Collection of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan

Collection of Islamic Art: Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection.

Vol 1 and II by Anthony Welch. Geneva: Chateau de Bellerive. 1972.

Based upon the quantity and quality of recent publications in Islamic art the field is booming. These contributions cover very scholarly works to popular pieces including a series by Newsweek. There have also been a large number of catalogues including list of collections which have never been publicly shown. The most unique type of publication is a limited edition catalogue of a private collection where the volumes are not for sale. This is the case of the very fine collection of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan which has been catalogued by Anthony Welch of the University of Victoria. Through the personal generosity of Prince Sadruddin a number of libraries have received copies of the volumes and they are listed at the end of the review.

Prince Sadruddin, known for his humanitarian work through the U. N., began collecting Islamic art in the mid-1950's while a student at Harvard. The resulting collection which any museum would be pleased to own is particularly strong in Iranian pieces including a number of exceptional items which will mentioned below. Beyond the intrinsic value of having these pieces identified, it is the quality of Professor Welch's comments which make these volumes so valuable.

Professor Welch faced a very difficult task. On one hand he had to write introductions and descriptions for individuals who are unfamiliar with Islamic art and who would not see the actual objects but would receive copies of the Volumes. On the other hand specialists had to know enough about the pieces so that they could use the data for their own research. The resulting prose meets successfully the demands of these two audiences. The style is clear, concise and informative. The general pattern is that each section begins with a brief historical sketch, a survey of the major artistic trends for that medium and then sets the pieces in their appropriate place. Each section includes a selected bibliography and, where appropriate, comments on the current state of scholarly research. Volume I is devoted to miniatures with all but the first three Persian. Volume II includes examples of calligraphy, manuscripts almost all of which are illuminated or illustrated, pottery and metal work. One criticism is that an introduction describing the organisation and identifying the numbering system (A.M., Ir., M., Ms., P., etc)would have been very helpful. It is also hoped that future volumes will cross list by page and catalogue number and an index will be included. The introduction in volume I to each of the sections on different periods and styles of Persian paintings is one of the best surveys available and is an excellent place to begin for any neophyte. The collection includes examples for the Il-Khanid period, 14th century Shiraz, Timurids and safavids. The Timurids paintings done for Shah Rulkh or at the provincial school of Gilan are excellent examples of the "lower tradition" as opposed to the "high court style" of Iskandar, Baysunghur and Ibrahim for which there are no examples. Every serious student of Safavid painting will turn to this collection to examine examples of Rida-I Abbasi (whom Welch identifies with Aga Rida) and Mu'in Musawwir as well as other Safavid artists. The Mamluk painting of a blood-lettering device which illustrated a copy of al-Jazari's Automata precedes the Persian miniatures and is very important for understanding the tradition of painting in the Arab speaking world.

Volume II holds even greater surprises for the student of Islamic Painting. Under the section on manuscripts, four are complete illustrated works. The Tadkireh of Shaikh Safi al-Din done in Shiraz, 990/1582, is the only illustrated copy of this work on the Sufi saint and his associates; it is also known as the Safwat al-Safa. The 14 miniatures are excellent examples of a secondary Safavid school. The Yusuf and Zuleikha of Jami (Tabriz?,936/1529)is exciting for the strong colours in the miniatures while, as Welch effectively argues, the 17th century edition of the Book of the Fixed Stars of Abd al-Rahman ibni Umar al-Sufi demonstrates how certain conventions become fixed in Islamic art. The fourth work is a Gulistan of Sa'di (Shiraz. 1005/1597).

The section on Islamic pottery begins with an excellent coloured map of the major artistic centres and is even more valuable than the four other coloured maps which show political divisions. The pieces reflect the great variety of wares produced by Muslim artists and while interesting are not particularly unique. [One could turn to two other recent works for pottery. Esin Atil. Ceramics from the World of Islam(Washington . D.C., Smithsonian Institution. 1973) and Geza Fehervari, Islamic Pottery: A comprehensive study based on the Borlow Collection (London, Faber and Faber Ltd., 1973)]. The volume concludes with a section on Islamic metalwork and Welch's introduction is an important one to this particular artistic medium.

Again the value of these volumes is enhanced by Welch's ability to verbalise the historical and literary setting for the pieces, especially the miniatures, as well as to describe the colours, designs, scenes, etc. On each piece. The summation of the story which the miniatures illustrate is particularly valuable. Finally there is a generous number of photographs, approximately 125 and very good, with a third of them in colour. ( The illustration for Ir.,M. 52 appears to have been left out in the three editions examined by this reviewer).

It is assumed that the complete collection will be catalogued as these two volumes only include purchases to 1967 and, based on a hand list of items not catalogued ( II, 221-225), there are ten more manuscripts with miniatures which deserve a full description.

The following libraries have received the copies of the volumes and if the Universities of Washington be a guide, they can be found in the rare book room.

Sak volumes presented to: Canada:- University of Victoria; Mcgil University; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; U.S.A.:- Berkeley; UCLA; University of Washington; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; University of Pennsylvania; New York University; Harvard; New York Public Library; Library of Congress; University oh Chicago; Freer Gallery of Art, Washington; University of Michigan; Yale: Princeton; Asia House Gallery; New York; Cleveland Museum of Art; Boston Museum of Fine Arts; University of Indiana, Bloomington; University of Illionis; Champaign/Urbana; Columbia University; U.K.:- British Museum; Victoria and Albert Museum; St. Antony's College, Oxford; Bodleian Library, Oxford; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; SOAS, London University. Jere L. Bacharach University of Washington.

(Courtesy : Journal of the American Oriental Society)

Source: Ilm Magazine. Vol 3 Nov. 1977