Union Catalogue of Manuscripts from the Islamicate World

Persian MS 6 (The John Rylands Research Institute and Library, The University of Manchester)

Persian Manuscripts


Summary of Contents: A Safavid-era illustrated copy of the romance of Khusraw and Shirin, one of the five poems of Nizami's Khamsah (Quintet). While it bears a colophon purportedly signed by Timurid-era scribe Mawlānā Aẓhār of Herat, d 1475-6, the illustrations within the volume appear likely completed by commercial artists in sixteenth-century Shiraz, then famed for their production of luxury manuscripts for international clientele.
Scribe and Attributed name: Aẓhār of Herat, d 1475-6
Title: خسرو و شيرين
Incipit: (basmala) برگ ۱پ (folio 1b): خداوندا در توفیق بگشای * نظامی را ره تحقیق بنمای.
Explicit: برگ ۶۶ر (folio 66a): روانش باد جفت شادکامی * که گوید باد رحمت بر نظامی.
Colophon: برگ ۶۶ر (folio 66a): بنهایت رسید کتابت کتاب خسرو و شیرین که آیت مبین خطاب مستبین خمسه‌‌ٔ متین مرشد اهل یقین شیخ نظامیست در آوان ایام تفرقه وحوادث متفرقه که مستوعب اوقات کتابت گشته بود لا جرم موجب تأخیر تمام در اتمام شد فی الرابع عشرین من الشهر الفاخر ربیع الاخر سنه ۸۲۴ خدم بکتابتها العبد المفتقر الی رحمة الله الغنی اظهر السلطانی.
Colophon: Signed by Aẓhār, with a date that may read with 24 Rabī‘ II 824 AH (7 May 1421 CE) or 864 AH (26 Feb. 1460 CE).

B. W. Robinson (Ars Orientalis, Vol. 11, p. 387 and Persian Paintings, p. 148) questions the authentcity of the date, as the left and middle digits appear altered, and since the illumination, illustrations, and binding all appear to be early sixteenth century, rather than the one prior. Furthermore, he observes how the date comports with that calligrapher's known floruit, the final inverse triangular portion of the colophon may not be authentic, since the gold marginal ruling masks a join in the paper. More recently, Shiva Mihan (pp. 10, 17) argued in favour of the signature's authenticity; however, she interprets the date as 24 Rabī‘ II 864 AH (1460 CE) instead. While recent multi-spectral imaging conducted by the Rylands in 2022 confirms the paper and ink comport with the text, remounted onto the attached margins and gold-flecked when restored; however, the authenticity of the siganture and exact date await further research.

Former owner Sir Gore Ouseley describes the work in relation to another manuscript.

Language(s): Persian

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: Remargined throughout with gold-dusted pink paper, the edges trimmed down so that the covers overlap about 3 mm.
Extent: 66 folios, 9 flyleaves (ff. vi + 66 + iii).
Dimensions (leaf): 305 × 202 mm.
Dimensions (written): 178 × 112 mm.


Written in 4 columns with 25 lines per page. Ruled with a miṣtarah hand guide.


Written in black nasta‘līq throughout with captions in riq‘ah, attributed in the colophon to Mawlānā Aẓhār; however, this awaits further study and authentication.


Illustrations: Five early sixteenth-century miniatures exemplify the work of commercial Shiraz artists:

  • Folio 10b: Shirin sees a portrait of Khusraw displayed in a tree. Green foreground, with a stream and numerous plants and flowers. Between the foreground and the rising hillside in the background is a group of four trees, on one of which the picture hangs against a gold sky. In this setting, Shirin and 19 of her maids are represented, standing, sitting, picking flowers, offering wine and fruit and playing music. Very slight rubbing near inner edge.
    193 × 108 mm.
    Published: B. W. Robinson, Persian Paintings, p. 149, no. 550.
  • Folio 37b: Farhad carries Shirin and her horse. A pale-toned landscape of pink and green under a gold sky with convoluted grey clouds. In the foreground, a mass of rock (possibly in the style of Bihzad). Farhad and Shirin are preceded by one of her maids riding and a running footman and followed by two pairs of mounted maids.
    178 × 112 mm.
    Published: B. W. Robinson, Persian Paintings, p. 24, no. 551, pl. VIII.
  • Folio 43b: Khusraw at Shirin's castle. The building rises on the left, with Shirin at the window, four of her maids on the roof and a doorman below. In the tiled courtyard Khusraw sits on a small throne in the shadow of a richly decorated tent, surrounded by courtiers. Others appear outside the courtyard railings and on the horizon with two saddled horses. Garden of green and rising gold hillside with a flowering tree. Blue sky with white clouds.
    173 × 112 mm.
    Published: B. W. Robinson, Persian Paintings, p. 25, no. 552, pl. IX.
  • Folio 55a: Khusraw and Shirin after their wedding feast. Khusraw and Shirin relax on the upper floor of a palace, attended by a maid, Khusraw in loose undress wearing a fur-edged cap. Other maids appear at the door, window and balcony. In the courtyard are two guards, one of them asleep, and a courtier carrying a ewer and a basin. Beyond the courtyard railings, against a gold hillside, is a gardener with his spade on his shoulder.
    178 × 112 mm.
    Published: B. W. Robinson, Persian Paintings, p. 151, no. 553.
  • Folio 60a: Shirin commits suicide on Khusraw's coffin. The coffin, whose geometric ornament resembles of khatamkārī inlay work, resides within a tiled and painted palace interior. Outside, everything proceeds as normal; maids gossip on the roof, courtiers talk in the courtyard, and a groom holds a saddled horse and mule in readiness on the horizon, underneath a blue sky, slightly darkening towards the top edge.
    178 × 112 mm.
    Published: B. W. Robinson, Persian Paintings, p. 152, no. 554.
While B. W. Robinson previously published attributions for these illustrations to two famous Safavid artists, ‘Abd al-Ṣamad (fl. ca. 1540–1595) and Mīr Sayyid ʿAlī (1510–1572), based upon observations made by Stuart Cary Welch as early as 1967, recent scholarship on commercial Shiraz manuscript production suggests that the manuscript more likely originated there.

Headpiece: Early sixteenth-century Safavid style illuminated heading on folio 1b of high quality and in very good condition. Sub-headings fully illuminated throughout, with two small decorative panels above the colophon on folio 66a.

Fully remargined in cross-grained sized and polished salmon pink-coloured paper sprayed with gold on both sides, with the margins ruled in gold, surrounded by thin black double lines on either side, surrounded by a comparatively thick gray single lines.

  • The sixth right flyleaf b side to fith a side (ff. vib–va) bears an account, written in the reverse direction, of the work and poet signed and dated by former owner Sir Gore Ouseley,‘Hall Barn Park, January 1837’.
  • Folios 1a, top, bears the no, 12, probably from Ouseley, while underneath, a note in nasta‘līq script by a prior former owner Ahmed Paşazade İbrahim.
Bookplates and Pasted Items:
  • The first left flyleaf b side (f. viib): ‘Sir Gore Ouseley, Baronet’.
  • The final left flyleaf b side (f. ixb):: ‘Bibliotheca Lindesiana’ with pencilled shelfmark ‘F/4’.
  • Left doublure: ‘Bland MSS Nº. 16’.


Covered in a Sixteenth-century Safavid style binding of good quality. Originally covered in brown goatksin material, with a flap, now missing (hence originally a Type II binding per Déroche). Subsequently restored for former owner Gore Ouseley. Resewn on five recessed cord supports, with three laced into the original boards. Flocked, mottled green machine-made endpapers added at the beginning and end, then edges trimmed, resulting in squares at the edges, with front-bead decorative endbands sewn over a flat leather thong in blue and pink silk threads, now faded. Spine recovered in calfskin leather over the original boards switched and inverted, with matching calf internal hinges applied to cover the lacings, comparable with other manuscripts restored for Ouseley.

Boards decorated with a double-impressed block in gold panels of gold-blocked cloud bands set against floral scrollwork painted blossoms, surrounded by margins with recessed alternating quatrefoils and cartouches, with corner-pieces of similar design. Both the right and left doublures each feature large medallion with pendants and corner pieces, consisting of cut-out work of brown on blue, on a recessed gilt ground with clouds and floral scrolls. Damaged filigree medallions on the internal doublures overlaid with scalloped ovoid papercuts that bear late-18th-century Ottoman-style painted sprays of roses and tulips (for comparable examples, see Demirez).

307 × 206 × 23 mm.

Hand binding with caution. In fair but fragile condition, with severely damaged edges and historical repairs. Boxed.

Folios 1a and 66a bear four black oval seal impressions on the repaired margins of an intaglio-carved with the name of ‘Ibrāhīm’ in stylized nasta‘līq, set within a relief-carved lion against a blank reserve, double-ruled and dated 1197 AH (1782–83 CE), hence likely that of former owner Ahmed Paşazade İbrahim who also signed folio 1a dated a few years later:

‘عبد محمد ابراهیم’‘Abd-i Muḥammad Ibrāhīm’ (‘Servant of Muḥammad, Ibrāhīm’).

14 × 21 mm.


Origin: Probably completed in Shiraz; while the colophon bears a signature of the name of the well-known calligrapher Azhar al-Sultani and date of 24 Rabi' II 824 AH (7 May 1421 CE) that would comport with his lifetime, questions remain regarding their reliability, whereas the style of illustrations and binding features clearly date to the sixteenth-century.

Provenance and Acquisition

Subsequently acquired by Ottoman poet Ahmed Paşazade Ibrāhīm (d. 1792), the son of poet Ahmed Paşa, pen-named Rātib (d. 1762), as per his signed inscription with his marcasite-flecked tuğra calligraphic emblem, dated (1200 AH 1785–86 CE), and 3 seal impressions zoomorphic lion-shaped seal impressions on folios 1a and 66a

Later owned by orientalist and diplomat Sir Gore Ouseley (1770-1844), who may have acquired the volume during his travels abroad; however the exact circumstances of the manuscript's arrival in Britain remain unclear.

Afterwards obtained by scholar Nathaniel Bland (1803–1865) for his library at Randalls Park, Leatherhead. After his death, London bookseller Bernard Quaritch (1819–1899) sold his oriental manuscripts to Alexander Lindsay, 25th Earl of Crawford (1812–1880) in 1866, and moved to Bibliotheca Lindesiana at Haigh Hall, Wigan.

Purchased by Enriqueta Rylands (1843–1908) in 1901 from James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford (1847–1913).

Bequeathed by Enriqueta Rylands (1843–1908) in 1908 to the John Rylands Library, Manchester.

Record Sources

Bibliographical description based on an index created by Reza Navabpour circa 1993, derived from a manuscript catalogue by Michael Kerney, circa 1890s, concisely published as Bibliotheca Lindesiana, Hand-list of Oriental Manuscripts: Arabic, Persian, Turkish, 1898.

Codicological description drawn from B.W. Robinson, Persian Paintings in the John Rylands Library: A Descriptive Catalogue (London, 1980), p. 148-50

Manuscript description amended and enhanced by Jake Benson in 2022 with reference to the volume in hand, and in consultation with Dr. Sheila Canby, Patty Cadby Birch Curator of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art (retired) and Prof Lâle Uluç, Bosphorous University, Istanbul, regarding Robinson's prior attribution of the work to the Safavid court and reassignment to commercial Shiraz artists.


To book an in-person or online appointment to consult the manuscript, visit Using the Special Collections Reading Rooms. For any other enquiries please email uml.special-collections@manchester.ac.uk.

A digital facsimile is available via the University of Manchester LibraryImage Collections

Custodial History

Exhibited in Persian Miniature Painting from collections in the British Isles at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kensington, London, in 1967.

Exhibited in Gilded Word and Radiant Image at the John Rylands Library, sponsored by the Altajir Trust.

Digital Images

Manchester Digital Collections (full digital facsimile).


    Y. Demiriz, Osmanlı Kitap Sanatında Doğal Çiçekler (İstanbul: Hayalperest Yayınevi; 2015) pp. 152–208.
    Niẓāmī Ganjavī, Khusru va Shīrīn-i Niẓāmī: nuskhah hunarī muṣavvar bi khaṭṭ-i Aẓhar Tabrīzī, nuskhah-i bargardān-i dastnivīs bih nishānī kitābkhānah-'i Jān Rāylandz Manchistir, Ingilistān. Introduction by Shiva Mihan. Tehran: Mīrās̱-i Maktūb, 1399 SH (2020 CE)), pp. 5–17.
    Sir Gore Ouseley, Biographical Notices of Persian Poets; with critical and explanatory remarks... (London: Oriental Translation Fund, 1846), pp. 43–49, no. 3.
    B. W. Robinson 'Prince Bāysonghor’s Niẓāmī: A Speculation', Ars Orientalis, Vol. 2 (1957): pp. 383–391.
    B. W. Robinson, Persian Miniature Painting from Collections in the British Isles (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1967), pp. 24–25, pls. VIII–IX; 148–152, nos. 550–554.
    B. W. Robinson, Persian Paintings in the John Rylands Library: A Descriptive Catalogue (London: Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, 1980), pp. 295–330, nos. 1126–1480.
    Lâle Uluç, Turkman Governors, Shiraz Artisans and Ottoman Collectors: Sixteenth Century Shiraz Manuscripts. Istanbul: Türkiye İş Bankasi Kültür Yayınları, 2006.
    Ömer Zülfe, 'Nâşid', TDV İslâm Ansiklopedisi, Vol. 32, (2006), pp. 434–435.

Funding of Cataloguing

Iran Heritage Foundation

The John Rylands Research Institute


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