Born in Modern-day Azerbaijan in the mid-12th Century, Nizami is often considered the most important medieval Persian poet and his works remained highly popular as modes of artistic expression long after his death. His master work, “The Quinary” or “Khamsa” – which entered the public realm about the same time that The Song of Roland became popular in Europe, is a series of five books that cover all facets of Persian culture, from the impact of Alexander the Great on the world they lived in to star-crossed lovers Layla and Manjun (if Layla sounds familar you can thank Eric Claption, who turned to this poem when he began to fall in love with George Harrison’s wife – using the poem as inspiration for songs “Layla” and “I Am Yours.”).
The most notable tale from “Khamsa” is that of King Bahram V and his romanticized adventures, which included a fight with a dragon (seen above), an evil minister seeking to usurp the throne, and numerous princess-chasing exploits.
The collection featured in this entry, which was traced back to late-16th Century Iran, are illuminated texts from approximately 400 years after the poems were first published. The vibrant colors, stylized artwork and intricate details, both in illustrations and within the text, make this piece a treasure for both history buffs and bibliophiles.
Penn Museum Object #NEP33.
See this and other objects like it in Penn Museum’s online collection database.