PERSIAN MINIATURES AND FRESCOES: 'THE GATE OF JOY'

 

WINE, PAINTING, AND POETRY

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (11th century) help showcase the classical Persian miniatures and miniaturist-style frescoes presented in this exhibition. Wine, which is mentioned very often in these quatrains, appears as a cure for melancholy resulting from the passage of time and the shortness of life. “Drink and be happy” is the refrain of these epicurean verses. For Khayyam, wine is an elixir of life; “the door to joy” is the tasting of wine, the birth of spring, convivial gatherings, lovers’ dreams and gallant scenes: “The caravan of life goes by quickly. Lose nothing of the sweet moments of life. Think not to the day after this night. Take wine, for you must seize life’s sweet moments.” Or, again: “In the springtime, I sometimes go to sit on the edge of a field of flowers. When a young beauty brings me a cup of wine, I hardly think of my salvation. Should I worry about that, I would be worth less than a dog.”

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WINE: A CONSTANT PRESENCE IN PERSIA, A CONSTANT PRESENCE IN THE ARTS

ARMENIAN AMBASSADORS OFFER WINE AND A HORSE TO THE PERSIAN EMPEROR Relief, ca. 515 BC. – Apadana (reception room of Darius the Great), southern part, East Stairs, Persepolis, Iran

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Some of the oldest traces of vinification were discovered in 2015, to the North of the Iranian Zagros Mountains. Remains of a yellowish residue deposited on the sides of a 7000-year old Neolithic earthenware container were revealed to be a mixture of tartaric acid – a sure sign of the presence of wine – and Terebinth resin, used to prevent wine from turning to vinegar. It was both the oldest wine and oldest vinification procedure ever discovered. Then, in 2017, eight Neolithic containers dating back to approximately 6000 BC (8000 years ago) were unearthed in Georgia. Upon analysis, similar chemical deposits such as tartaric acid were discovered. This discovery became – and remains – the oldest evidence of winemaking by humans. 

 

​According to a Persian legend, wine was discovered by a young woman. King Jamshid, resting in the shade of his tent, saw a beautiful bird fighting off a large snake. The king ordered his archers to kill the snake. The bird was saved and, before flying away, dropped a tiny seed which later grew into a bush with delicious berries. Thus vines appeared. The king picked the grapes and stored them in earthenware jars. Sometime later, one of these containers began to foam strangely, emitting a curious odour. Suspecting poison, the king ordered the container to be removed and taken to a forbidden room in the palace. A sick servant, or perhaps a courtesan expelled from the harem (versions vary), seeking to end her life, entered the room and drank from the container. Not only did she like the taste, she immediately abandoned all thoughts of suicide. After a refreshing sleep, she told the king of her discovery; curiosity piqued, the king tasted the new nectar. He found it so good that he ruled that all the grapes of Persepolis should be made into wine from then on.

Poetry and painting complement each other: the subject matter for Persian miniatures often comes from Hafiz Shirazi’s Ghazaliyat; the Vis o Rāmin, a classic Persian love story by Fakhruddin As'ad Gurgani; or Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat (late 11th century). Khayyam was a free thinker for whom Amin Maalouf, in his novel Samarcande, pens this exchange with a fanatical student who offers Khayyam a bunch of grapes with these words:

“Doubtless you would have preferred me to give you these grapes as wine.”
“When one wishes to drink wine, one chooses carefully one’s cupbearer and companion.”
“I won’t drink a single drop, I want my place in Paradise. You don’t seem interested in joining me.”
“Eternity? In the company of joyless ulema
[Muslim authorities on law and theology]? No, thank you. God promised us something else.”

 

Astronomer, poet of wine and epicurean, Omar Khayyam affirmed: “My only dream, my only ambition is one day to have an observatory and a rose garden; to lose myself in contemplation of the sky, cup in hand and a beautiful woman at my side.” His quatrains here have been selected to go alongside the presentation of the works printed – miniatures and miniaturist-style frescoes – in the English version of Jean-Baptiste Nicolas’ translation. Published in 1867, this French translation has three strengths: it is the most complete (464 quatrains, many concerning wine), is very loyal to the original text and is annotated.

Full-screen mode recommended. Visit the exhibition : click on the miniatures displayed below or follow the suggested route  >>

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