Love and Yearning: Mystical and Moral Themes in Persian Painting

This exhibition featured twenty-six of the finest illustrated manuscripts relating to Persian lyrical poetry highlighting the union of word and image. “Love and Yearning: Mystical and Moral Themes in Persian Poetry and Painting” contained works drawn from the Sackler and neighboring Freer galleries’ renowned permanent holdings and loans from several private collections and from the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. These works demonstrate how 15th- to 17th-century artists transformed the rich imagery of mystical concepts found in Persian lyrical poetry into stylized, meticulously detailed and colorful images.

Lyrical texts describing the epic love stories of the prophet Yusuf (Joseph) and Zulaykha, Khusraw and Shirin and the crazed lover Majnun and Layli were produced on a more personal and intimate scale than manuscripts devoted to historical, scientific, or epic themes. Although small in size and few in number, the paintings accompanying lyrical texts were intricate and included repeated recognizable compositions and stock figures that became as familiar to the viewer as the verses themselves.

Manuscripts that were on view included pages from Nizami’s (1145–1207) Khamsa (Quintet), Jami’s (d. 1492) Haft Awrang (Seven Thrones), as well as the Bustan (Orchard) and the Gulistan(Rose garden) by Sa’di (d. 1492). Two rarely-seen textile fragments illustrated how narrative scenes were also adapted to other media.

The exhibition included an interactive station with a touch screen where visitors can view all 28 minutely detailed illustrations of the Freer’s Haft Awrang in depth. An audio feature described the production of the manuscript, its patron and artists.

The exhibition and related programs were made possible by a generous grant from the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute.