38. Elyas Yusof Nezami Ganjavi, Khamseh (‘The Quintuplet’)
Persia, first half of the 16th century
paper; 240 x 190 mm; fols. 314
The manuscript, on polished Oriental paper, is an elegant copy of the Khamseh, a pentalogy of poems (The Treasury of Mysteries, Khosrow and Shirin, The Story of Leyla and Majnun, The Seven Beauties and the Book of Alexander the Great) by Elyas Yusof Nezami Ganjavi (1140–1200), the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature. It was written in fine nasta’liq script by a single scribe who subscribed the text but did not sign his name (fol. 314r). The Ottoman captain of the fleet Kara Mustafa Pas¸a (1635–83) donated this work and MS Orientale 5 (the royal chronicle by Firdawsı¯) to Grand Duke Ferdinando II (1621–70). Thus, it became part of the Palatine library collections, some of which were transferred to the Biblioteca Medicea in 1783. The epigraph is set in a rich symmetrical sarlauh (illuminated heading) decorated with central medallions (fols. 1v–2r), which is also found inside the book (fols. 2v, 28v, 101v, 149v, 201v, 275v). There are also twelve well-preserved half-page miniatures by different illuminators, some of which exquisitely made (fols. 17v, 41v, 306r). They have been attributed to a Western Iranian workshop and were executed in the Shı¯ra¯z style. The manuscript is open at fol. 306r, illustrating Alexander’s banquet with the Chinese maiden.