Discoveries at the British Library

The British Library sounds like a great place to work — or, at least, to go exploring.  “By chance I noticed this entirely unknown illustrated copy of Firdawsi’s Shahnamah a few weeks ago,” writes Ursula Sims-Williams in the library’s Asian and African studies blog.  The manuscript has 48 paintings signed by the 17th-century Persian artist Muhammad Yusuf —  in the one below (long story made very short) the magical Simurgh bird returns Zal, the albino son of Sam, to his father.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 11.25.33 AM                                               (see  the blog for more images)  

How did Ms. Sims-Williams discover the manuscript?  She was going through  drafts compiled back in the 1930s as part of an effort to catalog manuscripts in the India Office Library.   But, she writes, “with the intervention of the 2nd World War, the project was never completed.”  That would be around the time that the British Ministry of Information commissioned Shahnameh-inspired  images as part of a propaganda operationsomething that social science curator at the British Library Ian Cooke stumbled on while rooting in the library’s archives… and one of  many delightful facts I, too, stumbled on while writing a piece for the WSJ  about the varied political uses of illustrated Shahnamehs. 

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