Strange Creatures in the Margins

As I briefly mentioned the art of marginal design as one of the arts of Islamic manuscript production in my previous post, I thought I would share a few details from a very special commission I undertook. These kinds of images were very popular in royal Safavid and Mughal manuscripts between the 16th and 18th centuries – after which the style became a bit debased. They are called Shekhari designs – meaning hunting. Hunting was a great royal pastime, which by the nineteenth century had sorely decimated the wildlife population. However, many monarchs and nobles were also interested in studying natural flora and fauna for their own sake: Emperor Jahangir’s memoirs Tuzuk – i- Jahangiri are full of original observations about the plants and animals he encountered. The margins often contained mythical creatures as well as real, all engaged in dynamic interactions. The images below are drawn in black watercolour paint with a fine squirrel brush with washes and details of gold, and the featured image has accents in malachite and cinnabar.

Marginal detail 3

Snow Leopard

Marginal detail 1

Carnivorous Deer (!)

marginal detail 2

Jackals and Goat