Esoteric Images: Decoding the Late Herat School of Painting


In Esoteric Images: Decoding the Late Herat School of Painting Tawfiq Daʿadli decodes the pictorial language which flourished in the city of Herat, modern Afghanistan, under the rule of the last Timurid ruler, Sultan Husayn Bayqara (r.1469-1506). This study focuses on one illustrated manuscript of a poem entitled Khamsa by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, kept in the British Library under code Or.6810. Tawfiq Daʿadli decodes the paintings, reveals the syntax behind them and thus deciphers the message of the whole manuscript. The book combines scholarly efforts to interpret theological-political lessons embedded in one of the foremost Persian schools of art against the background of the court dynamic of an influential medieval power in its final years.

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Biographical Note

Tawfiq Daʿadli, Ph.D. (2012), The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is a Doctor of Art History at that university. He has published articles on Islamic Art and Archaeology.

Table of contents

List of Figures


1 Historical and Cultural Contexts
 1 The Timurid Empire
 2 The City of Herat
 3 The Kitāb-khāna in Herat
 4 Niẓāmī Ganjāvī

2 Focusing the Gaze in Late Timurid Painting
 1 Hārūn al-Rashīd in the ḥammām
 2 The King Who Turned into a Parrot
 3 The Garden Master and the Maidens
 4 Conclusion

3 The Iskandar Cycle
 1 Iskandar and the Philosophers
 2 Iskandar Beats the Drum
 3 Iskandar Meets the Dervish
 4 Conclusion

4 Making Justice
 1 Khusrau before His Father Hurmuz-Shāh
 2 Sultan Sanjar and the Old Lady

5 Death and Annihilation
 1 Farhād’s Death
 2 Laylī’s Husband’s Death
 3 The Death of Majnūn
 4 Building the Khawarnaq Palace
 5 Conclusion

6 Concluding the Poetics of Painting
 1 Enhancing the Meaning
 2 Observations on Space
 3 Conclusion



All interested in the history of Persian painting, the Timurid dynasty, Muslim mysticism and anyone concerned with Nizami’s Khamsa.

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