W.582, fol. 5b, Qasîdat al-Burda (Poem of the Mantle). 17th century, Iran, ink, paint and gold on paper covered with med morocco with black leather and gilt doublures, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

In the Islamic book—the primary vehicle for literary and artistic expression—the power of poetry, prayer and visual form collides. Poetry and Prayer: Islamic Manuscripts from the Walters Art Museum showcases masterpieces of illuminated and illustrated manuscripts produced in Islamic lands from the ninth to the 19th century. The central role of poetic and prose writing in Islamic societies gives the arts of bookmaking extraordinary importance. Honored through memorization and recitation, either alone or with friends, poetic and prose works were enriched through illumination, detailed paintings and sublime calligraphy. Characterized by the effects of gold, lapis lazuli and aesthetically powerful designs, Islamic manuscript illumination dramatically enhances the viewer’s engagement with the book. These irresistible objects of art cover a range of textual genres: devotional, scientific, historical, epic and poetic. The 21 examples on view were created in famed artistic centers of modern-day Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and the Indian subcontinent. The Walters preserves superb examples of this art form, including rare signed works.

The exhibition coincides with the initiative to catalogue and make high-resolution digital surrogates of all Islamic manuscripts and single pages preserved at the Walters. This project, generously funded by a Preservation and Access Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, offers the public free access to one of North America’s greatest collections of Islamic codices and single pages.

On View March 20 — June 13, 2010.


W. 596, fol. 8a, Baburnama with Babur Releasing Muhammad Husayn Mirza. 16th century, India, ink, paint and gold on paper covered with dark-green morocco, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore