Report of the project ‘Manuscript Studies in Tehran: international cooperation in the exploration of manuscript collections’ 

by Ilse Sturkenboom, BIPS Grant recipient and Lecturer in Iranian Islamic Art History (University of St Andrews)

Figure 1: Signing of the agreement to publish the first Golestan Palace Library manuscript catalogue in the new series, April 2019.

Iran’s manuscript collections are extraordinarily rich and varied but might not be (easily) accessible for international scholars of Persian manuscripts. The BIPS grant awarded for the project ‘Manuscript Studies in Tehran’ forms an important incentive for future collaborations between institutions in the UK and continental Europe and libraries and museums in Tehran. This grant has, together with a grant from the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, University of Hamburg, allowed for the pivotal first step towards cataloguing the entire collection of the Golestan Palace Library, Tehran (fig. 1). 

The manuscript collection of the Golestan Palace Library is certainly not the largest in Iran, but arguably the highest in quality, going back to royal collections that were accumulated by members of the Qajar court. Only about two thirds of this collection have been catalogued in previous volumes that are accompanied by limited black-and-white photographs.  

Figure 2: Cover of the catalogue Mohammad-Hassan Semsar in collaboration with Fatemeh Sarāʾiān, Kākh-i Gulistān: shāhkārhā-i hunar-i kitab-ārāyī wa muraqqaʾ-sāzī-i īrānī. Tehran: Zarrin-o-Simin Books, 1398 (2019).

The generous BIPS grant enabled the Iranian researchers Mohammad-Hassan Semsar and Fatemeh Sarāʾiān to conduct research on masterpieces from the Golestan Palace Library and contributed towards the costs for high-resolution photography of manuscript’s pages. The first catalogue (fig. 2) was published in December 2019 by Zarrin-o-Simin Books. On 333 pages it covers masterpieces from the collection and contains detailed catalogue entries and a wealth of large images in full colour. Manuscripts contained are illuminated Qur’ans and other religious books, illustrated historical works, Shāhnāma manuscripts including the famous Bāysunghur Shāhnāma, illustrated and illuminated Dīvāns and other literary works, the Qajar Thousand and One Nights and unpublished leaves from albums including the stunning 17th-century Gulshan Album. 

Figure 3: Book launch event at the Golestan Palace, Tehran, January 2020.

Since its publications, the catalogue and BIPS’ involvement have been presented at a book launch event in the Golestan Palace (fig. 3). Forty volumes have now arrived in the UK and will be distributed over relevant libraries. BIPS members interested in obtaining one of the remaining volumes are welcome to get in touch.

I would like to take this opportunity to cordially thank BIPS, also in the name of Mohammad-Hassan Semsar and Fatemeh Sarāʾiān, for its support of this project. We plan to continue this fruitful cooperation and publish further, thematic, catalogue volumes that will inform scholars in- and outside of Iran about the manuscripts in Golestan Palace’s collection.