Photo Essays

Revisiting an 18th-Century Illuminated Islamic Manuscript

Title: Dalāʼil al- khayrāt., between 1700 and 1799. Author/Creator: Jazūlī, Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān,-1465,author. Creation Date: between 1700 and 1799. Physical Desc.: 344 unnumbered pages : illuminations ; 17 cm All digital images courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program
Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān al-Jazūlī, author, ‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (between 1700–99), 344 unnumbered pages, illuminations, 17 cm (all digital images courtesy the Getty’s Open Content Program) (click to enlarge)

The Getty Research Institute continues to digitize its massive collections, providing free access to tens of thousands of images. One benefit of digitization is the return to the public, if only virtually, of religious and cultural artifacts often long hidden in the collections of institutions far from their regions of origin. One such example is an 18th-century illuminated manuscript of the Dalāʼil al-khayrāt (“Guide to happiness”).

The Dalāʼil al-khayrā is originally attributed to Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān al-Jazūlī (d. 1465), a Sufi Muslim scholar and one of the seven saints of Marrakesh. Upon returning to Fes after 40 years of travel to Jerusalem, Mecca, and Medina, al-Jazūlī composed this “manual” of prayers, which are especially tailored for a pilgrimage to Mecca.

This illuminated edition, made 300 years after al-Jazūlī’s initial work, likely hails from Ottoman Turkey. The text and its gorgeous images offer much visual pleasure to the unfamiliar reader, but it’s crucial to remember that many of the aesthetic choices are actually religious ones. For example, text is often placed within or adjacent to holy symbols; what may look like a visual decision may be primarily symbolic.

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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)

This version contains two pages exclusively composed of images — they are drawings of the Great Mosque of Mecca and of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, typical of the Dalāʼil al-khayrā and seen in versions dating as far back as the 16th century. These sketches may accurately represent the mosques at the time of the drawings’ creation.

This small, wondrous object therefore reflects a religious and cultural tradition spanning three distinct geographic regions and centuries: 15th-century Fes (present day Morocco), 16th-century Mecca and Medina (present day Saudi Arabia), and 18th-century Turkey at the time of the Ottoman Empire.

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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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‘Dalāʼil al-khayrāt’ (click to enlarge)
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