A series of miniatures showing Persian scribes.
Folio (322 x 212 mm). 50 watercolour miniatures on paper, ca. 9 x 14 cm, pasted on coloured cardboard within multiple gilt and pen-ruled frames, bound as a fan-fold book with cloth hinges. Near-contemporary black leather covers, stored in blind-stamped black slipcase with top flap.
An exceptional series of 50 meticulously executed miniatures, compiled and painted by an anonymous artist. 41 of the delicate watercolours represent famous calligraphers, 5 (1 in grisaille) presumably represent sufis, and one more (not coloured) shows a seated prince, while 3 miniatures (2 in grisaille) depict flowers.
The main series of calligraphers begins with Yaqut al-Musta'simi, who lived in Baghdad under the Abbasid dynasty in the 13th century, and reaches so far as to include artists from the first half of the 19th century (the most recent date of death being that of Aqa Fath-'Ali Sirazi, 1852/53). Their names are captioned under the image, all in the same hand in nasta'liq script (with a single exception in sikasta). Most calligraphers are shown kneeling, with one knee raised on which they rest their paper - the typical posture of a scribe. One is shown writing at a desk, another seated on a low stool; yet another is busy sharpening his pen. The poet Wisal Sirazi is seen writing on his knee, but has a small table with an inkwell and paper in front of him. Nearly all are depicted holding their reed pen in hand, with various writing implements next to or in front of them, such as inkwells, pen cases, extra pens and paper, pen-knife, and sometimes a hookah (indeed, two scribes are shown smoking). Others have in front of them a candle and teapot, flowers or a bowl of fruit. They are shown wearing different kinds of turbans or a black astrakhan "kulah", the Qajar headdress. All the miniatures bear numbers between 1 and 50 on the reverse of the mounting boards, though they are not bound in order.
Provenance: apparently from the collection of Paul Manteau, a French (or Belgian?) official in Iran, with a press-copied salary receipt loosely inserted: "Je reconnais avoir reçu de Son Altesse Impériale Djellal-e-Daulet la somme de Soixante Tomans représentant le montant de mes appointements du mois de Châval année 1310. Téhéran le 11 avril 1893. Paul Manteau". As Shawwal 1310 began on 18 April 1893 AD, Manteau would have received his salary in advance, proving that the capacity in which he served could not have been altogether minor. Sultan Husayn Mirza Jalal al-Dawlih (b. 1868/69), his employer, was the eldest son of prince Mas'ud Mirza Zill al-Sultan (1850-1918) and grandson of the Qajar ruler Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96). In the later 19th century, numerous French and particularly Belgian officials worked in Iran: especially from 1898 onwards, Belgium posted to Persia a large number of officials whose task was to organize or reorganize various administrative departments. However, Manteau does not appear in Annette Destrée's standard account of "Les fonctionnaires belges au service de la Perse, 1898-1915" (Téhéran/Liège 1976): he clearly arrived before the great Belgian influx and may have left the country before 1898.
Some of the cloth concertina hinges professionally repaired, but finely preserved altogether.