The Conference of the Birds by Habiballah
Page from a manuscript of the Mantiq al-Tayr (The Language of the Birds) of Farid al-Din `Attar
ca. 1600; Safavid Iran (Isfahan)
Opaque watercolor, ink, silver, gold on paper
10 x 4 1/2 in. (25.4 x 11.4 cm)
About the Art
This painting illustrates the beginning of Attar’s mystic allegory where the birds begin their pilgrimage in search of the Simurgh (representing ultimate spiritual unity). Under the leadership of the hoopoe (perched on a rock at center right), who exhorts them to be steadfast and unwavering in their joint quest, the birds ultimately learn that they are identical to the Simurgh (which means ‘thirty birds’). This illustration depicts a scene from the mystical poem “Mantiq al-tair” (The Language of the Birds), composed by the twelfth-century Iranian Farid al-din `Attar. The birds symbolize individual souls in search of the Simurgh (a mystical bird representing ultimate spiritual unity) and are assembled here to begin their pilgrimage under the leadership of the hoopoe (perched on a rock at center right). The idyllic landscape in which the birds have congregated appears to be in harmony with the late-fifteenth-century Timurid miniatures in the manuscript. The hunter carrying a matchlock (firearm), which is irrelevant to the story, was a popular motif at that time. In contrast, the tree with a snake climbing toward a bird’s nest may have been inspired by the same motif on another Timurid folio page. The motif of goats on a mountain is also typical of Timurid paintings. Probably Habiballah used these Timurid motifs to visually align the additional Safavid illustrations to the original Timurid pages.
About the Artist
The painter, Habiballah, who signed a rock in the near foreground (now faint), became a court painter to Shah `Abbas in Mashhad and later followed him to Isfahan, where the Safavid capital moved from Qazvin in the late sixteenth century.
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