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Page from a manuscript of Jami's Yusuf u Zulaykha

Page from a manuscript of Jami's Yusuf u Zulaykha, approx. 1550–1600

Page from a manuscript of Jami's Yusuf u Zulaykha, approx. 15501600. Iran. Ink and gold on paper. Bequest of Marjorie Walter Bissinger, F2003.33.36.


The Biblical story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife (Yusuf and Zulaykha in the Koran) was written as a mystical allegorical text on the subject of divine love by the eminent Persian poet Jami (d. 1492). This text has remained a key work of Persian literature over the centuries. 

Although manuscripts of Jami's Yusuf u Zulaykha were often illustrated, it is unclear whether this page comes from an illustrated copy; regardless, its elaborately painted borders serve as sufficient embellishment. The text here is written in a neat hand, in nasta'liq script, and the borders bear Chinese-inspired motifs of cranes and phoenixes amid clouds, rendered in two shades of gold. 

Books in the Islamic world were typically conceived as complete works of art: The pages bore intellectually stimulating content carefully written in a variety of elegant calligraphic scripts and were frequently illustrated. The borders were decorated with intricate designs in gold and/or colors, the whole was then enclosed in ornamented leather-bindings.