In the 15th century, wealthy and worldly individuals collected illuminated manuscripts, hand-written books embellished with exquisite illustrations and gilded decoration. While predominantly popular in Medieval Europe, this practice was also prevalent in the Middle East, culminating in enchanting works like The Miscellany of Iskander Sultan.
This beautiful book was commissioned by Jalāl al-Dīn Iskandar Sultan ibn ‘Umar Shaykh, southern Iran’s ruler from 1409 through 1414. Though the tiny manuscript measures just 5 by 7 inches, it features a comprehensive collection of “miscellaneous” texts, ranging from religious tales and lyrical poetry to prose on alchemy, astronomy, astrology, geometry, history, medicine, and even Islamic law. Though seemingly unrelated, these subjects were chosen by Iskander Sultan, who would have taken the small book with him on his travels.
While its treatises are fascinating, The Miscellany of Iskander Sultan is particularly revered for its illustrations, which are rendered in jewel-like tones, including the treasured ultramarine pigment. Featuring a hodgepodge of intricate patterns, these delicate drawings take on a collage-like quality, which is further emphasized by the beautiful borders and Islamic motifs that adorn each page.
The British Library has recently added this gem to its digitized collection, allowing you to virtually leaf through its ornate pages. See the wondrous work with your own eyes by visiting the library’s website.