15,000 Colorful Images of Persian Manuscripts Now Online, Courtesy of the British Library


When a coun­try is in the head­lines almost every day, it can be easy to for­get that today’s news isn’t the whole sto­ry. Iran’s mod­ern sto­ry fea­tures its long, bloody war with Iraq, con­test­ed pres­i­den­tial elec­tion results, and protests that became part of the Arab Spring.

But Iran is also known by its ancient name of Per­sia and is one of the world’s old­est civ­i­liza­tions.

In the 12th cen­tu­ry, all of Mesopotamia blos­somed. The Islam­ic Gold­en Age was a time of thriv­ing sci­ence, schol­ar­ship and art, includ­ing bright and vivid Per­sian miniatures—small paint­ings on paper cre­at­ed to be col­lect­ed into books.

Thou­sands of these minia­tures—known for their bright and pure coloring—are now includ­ed in a new dig­i­tal archive devel­oped by the British Library. The paint­ings, often accom­pa­nied by beau­ti­ful Per­sian texts, are metic­u­lous­ly pre­served, mak­ing avail­able del­i­cate trea­sures on par with, if not more beau­ti­ful than oth­er illu­mi­nat­ed man­u­scripts like the Book of Kells.


Because the minia­tures were meant to be enjoyed in pri­vate, in books, artists could be freer with their sub­jects than with pub­lic wall paint­ings. Most minia­tures includ­ed human fig­ures, includ­ing depic­tions of the prophet Muhammed that showed his face, and “illu­mi­nat­ed” orna­men­tal bor­ders.

The joy of the archive, which includes works from the British Muse­um and India Office Library, is how close we can get to the work. Zoom in as close as you like to exam­ine the del­i­cate flow­ers and script (click the screen­shots to zoom into each paint­ing). With this tech­nol­o­gy, it’s pos­si­ble to see things that the naked eye would miss.


A sep­a­rate archive hous­es rare Per­sian texts, includ­ing this pock­et ency­clo­pe­dia. The great­est ben­e­fi­cia­ries are schol­ars, who can pore over beau­ti­ful, frag­ile doc­u­ments and art­work from wher­ev­er they work, with­out dam­ag­ing the old mate­ri­als.

via The Paris Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art and the Guggen­heim Offer 474 Free Art Books Online

Down­load Over 250 Free Art Books From the Get­ty Muse­um

Medieval Cats Behav­ing Bad­ly: Kit­ties That Left Paw Prints … and Peed … on 15th Cen­tu­ry Man­u­scripts

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Vis­it her on Twit­ter.

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Comments (6)
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  • Dr Neville Dawson says:

    Thank you for shar­ing thes won­der­ful images and infor­ma­tion

  • RITA WELLS says:


  • RITA WELLS says:

    Is it pos­si­ble to see this col­lec­tion at The British Muse­um?

  • Jonathan Cutler says:

    I don’t know if you can see them in per­son. (I sup­pose not because the rare man­u­script work­ers would­n’t want any Jon-Shmo going in there touch­ing rare, del­i­cate man­u­scripts. Per­haps one rea­son why they scan these man­u­scripts online.) Nev­er­the­less, I’d rather see an elec­tron­ic man­u­script than not one at all.

  • abdul mateen says:

    Respect­ed Sir
    I am a research schol­ar of per­sian lit. now I am work­ing on nuskha i which is writ­ten by bhim­sen . one incom­plete copy is pre­served in india office library lon­don , so I requesty­ou please give/send me a micro­film or PDF of this MSS .

    accord­ing a Indi­an his­to­ri­an its no. is ethe cat­a­log 445

  • Amir Mohtashemi says:

    Quite a fine col­lec­tion it is!!

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