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Chess versus Backgammon, illustrated folio from an Anthology of Persian Treatises, Afghanistan, Herat, Timurid period, 1427. Ink, colors, silver, and gold on paper. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- This focused exhibition features illustrated Persian manuscripts and detached folios that were collected in the early 20th century by Harvard alumnus Bernard Berenson (1865–1959), the famous American art historian and connoisseur of Italian Renaissance painting. Berenson prized these works at his home in Florence, Villa I Tatti, which he bequeathed to Harvard and which now serves as the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. The exhibition offers the first opportunity to see these works outside Villa I Tatti. 

Works in the exhibition are grouped according to the style in which each was created between the 14th and 17th centuries in Iran and Central Asia. Berenson’s important 15th-century Timurid manuscript will be displayed in an unbound state as part of an ongoing conservation and rebinding process. The show will also include additional related works from the Harvard Art Museums, the Morgan Library and Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. These works were collected by close associates of Berenson who shared his enthusiasm for Persian painting, at a time when this area of art was gaining considerable prestige among collectors. 

The exhibition sheds important new light on Berenson’s little-known and understudied Persian collection, highlighting current research from various scholars on Berenson’s collecting interests and the artistic and cultural significance of the objects. 

Curated by Aysin Yoltar-Yildirim, Assistant Curator for Islamic and Later Indian Art at the Harvard Art Museums.

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Prince Isfandiyar Challenges His Father, King Gushtasp, Illustrated folio from the Great Ilkhanid Shahnama by Firdawsi, Iran, Tabriz, Ilkhanid period, 1330's. Ink, colors, gold and silver on paper. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, FlorencePhoto: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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Kay Kavus Crowns His Grandson Kay Khusraw, cut miniature from a folio of a Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Firdawsi, Iran, Shiraz, Turkman Period, 1480s. Ink, colors, and gold on paper. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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Portrait of Sultan Husayn Mirza, folio from an album, Attributed to Bihzad, Islamic (15th -16th century), Afghanistan, Herat, Timurid period, c. 1500-1525. Ink, color and gold on paper. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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Vittore Crivelli, Italian (c. 1444 - c. 1501), Saint JeromeVenetian, 15th century. Tempera and (oil?) on panel. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Berenson, 1920.18 © President and Fellows of Harvard College

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Timur Receiving Guests at the Wedding of His Son, Illustrated folio from the Zafarnama by Yazdi, Iran, Shiraz, Timurid period, 1436. Ink, colors, and gold on paper. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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Illustrated manuscript of an Anthology of Persian Treatises for Prince Baysunghur, Fol. 30r, Hunting with a FalconAfghanistan, Herat, Timurid period, 1427. Ink, colors, and gold on paper. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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Rashnavad Battles the Rumis (painting, verso; text, recto), illustrated folio from the Great Ilkhanid Shahnama (Book of Kings), Iran, Tabriz, Ilkhanid period, c. 1330-1340. Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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Child Showered with Money, folio from a manuscript inserted in an album page, Iran, Qara Qoyunlu period, 15th century. Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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 Iskandar's Iron Cavalry Battles King Fur of Hind (text, recto; painting, verso), illustrated folio from the Great Ilkhanid Shahnama (Book of Kings), Iran, Tabriz, Ilkhanid period, c. 1330-1340. Ink, colors, gold, and silver on paper. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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Sarah Choate Sears, Bernard Berenson, c. 1903. Platinum print. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Montgomery S. Bradley and Cameron Bradley, P1984.58.© President and Fellows of Harvard College

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Timur Celebrates His Conquest of Delhi (painting, verso; text, recto), illustrated folio from the Zafarnama (Book of Victory) of Sharaf al-Din 'Ali Yazdi, Iran, Shiraz, Timurid period1436. Ink and opaque watercolor on paper. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, 1960.198 © President and Fellows of Harvard College

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Attributed to Bihzad, Islamic (15th -16th century), Assault on a CastleAfghanistan, Herat, Timurid period, c. 1475-1500. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, 1960.199 © President and Fellows of Harvard College

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The Assembly of Sages, Folio from an album of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, Uzbekistan, Bukhara, Mughal period, 17th century. Ink and colors on paper. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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Illustrated Manuscript of the Shahnama by Firdawsi, Fol. 329v, Luhrasp enthroned, Iran, Shiraz, Safavid period, 1520-40. Ink. colors, silver, and gold on paper, gilded and tooled leather. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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Illustrated Manuscript of Farhad and Shirin by Vahshi, Fol. 23v, Khusraw leaves Shirin in his palace, Iran, Isfahan, Safavid period, c. 1600. Ink, colors, silver and gold on paper, lacquered leatherVilla I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.