A Prince’s Poetry

The visual artistry of a well-crafted manuscript was as important as its literary content. These folios come from a copy of the collected poems of Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara, ruler of Herat and Babur’s distant cousin. Composed in Chagatai Turkish, the verses were copied by one of the Sultan’s master calligraphers.

The calligraphic lines may appear spontaneous, but each verse is executed in a painstaking decoupage technique known as qita’i. Words are cut from light-toned paper and are meticulously arranged against a contrasting background to create the appearance of a single, fluid gesture. The final product is a rhythmic interplay of forms and hues, heightened with touches of shimmering gold. Developed in Herat, the art form exemplifies the refined tastes of the Timurid princes in the latter part of the fifteenth century.

Folio from a Divan (collected poems)
By Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara
Historic Iran, present-day Afghanistan, Timurid period, Reign of Sultan Husayn Mirza, ca. 1490
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Purchase—Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art