.
In its original hand-painted lacquered papier-maché binding with red leather spine and corners. Covers with an all-overall floral design in gilt and colors on a black ground with a central scalloped medallion and pendants and cornerpieces with floral decoration on a gold ground. Doublures with a flowering tree in orange and red on a red ground. The binding is worn and cracked in places, with some areas of surface loss; hinges reinforced, but cracked.
The first leaf is quite soiled and worn, remargined at the lower edge, and possibly reinserted; second leaf also soiled, with the corners extended; fol.  (with the miniature on the verso of the Mi'raj or night ride of the Prophet Muhammad to heaven) extended at the lower margin and upper outer margin; several additional leaves with tiny marginal tears or repairs. Considerable thumbsoiling from heavy use, especially to the lower corners; some edge browning and light fraying; several leaves with ink spot or smudges; a few leaves with small stains or water spotting; occasional dampstaining, mostly at the edges. The pigment is rubbed or flaking on a few of the miniatures; there is bleedthrough from the green pigment in some miniatures to the opposite page. One tissue guard with a two-inch tear from the lower edge; two tissue guards with ink tracings from the miniatures. Recto of the first leaf with an ink inscription and two faint ownership seals.
This manuscript is notable for its large number of miniatures and the unusually large amount of gilt decoration, and its sumptuous appearance suggests that it was made for a wealthy patron rather than for the commercial market (possibly a Hindu artist or patron, as Krishna is depicted in Zulaykha's palace). The miniatures accompanying the text are intricate and include repeated recognizable compositions and stock figures that become as familiar to the reader as the verses themselves, including: Yusuf's eleven brothers plotting against him (fol. 69v); Yusuf being rescued from the well (fol. 78r); Zulaykha having her legs chained by her maids after her second vision of Yusuf (fol. 42v); Zulaykha, peeking through a hole in her tent, discovering that the Vizier is not Yusuf (fol. 57r); Zulaykha's palace, with six rooms painted with scenes of Yusuf and Zulaykha embracing (fol. 118r); the women of Egypt, overcome by the beauty of Yusuf, cutting their fingers instead of the oranges they are peeling (fol. 140r); the King of Egypt dreaming of seven fat and seven cows (fol. 160r); Zulaykha, aged with grief, approaching Yusuf as he rides by (fol. 176r); the angel Jibra'il (Gabriel) giving Yusuf an apple from the garden of Eden to let him know that it is time for him to die (fol. 190r).
The miniatures appear to be the work of more than one artist, with some not as finely executed as most. This fragile manuscript is an excellent example of a Persian manuscript executed in Kashmir in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, and it is in remarkable condition, for having been so heavily used.
Yusuf and Zulaykha is a retelling of the Biblical story of Joseph, who is sold into slavery and resists the seductive approaches of the wife of his master, Potiphar. The story appears in the Qur'an as Surat Yusuf, where it is introduced as "the most beautiful of stories." Jami's Yusuf and Zulaykha (1484) is considered the masterpiece of his Haft Awrang (Seven Thrones or Constellation of the Great Bear), a compilation of seven poems in masnavi form, and it is also the most frequently illustrated of the seven poems. Considered one of the greatest mystical love stories in Islamic literature, Jami's Yusuf and Zulaykha is the most popular of the many Persian adaptations of this classic story.
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