Persian Miniature Art: 15th century Turkmen Wolves Sotheby’s

15th century Turkmen Wolves
drawing 29 by 35.2cm.
board 32.4 by 37cm.

ink and wash on paper, laid down on a thick triangular-shaped board, edges of gold-sprinkled paper

This is a rare and important drawing closely comparable to the celebrated works and studies in the great ‘Istanbul’ albums in the Topkapi Saray Library and the Diez album, Staatsbibliothek, Berlin. Although similar drawings have been sold at auction these were mounted on album pages, with calligraphy, and none were larger than 7.4 by 21.1cm
In format the present work can be compared to one drawing in the Diez Album, Berlin (Paris 2001, p.121, no.86) and another two previously in the Jean Pozzi Collection (Robinson 1992, pp.53, pl.III and pp.107-8, nos. 13 and 14). All are triangular-shaped, with one angle rounded, and the two pieces in the Pozzi collection also display three of one kind of animal (tigers and butterflies respectively) round a central medallion. The tiger design also shows similar leafy sprays as seen on the present work and the central medallion is almost identical. Interestingly, this work is punched with small holes, suggesting that these designs may have been stencilled, and hence explaining their similitude.

The three spotted wolves depicted here very closely resemble those on folios 95 and 171 of albums H.2160 and H.2153 respectively, in the Topkapi Saray Library (Rogers, Cagman & Tanindi 1986, nos.104 and 106). Another such wolf can be found again in a drawing from one of the Topkapi albums where it is depicted with a variety of other animals among a dense landscape including similar leafy sprays as seen here (Oriental Studies 4, 1969, p.87, fig.50). The wolves are skilfully depicted in various poses and attitudes reflecting the creativity and spirit of many of the designs found in the ‘Istanbul’ albums.

The present drawing clearly belongs to this important group of works which has been the subject of numerous studies. They have been attributed to Herat and/or Tabriz and dated from as early as the end of the 14th century to the second half of the 15th century. These designs have been thought of as preliminary sketches and studies but their exact purpose is yet unclear. The triangular-shaped works have traditionally been thought of as textile designs although this has yet to be convincingly established.