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Nizami’s Haft Paykar and the painting

Middle Eastern Arabic literature has always been a treasure trove of many literary works highly praised and commended for its craft, depth, style and literary characteristics. Most of the time, these works in texts are accompanied by artworks which try to capture a particular episode, event or happening that has transpired inside the literary work. It allows the audience to instantly know at least (significant) parts of what is characterized often as long story telling consistent to the earlier times of literary pose and poetry writing.

The Haft Paykar, described as “a complex web of interwoven journeys (Meisami, p39)” which inspired other stories from India to Europe (Perry 6), by the poet Nizami is one of Persian literary masterpieces that the world is enjoying today. Because both words and images are available for the audience to know and understand the story, this is a very good example to use for a word/image analysis.

The painting is eye catching at first glance especially with the intense amount of detail present inside the painting. Some part of the image may automatically catch the viewer’s eye first, like the central image of the two conversing or even the design of the walls and the dominant color present in the painting. What is being depicted here is the legendary history of the Sasanian king Bahram Gur visiting Azarene, daughter of the king of Maghrib, her own pavilion.

Several meanings are suggested or implied indirectly through the painting – the demure manner by which Azarene treats her visitor hides the sexual relationship of the princess to Bahram Gur as one of Gur’s seven wives, save for what the extended hand of Bahram Gur touching the right knee of Azarene symbolizes (sensuality, physical contact, intimacy, etc), while the large chunks of decorated walls surround the couple is an indirect representation of the posh and royal lifestyle of the monarchies. Tying Visual Interpretation of the Image and comparing it with the Reading of the Relevant Textual Source

In the analysis of the word/image relationship particularly in this situation, reading the relevant textual source is important because in putting the two together side by side (the image and the text) the analyst/observer may notice some things that the image directly implies following the description of the textual partner. At the same time, the image can also allude to several ideas which may not be directly voiced out or described in the textual partner, an idea which only the visual partner/image managed to bring out, if the audience’s eye and observation is keen enough on noticing it.

Looking at the artwork entitled “Bahram Gur in the Turquoise Pavilion” which was taken from the pages from a manuscript of the Haft Paikar (Seven Portraits) of the Quintet (Khamsa) by the poet Nizami, the audience can immediately notice some details in the artworks that directly reflect a particular instance from Nizami’s work which was the inspiration for this particular artwork.

These include the assumption of the presence of two significant characters who are talking to each other (Bahram Gur and Azarene); the status of the two key human figures in the drawing based on the decoration and adornment found inside the place where they are situated; even the calm and relaxed atmosphere felt in looking at the artwork which is perhaps the same feeling that the poet is trying to picture as Nizami was writing this particular part of the poem.

The blue background that serves as backdrop for the image/painting also leads the audience to assume that the incident that is taking place in the painting happened sometime between dusk or evening. Any time earlier than that would have prompted the artist to utilize a color somewhat lighter to blue to allude to the impact of the sun to the sky and surroundings. Using blue to color the sky clearly leads the audience to assume that it was night time, which was correct because in the story, Bahram Gur made the time of his visitation to each of his seven princesses at night time.

This particular visitation of Azarene is no different, taking place at time as well. The image, which featured a high ceiling and walls that are ornately detailed and designed, clearly resembles a type of residence that is both posh and royalty. This is another direct translation of the poem’s content to the image. In the Seven Princesses, the King was believed to have built seven different palaces for each of his seven wives (Ardalan 89).

In this occassion, it appears that the King is visiting one of his princesses and they are inside one of the palaces – the one that Bahram Gur constructed particularly for Azarene, who was seated facing him in the painting. Consistent with the prevailing Persian style in painting, the painter allowed the audience with a view from the outside looking inside the palace. “The Nizami section presents the pavilions of the Haft Paykar as domed buildings seen from the outside (Brend 75). ” Visual Cues from the Image and Analysis through

Socio-Cultural and Historical Context The work reflects the social and/or historical context of its making through the artist’s rendering of detail to the work of art consistent with the details of the real-life equivalent of the characters in the poem. Take for example, the case of Bahram Gur and the real life king in Persia during that time. In the painting, Bahram Gur is wearing a white turban with a particular adornment, which may symbolize the stature the character is representing in real life.

And this particular attack on the particular image, according to Barbara Brend’s “Perspective on Persian Painting (Brend 75)” is consistent too to the style that Persian painters during that time use, pointing to the oval faces and the use of male head gear like turbans (Brend 75). The audience should understand that in consideration of the cultural context of the image, the distance found between the two subjects who are conversing (the Sassanian King and Princess Azarene) allude or refer to many cultural practices and symbolisms.

While this is still suitable and applicable today, in some cases, are nonetheless important considerations particularly during the time the textual partner of the image was written and the timeline wherein the story has took place. The depiction of the painting, per se, alludes to a particular socio-cultural characteristic of its time – often, only those in the higher echelon of the society like nobilities and monarchs are immortalized through paintings.

By looking at the painting and reading the text, the audience/reader can note that there are differences, as well as similarities, especially in consideration to how the visual artist chose to present the subject and how Nizami created and spoke of Bahram Gur’s life in the poem. The painting features Bahram Gur, in his seated position, as a person who is calm and composed – and this is true in the story. Bahram Gur, according to literary critics, was presented by Nizami as someone who is reflective and stable and in tune with spiritual knowledge, which he gained through his “spiritual journey from ignorance to wisdom (Meisami 39).

” But this can also be considered as veiling the true intense personality of Bahram Gur, who, in the story, is a man who is in constant action, particularly in his penchant for warfare. Looking at the painting, the audience may think that Bahram Gur is an ardent lover of just one woman, as the painting seems to allude to the exclusivity of the monogamous relationship; but in truth, Bahram Gur has six other wives.

Other similarities include the painting and the text’s designation of high social status to Bahram Gur and to his seven princess (in the painting, Azarene) and the resulting royal lifestyle that decorate the life of Bahram Gur and the princesses. The painting also illustrates the socio-cultural characteristics during Nizami’s time, especially the socio cultural practices among nobilities and monarchs like Bahram Gur and Azarene. In the painting, the two were talking, facing each other as was customary in Persia during that time.

Also, the presence of other individuals close to the couple indicates the presence of servants who service the Azarene and her visitor, again another socio-cultural characteristic of both Nizami’s work, as well as of the monarchs and nobilities during that particular time in Persia. Through the painting, the audience manages to see a particular aspect of the socio-cultural life in Persia during that time. At the same time the audience was allowed to be guided by the image on what actually happened during one particular incident found in Nizami’s poem. Works Cited Ardalan, Davar. My Name is Iran: A Memoir.

Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated, 2007. Arnold, Thomas W. Painting Islam, a Study of the Place of Pictorial Art in Muslim Culture. Gorgias Press, LLC, 2004. Brend, Barbara. Perspectives on Persian Painting: Illustrations to Amir Khusrau’s Khamsah. Taylor & Francis, Inc. , 2002. Meisami, Julie Scott. Cosmic Numbers: The Symbolic Design of Nizami’s Haft Paykar. Humanism, Culture, and Language in the Near East: Studies in Honor of Georg Krotkoff. Eisenbrauns, Incorporated, 1997. Perry, John R. The Persian Presence in the Islamic World. The Journal of the American Oriental Society, 2000.

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