The Gulistān Palace Library in Tehran owns a manuscript of Kalila va Dimna (Ms. 2198), a Persian version, by Nasr Allāh Munshi. The volume consists of 107 folios, and the text is written in an elegant nasta’liq. However, the manuscript is defective: there is no colophon, nor any other indication to show the date and/or place at which it was executed.
The manuscript’s first public appearance was at Burlington House, in London, in 1931. Since then, it has been much discussed in both scholarly and more popular literature. All agree that it should be placed at some point in the 9th/15 century, given the characteristics of its fine paintings and excellent calligraphy; many, but differing, hypotheses have been proposed as to just when, in this century, , it would have been produced.
This article is devoted to an analysis of its calligraphy, comparing it with the recorded style of writing of a well-known scribe of the period, Mawlānā Azhar al-Tabrīzī. Azhar was a celebrated calligraphic figure of the 9th/15 century, one of the pupils of Mawlānā Ja’far Bāysunghuri who worked in the library-workshop of Bāysunghur, in Herat. He is named in many historical works; one of them Matla’ al-Sa’dayn written by ‘Abd al-Razzāq Samarqandī who called him one of the masters of the “six styles“.
Azhar’s best known work is a collection of mourning elegies, conventionally titled Jūng-i Mī’rasī; this was dedicated to Bāysunghur and presented to Shah Rukh in 837 H. after Bāysunghur’s death. As it carries a colophon in the name of Azhar, this article compares some passages of its calligraphy to that of the Gulistan Library ‘s Kalila u Dimna . The comparisons have been made on the basis of the traditional principles of Persian calligraphy, the mūfradāt, and the composition of words, the tarkībāt; special attention has been paid to the horizontal and vertical lines called the kūrsī (base-line). In all the comparative examples, the following are examined: the combination of words, the harmony between letters, and the proportional size of the letters. Certain features have been particularly singled out: both the strength, and the slenderness, of the letters, or movements, and curves; as well other characteristics, such as the flatness or roundness of stretched, curved, or otherwise notably shaped letters.
The careful examination of the detailed features as noted above, however, only provides the “building blocks” of such a comparative study. In order to comprehend the aesthetic differences and similarities between two given pieces of calligraphy, one must draw back to consider the entire effect of the composition, altogether. As is usually the case, the virtue and value of the calligraphy of the Gulistan Library’s Kalila u Dimna can be more fully perceived after such a careful examination. In light of the similarity of features between the calligraphy of this manuscript, and documented examples of Azhar’s characteristic style of writing, this article concludes by proposing that the scribe of the Gulistan Palace Library’s well-known Kalila va Dimna manuscript is likely to be Mawlana Azhar al-Tabrizi.
Key words: Kalila va Dimna, Abū’l-Ma’ālī Nasr Allāh Munshi, Mawlānā Zahīr al-Dīn Azhar Tabrīzī,Gulistān Palace Library, Persian calligraphy in 9th/15 century.
*This article is one section of the author’s Doctoral Dissertation, entitled: “The Kalila va Dimna Manuscript in the Gulistān Palace Library in Tehran (MS. 2198) and its Place in 9th/15th- Century Persian Painting” under the supervision of Dr. Yacob Ajand, College of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran.