Neẓāmi Ganjavi – Haft Peykar, 1197 AD (The Seven Portraits)

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Bahram_Gur_Visits_the_Dome_of_Piruza_on_Wednesday_Page_from_the_Haft_paykar_from_a_manuscript_of_the_Khamsa_of_Nizami

Bahrām finds the picture of the Seven (FairFaces in Khavarnaq.

The prince one day arriving from the plain, was walking through Khavarnaq gay of mood.
He saw a secret room with fastened door, which by the keeper had been overlooked.
The prince had not set foot within that room, nor had the courtiers or custodians.
He said, Why is this room locked up, and where the keeper of it; where too is the key?
The keeper came (and) gave the prince the key. The prince unlocked the door and saw the room.
A room saw? Nay, a treasure-house, through which the gazer’s eyes would dealers be in gems.
The pictures of that fine abode of art excelled a hundred Chinese picture-rooms.
They on the walls of that apartment showed all that the finest workmanship could show.
In it were finely painted seven forms, each one connected with a certain Clime:
Fūrak, of India’s Rājā daughter, first, in face more lovely than the moon when full.
(Then) Yaghmā-Nāz, the Khāqān’s daughter fair, disturber of Tarāz and China’s belles.
The king of Khvārazm’s daughter Nāz-Parī, graceful as mountain-partridge in her gait.
The king of Saqlāb’s daughter Nasrīn-Nūsh, a Turk of Greek dress decked by Chinese art.
The king of Maghrib’s daughter Āẕar-Gūn, a sun like to the daily waxing moon.
The wisdom-gifted Qaiṣar’s daughter, next, august, and named Humāy, Bird August.
The Kisrá’s daughter of Kā’ūs’s race, named Dursitī, and ḥūrī-like in grace.
Within one circle by a cord hung up these seven had been all together limned.
In each of them were countless beauties (seen) to light the essence of the light of sight.
A face was limned so handsome in the midst that ’twas as kernel, whilst the rest were shell.
A parrot on his sugar plumes had dropped, and “galia” o’er his moon had drawn a line.
His head exalted like a cypress’s; his crown was (formed) of silver, gold, and gems.
Towards him were turned these seven beauties’ eyes; each one had given her heart to love of him.
He giving to those beauties pleasant smiles; they all before him (as) devoted slaves.
The painter of his face and form had writ above his head the name of Bahrām Gūr;(Adding), Such is the Seven Planets’ rule that this world-conqueror, when he appears,
Shall take like precious pearls unto his breast seven monarchs’ daughters from the Seven Climes.
We have not sown this seed (know) of ourselves; we’ve written what the planets have declared.
Twas writ, I’ve spoken, that he might observe the formula, but God it is who acts.
Prince Bahrām having read this strange account, remained in wonder at the heavens’ spells.
The love of those fair girls (in picture seen) completely and entirely filled his heart.
Libidine percitis equabus et equo vehementia rapto; a lion-like young man and seven brides—
Should not desire to gain one’s wish be great? Should not the heart cry out to gain its aim?
Although that formula made fierce attack, his joy (at once) increased a hundredfold,
Since it ensured a long and happy life, and gave him hope of gaining his desire.—
For the conciliation of a man all that which makes him hopeful has effect.—
When the prince left the room he locked it up, and gave the key to its custodian.
He said, If I should hear that anyone (dare) for a moment (to) unlock this door,
I’ll have his blood shed even in this room: I’ll have his head suspended from his neck.
In all the household, man or woman, none (dared ever) give a glance towards that room.
From time to time when overcome with love, the prince went towards that door (with) key in hand.
The door he opened, entered paradise, and on those finely painted pictures gazed.
Before the water there like one athirst, in longing for it he would fall asleep.
Whilst he was out his wish was for the chase, that room, on his return, his solacer.

Neẓāmi Ganjavi,1141-1209 Haft Peykar, 1197 AD (The Seven Portraits)

Haft Peykar (The Seven Beauties) containing the life and adventures of King Bahrām Gūr and the seven stories told him by his seven queens by Nizami of Ganja (Neẓāmi Ganjavi) Translated from the Persian by C.E. Wilson.

Editor’s Note: The Haft Peykar‎‎ or, The Seven Beauties, is also known as Bahramnameh  (The Book of Bahrām). Haft Peykar can be translated literally as ‘seven portraits’ with the figurative meaning of seven beauties. It tells the story of a Prince, later King Bahrām, and his pursuits of hunting, love, and other adventures in 4367 (or 5136) rhyming couplets. The story of a Prince enraptured by the portraits of the Princesses is a bride-show topos, a custom of Byzantine emperors, where the hero chooses a wife from among the most beautiful maidens of the country. The setting is widely found in traditional folk-tales and myths including Sanskrit, Indian, Icelandic, Middle english, Medieval Latin, Danish, Breton, German, Indonesian, Chinese, and Japanese. The topos occurs in the story of Ibrahim and Jamileh in the Thousand and One Nights, where the son of Egypt’s vizier sees a portrait of a woman in a book and is so infatuated he is unable to eat or sleep. The topos appears in other works by Neẓāmi Ganjavi in Sharaf-namah (a part of Iskandar-nameh) where the Persian Queen, Nushabah, is passionately in love with a likeness of Alexander the Great. While in the story of Khusraw and Shirin, the Armenian Queen Shirin is so obsessed by a portrait of Khusraw that she holds it and quivers so that her maidens are afraid for her, and so they destroy the image. She snatches another picture and worships it like an idol. The erotic and emotional power of the picture was popular, in spite of Islamic and Christian strictures against human images.

In this episode Bahrām wanders around Khavarnaq castle where he finds a secret room. Inside he finds seven portraits, of the daughters of the Kings of India, Byzantium, Chorasmia, Sclavonia, Maghreb, China and Persia, who serendipitously all look devotedly at a portrait of Bahr that hangs on the wall. The Prince falls in love with the images and returns often to the room where he “entered paradise, and on those finely painted pictures gazed. Before the water there like one athirst”. Once he becomes King he seeks the seven princesses and wins them as his brides. He orders his architect to construct seven domes to house his new wives. The craftsman tells him that each of the climes is ruled by one of the seven planets and advises him to assure his good fortune by adorning each dome with the color associated with the clime and planet of its occupant. The king is at first sceptical but eventually lets the architect have his way. The princesses take up residence in the splendid pavilions. The king visits each princess on successive days of the week: on Saturday the Indian princess, who is governed by Saturn, in the black dome, on Sunday the Greek princess, who is governed by the sun, in the yellow dome, and so on. Each princess regales the king with a story matching the mood of her respective colour. These seven beautifully constructed, highly sensuous stories occupy about half of the whole poem. Source: http://www.iranicaonline.org

Images:
1. Bahr and the Indian Princess in the Black Pavilion. llustrated folio from a manuscript of the Khamsa (Haft Paykar) by Nizami. Persian, Safavid period, Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, 40.2 x 26.2 cm, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
2. Bahr Visits the White Domed Pavilion. Persian. Part of Khamsa of Nizami, Haft Paykar Seven Portraits, Manuscript. 1560. Cleveland Museum of Art
3. Bahr Visits the Dome of Piruza on Wednesday. Page from the Haft Paykar, from a manuscript of Nizanmi, Brooklyn Museum
4. Bahr sees the portraits of the seven beauties. Behzad School, 1479. Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature

 

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Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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