The European Taste for Illustrated Persian Manuscripts: 1908 to 1914

Key information

7:00 pm
Russell Square: College Buildings
Khalili Lecture Theatre (KLT)
Event type

About this event

Speaker: Dr Eleanor Sims, Independent Scholar

In the summer of 1912, a remarkable exhibition was staged at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Miniatures Persanes, organized in eight days only, borrowed from private European collectors an assemblage of 500 of the finest examples of the arts of the ‘Oriental’ book including manuscripts, bindings and illustrations (since then, misguidedly, called ‘miniatures’, adopting the descriptive terminology used for illustrations in medieval European manuscripts).

A year later, the immense 2-volume opus appeared, by which this astounding exhibition may be reconstructed. This was the work of Georges Marteau, then curator at the Louvre, written together with his friend, the jeweller, Henri Vever, who was also a collector of the arts of the Persian book. Their introduction observed that, since 1908 - a year of ‘grands troubles politiques’ in Iran - libraries and private collections of the most precious examples of the arts of the Persian book had been emptied of their treasures in a steady flow towards Europe. Collectors in Paris, Brussels, Leipzig, Vienna, Florence, and even New York and Boston, were just then acquiring some of the finest examples of the art of the ‘Oriental’ book, albeit they were virtually always unable to read the Persian text of such treasures, and evidently purchased them for their sheer beauty.

Needless to say, within a year, the guns of another August brought an end to light-hearted trips to Paris to purchase works of art. This lecture names a septet of these collectors, as well as discussing some of the manuscripts they were acquiring - and often dismembering - in the years between 1908 and 1914. 

Speaker biography

Eleanor Sims was educated at Mills College, in California. She holds advanced degrees in the history of art from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and began her career, working in the Islamic Department of The Metropolitan Museum.

She has taught the history of Islamic art; edited the journal Islamic Art, with her late husband, Ernst J. Grube; organized a loan-exhibition, travelling in the US, of Islamic art in celebration of the 1400th anniversary of the Hijra. She has also written the prize-winning Peerless Images; and nearly 90 articles and reviews; made contributions to many recent exhibition catalogues: almost always on Persian painting from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Many publications have appeared in the past months: these include her catalogue of Shahnama and history painting in the Nasser D. Khalili Collection; and her contributions to catalogues of exhibitions in Berlin and Genoa, and jointly-written volumes, for Florence and Genoa; and several articles in Festschrifts for colleagues, as well as words in memory of dear colleagues who are no longer with us: Filiz Cagman, Esin Atil, Anatoly Ivanov and Robert Skelton.



Image: ‘Timur receives guests at the wedding of his son Jahangir’, Ẓafarnāma by Yazdi. 1436. Shiraz.
Bernard Berenson Collection in Villa I Tatti. The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.