Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond
29 November 2012 – 28 April 2013
Free to all
Celebrating 500 years of Arabic poetry, an exhibition of beautiful Persian manuscripts that range from Medieveal times to the 18th-century.
The Bodleian Library has one of the finest collections of Persian manuscripts in the world, thanks to a group of adventurous scholars who travelled to the Ottoman Empire and donated the books on their return.
When the Bodleian was properly founded in the 1500s, it already owned a number of Korans and a large collection of Persian love stories.
It is these beautiful poems that now go on display, in particular a series of exquisitely illustrated manuscripts from the court of the Sultan of Ghaznah who, it is said, had 400 poets in his retinue. The books reveal why the West has long been fascinated by Persian literature and how European writers such as Dante, Chaucer and Shakespeare were inspired by the symbolism in their prose.
The glorious depictions of Alexander the Great by the poet Nizami recounting the golden age of his leadership, and the mystical stories of the Sufi brotherhood, whose descriptions of divine love have inspired poets and writers throughout the ages.
In particular the highly ornamental manuscript of the thirteenth-century poet Rumi, whose masterwork on the religion of love, was dictated to a scribe as he lay dying.