ʿABDALLĀH HERAVĪ, ŠEHĀB-AL-DĪN (“Ṭabbāḵ” or “Āšpaz”), mid-8th/15th century calligrapher active in Herat, Samarqand, and Mašhad. His major contribution appears to have been in designing monumental inscriptions for the Timurids, but he seems also to have worked as a gilder in the manuscript ateliers. A native of Herat, he apparently became a member of the Timurid court workshop during the reign of Šāhroḵ. ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Samarqandī mentions him along with Aẓhar and Shaikh Maḥmūd as the principal students of Jaʿfar Tabrīzī in a list of the notable figures associated with Bāysonqor b. Šāhroḵ (Maṭlaʿ al-saʿdayn, fol. 614a). Ḵᵛāndamīr also links ʿAbdallāh with Aẓhar and Shaikh Maḥmūd as students of Jaʿfar in his listing of the principal associates of Šāhroḵ (Ḥabīb al-sīar [Tehran] IV, p. 19). Apart from the praising the high level of accomplishment of ʿAbdallāh, these two accounts give little indication of his precise contribution. Fortunately further indications of his activities given by Qāżī Aḥmad and Dūst Moḥammad, when combined with documentary and historical evidence, provide a general framework for his biography.
The only description of how ʿAbdallāh became attached to Jaʿfar, and presumably through him to the Timurid court workshop, is that found in an anonymous mid-16th century taḏkera cited by M. Bayānī (Ḵošnevīsān II, pp. 360-61). Here he is described as the son of a cook who had a shop in the bazaar of Herat. One day he was asked to deliver food to the students working in Jaʿfar Tabrīzī’s workshop. Feeling attracted by the scribal profession, he resolved to join the workshop. Once part of the workshop, his talents were soon apparent, and Jaʿfar encouraged the youth and later allowed ʿAbdallāh to marry his daughter. This account, which may well be legendary, suggests that his epithet “the Cook” (Ṭabbāḵ, Āšpaz) derives from the profession for which the youth was being trained. It is possible that he or his father performed this function in one of the Timurid households. The earliest surviving colophon signed by ʿAbdallāh is dated to 830/1430 (ibid., p. 363). Qāżī Aḥmad claims that the calligraphy of ʿAbdallāh is found on “most of the buildings of Herat, especially Gāzorgāh” (p. 27; tr., p. 66). The latter would appear to be a reference to the structure erected around the tomb of ʿAbdallāh Anṣārī on the order of Šāhroḵ between 829/1425 and 830/1426. If ʿAbdallāh had a major share in the planning or execution of inscriptions for this structure, it would suggest that he was an active member of the Timurid atelier by at least 829/1425. ʿAbdallāh appears to have remained in Herat during the 830s and 840s and may well have participated in the decoration of buildings erected by the Timurid family during this time. In addition to the preparation of architectural inscriptions, he was noted for his skill in afšān, gold sprinkling, and vaṣṣālī, the joining of two pieces of paper (ibid.). Both techniques were used in the preparation of luxurious manuscripts.
The record of ʿAbdallāh’s movements aids the reconstruction of events between the death of Šāhroḵ in 850/1447 and the accession of Ḥosayn Bāqarā in 873/1469. According to Dūst Moḥammad (p. 27-28) after the death of Bāysonqor in 873/1433 the artists he had patronized came under the protection of his son ʿAlāʾ-al-dawla. When Uluḡ Beg defeated ʿAlāʾ-al-dawla b. Bāysonqor in Ḏu’l-qaʿda, 851/January, 1448, “Mawlānā Šehāb-al-dīn ʿAbdallāh and Mawlānā Ẓahīr-al-dīn Aẓhar and the other members of the Ketābḵāna” were taken to Samarqand. There he ordered them to prepare a history of his own time and showered them with kindness “day by day even hour by hour.” An examination of the brief reign of Uluḡ Beg (d. Ramażān, 853/October, 1449) suggests that he had few opportunities to exercise close supervision over artists in his employ. Nevertheless the general outlines of the story given by Dūst Moḥammad may well be correct. While less significant than his reburial of Šāhroḵ in the Gūr-e Mīr, the transplantation of the Timurid atelier to Samarqand would certainly be in harmony with Uluḡ Beg’s aim of restoring his capital to the position of eminence it had held during the lifetime of Tīmūr. The presence of members of the Timurid atelier in Samarqand is to suggest not only by Dūst Moḥammad’s statements but also by colophons signed by ʿAbdallāh and Aẓhar, along with a document now in Istanbul which describes the operation of a workshop. An undated colophon written by Aẓhar at Samarqand contains a dedication to Sultan Abū Saʿīd (Ḵošnevīsān I, p. 69). It must have been copied between Jomādā I, 855/June, 1451 and 863/1459, when Abū Saʿīd transferred the seat of his government to Herat. Colophons show that ʿAbdallāh Heravī was in Samarqand between 854/1450 and 859/1455, so that his period of activity also coincides with that of Abū Saʿīd, although he appears to have been in the city slightly before the latter’s victory (ibid., II, pp. 363-64).
The most significant indication of the activity of major figures of the Timurid atelier in Samarqand comes in a document now in Istanbul. It is clearly a report to the patron of a workshop on the accomplishments of his employees. From their names, the major figures Amīr Ḵalīl, Ḵᵛāǰa ʿAlī, Ḡīāṯ-al-dīn, Šams-al-dīn, and Šehāb-al-dīn (presumably Šehāb-al-dīn ʿAbdallāh) would appear to be members of the Timurid atelier active during the period of Šāhroḵ and Bāysonqor (Kemal Özergin, pp. 471-518). Internal evidence within the document suggests, however, that it comes from Samarqand rather than Herat. The place names contained in it, Bāḡ-e Maydān and Bāḡ-e Now, are garden palaces in the vicinity of Samarqand. Considering the other available evidence, one may conclude that the transplantation of the Timurid atelier to Samarqand mentioned by Dūst Moḥammad did in fact occur. It is certain that the key members of the workshop were there during the time of Abū Saʿīd, and there is at present no evidence to contradict Dūst Moḥammad’s statement that they were brought there at the command of Uluḡ Beg. In the document Šehāb-al-dīn is working on illuminated frontispieces for various manuscripts, adding gilding to the illuminated or painted pages (ibid., pp. 485, 490, 494). This activity would seem to be in harmony with Qāżī Aḥmad’s description of him as a specialist in “gold-sprinkling.”
Toward the end of his career, ʿAbdallāh Heravī returned to his native city. M. Bayānī cites colophons mentioning the city of Herat signed by ʿAbdallāh which are dated between 860/1456 and 873/1469. A manuscript now in Leningrad, dated 877-82/1472-77, shows that he continued to be active during the reign of Ḥosayn Bāyqarā (Ḵošnevīsān II, pp. 362-64.). Although little is known of his work during these years, a remark by Qāżī Aḥmad (p. 27, tr., p. 66) suggests that he worked in Mašhad, executing projects for Ḥosayn Bāyqarā, since he mentions a building there named after “Āḡāča, the wife of Ḥosayn Mīrzā,” which has inscriptions written by ʿAbdallāh Heravī. Āḡāča was a title used by concubines at the court of Ḥosayn Bāyqarā, and the names of three of his favorites are known: Laṭīfa Solṭān Āḡāča, Pāpā Āḡāča, and Bībī Āḡāča. It is not known which of them should be connected with the building in Mašhad, no do any traces of the building appear to have survived. Another link between ʿAbdallāh and Mašhad is the work there of his pupil ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq Sabzavārī, who composed inscriptions on the dome of the tomb of Imam Reżā, according to the testimony of Qāżī Aḥmad (p. 32; tr., p. 72).
ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Samarqandī, Maṭlaʿ al-saʿdayn, Istanbul, Süleymaniye Library, Fatih no. 3317.
Dūst Moḥammad, A Treatise on Calligraphists and Miniaturists, ed. M. Abdullah Chaghtai, Lahore, 1936, pp. 13-14, 25-27.
B. Dorn, Catalogue des manuscrits et xylographes orientaux de la Bibliothèque Impériale de St. Petersbourg, St. Petersburg, 1852, ms. no. CXLVII.
M. Kemal Özergin, “Temürlü sanatina âit eski bir belge; Tebrizli Caʾfarʾ in Bīr Arzi,” Sanat Tarihi Yillıği VI, Istanbul, 1974-75.
Armenag Bey Sakisian, La miniature persane du XIIe au XVIIe siècle, Paris, 1929, p. 56.
(P. P. Soucek)
Originally Published: December 15, 1982
Last Updated: July 15, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 2, pp. 195-197