JONG (known also as safina), literary miscellany of Persian prose and poetry, and album of pictures and illustrations.

i. Persian jongs. See SAFINA.

ii. Illustrations of Persian jongs.



The earliest, and possibly clearest, application of the term jong to a manuscript appears in a Monšaʾāt of Šaraf-al-Din ʿAli Yazdi (d. 1430 or 1454) dated 867/1463 (Istanbul, Topkapi Palace Museum, R. 1019, fols. 57b-61b). The document is a preface to a jong composed by Ḵᵛāja Rokn-al-Din Masʿud Saʿdi for Esmāʿil (son of Ebrāhim Solṭān b. Šāhroḵ b. Timur). The concluding passage of the preface (fol. 61b) lists the categories of poetry that constitute the 50,000 couplets copied in the jong (ḡazaliyāt, tarjiʿāt, moqṭaʿāt, robāʿiyāt, moʿammāt, maṯ-nawiyāt, in that order), and thus squarely identifies the manuscript as an anthology of poetry.

A much better known literary reference to the jong in the Persian arts of the book occurs in the art historical preface written by Dust-Moḥammad (q.v.) to introduce the Bahrām Mirzā (q.v.) album (Istanbul, Topkapi Palace Museum, H. 2154). Dust-Moḥammad completed the album in 951/1544-45. In the section on the history of “depiction,” we read of a project commissioned by the Timurid prince Bāysonḡor (q.v.; d. 1433) to reproduce a jong made for the Jalāyerid ruler Solṭān Aḥmad (d. 1410) (Thackston, pp. 13-14). This copy involved a collaboration between three artists—painter Ostād Sidi Aḥmad, portraitist Ḵᵛāja ʿAli, and bookbinder Ostād Qewām-al-Din—who were ordered to travel from Tabriz to Herat where they worked with calligrapher Jaʿfar of Tabriz and painter Amir Ḵalil (he was responsible for both decoration and painting [tazyin va taṣwir]). Bāysonḡor instructed the team of artists to follow the manner of the original (oslub be-hamān dastur): they were asked to make a copy of the same size, page layout, and identical in its choice of subjects for illustration which were to be positioned in the same places (qaṭʿ o masṭar o mawāżiʿ-e taṣwir be-ʿaynhā). According to Dust Moḥammad, the anthology was completed after Bāysonḡor’s death by his son ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla Mirzā. He contracted the talent of yet another painter, Ḵᵛāja Ḡiyāṯ-al-Din Pir-Aḥmad Zarkub, to complete the jong.

The earliest known usage of the term in an actual manuscript is found in a double-page illuminated table of contents (fehrest-e jong matn) which synopsizes the sections of an anthology completed in 823/1420 (Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst, I. 4628; Enderlein, p. 19). Stylistic features of the book, especially its illumination, suggest that it may have been produced in Shiraz but the provenance is not mentioned in the colophon. The ex libris contains a dedication to Bāysonḡor. The 950 folios bring together selections from Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma; the Manṭeq al-ṭayr of Farid-al-Din ʿAṭṭār (q.v.); the Ḵamsa of Neẓāmi (Maḵzan al-asrār, Ḵosrow o Širin, Layli o Majnun, Haft Paykar, Eskandar-nāma [Eqbāl-nāma and Šaraf-nāma]); the Ḵamsa of Ḵᵛāju of Kermān (Rawżat al-anwār, Kamāl-nāma, Jawhar-nāma, Homāy va Homā-yun, and Nowruz o Gol); and the Ḵamsa of Amir Ḵosraw Dehlavi (Maṭlaʿ al-anwār, Ḵosrow o Širin, Majnun o Layli, Hašt Behešt, and Āʾina-ye Eskandari). Twenty-nine narrative polychrome paintings illustrate specific scenes from the poetry which is arranged in two spaces, the central field (matn) and the margin (ḥāšiya). A generous program of illumination executed in gold and polychrome, dominated by a palette of blue and orange, introduces the work in a double-page table of contents (fehrest), and then marks the principal divisions with round medallions (šamsa) and sub-divisions with headers (ʿonwān).

This anthology, presented to Bāysonḡor as a gift (presumably by his brother Ebrāhim Solṭān, governor of Shi-raz), and the textual reference from Yazdi’s Munšaʾāt, suggest the range of formal outcomes for the jong in the Persian arts of the book at the beginning of the 1400s. The term itself does not appear to reference a specific type of anthologizing book, such as the safina (an oblong book bound on the short side), but rather to connote foremost a gathering of texts. There is no evidence to suggest, as some scholars have (Robinson, p. 602; Togan, p. 8; Woods, p. 109), that the incidence of the word ‘jong’ in primary written sources references the codex-album format (moraqqaʿ) of the 1400s and 1500s, or even that ‘jong’ is a fitting term for an album because anthologies (jongs) were defined primarily through heterogeneous (most commonly multi-author) gatherings of texts. The Bāysonḡor anthology from 1420 and the near contemporary reference from Yazdi’s Munšaʾāt together indicate that a Persian jong could combine poems of various structures and lengths. The reference made by Dust-Moḥammad is evidence of the continuity of both a practice and a nomenclature well into the 1500s. It is also important to note that while Dust Moḥammad infers the anthology’s conceptual origin in the bibliophile patronage of Solṭān Aḥmad Jalāyer, which is, in part, corroborated by the strong influence of bookmaking practices and aesthetics of Tabriz on the arts of the book of Bāysonḡor’s time in Herat, his narrative history of art neglects the profound inventions of bookmaking in Shiraz since the mid-1300s. The evidence of extant manuscripts shows that workshops in Shiraz played a critical role in the development of the anthology (jong) before, but especially under, Timurid rule.

From these limited instances, it is reasonable to extrapolate that the Persian term ‘jong’ could refer to a multi-author anthology (also referred to by the term majmuʿa) of poetry and or prose, as well as to a collection of poetry by a single author (most commonly referred to by the term divān, or in the case of a complete collection, kolliyāt). The jong, or majmuʿa, contained an array of texts that were often densely copied over many folios to produce thick, comprehensive volumes. The safina, by contrast, was not only smaller in size but also had fewer folios: these features enhanced its portability; it could be tucked under the belt.

Several examples of the former type—multi-author anthologies—are known from Shiraz in the late 1300s through the early 1400s. One of the earliest is an anthology dated 801/1398 that was copied by Manṣur b. Moḥammad b. Baraka b. ʿOmar b. Baḵtiār Behbahāni (Istanbul, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, no. 1950). It contains the ḵamsas of Neẓāmi and Amir Ḵosraw Dehlavi as well as divāns of the poets Saʿdi, ʿObayd, ʿEmād, Kamāl Esmāʿil, and ʿObayd al-Malek. Each page is structured as two spaces for the text—the matn and ḥāšiya—and chief elements of illumination, used to mark divisions amid this dense collection of texts, include a fehrest, šamsas, and ʿonvāns. Though the paintings are numerous—taking up the full space of the matn, or filling the paper left over beneath a colophon—they do not depict overt themes of the poetry or illustrate their narrative episodes. These enigmatic and evocative paintings (with one exception showing a royal hunt) portray a number of landscape scenes devoid of figures but often inhabited by birds (for illustrations, see Ölçer, pp. 208-9). As such, the pictorial images might have a general symbolic meaning, resonating at a thematic level with the accompanying poetry.

This semantic range of text-image interrelation is more fully developed through a group of anthologies fashioned for the library of Eskandar Solṭān (1384-1415), grandson of Timur and governor of Shiraz. Building on the techniques developed by artists and calligraphers in earlier examples, Eskandar Solṭān’s anthologies similarly use a standard arrangement of matn and ḥāšiya, a typology of illumination that signals divisions between texts or transitions within them, a number of textual protocols (including on-page rubrics, and the triangular shape used to organize colophons), and various scripts to differentiate headings or captions from the main text. All of these efforts helped the reader to find his way through a dense book packed with poetry and prose in the absence of an index and pagination. In a manner comparable to earlier anthologies, Eskandar Solṭān’s anthologies also utilize polychrome painting to illustrate selected stories from narratives—especially maṯnawis—and polychrome with gold illumination. But his anthologies differ from earlier examples in critical ways.

Their chief difference lies in what might be termed pictorial intelligence. As if announcing the diverse textual genres housed in these thick anthologies, the imagery accompanying the texts also resorts to studies in monochrome—ink drawing sometimes tinted with colored washes or highlighted with gold—or uses materials conventional in one medium of the arts of the book (e.g. illumination) for another (e.g. painting). This is one order of substitution at work in the anthologies’ visual program.

Eskandar Solṭān’s anthologies also contain designs that have no bearing on the text that they accompany but that seem to function as allegories of the process of making an anthology of texts. A key example is one page in an anthology dated 813-14/1410-11 (London, British Library, Add. 27261, fol. 543a) which is composed entirely of alternate designs for book bindings (Roxburgh, 2001, pl. 3) executed in ink and wash—the page makes a theme out of the activity of collecting by showing aggregate designs for book bindings. It is, in effect, a pictorial analogy to the anthology as an artifact. One often finds that pages are formatted to receive text even where no text was to be copied on it, hence preserving the presence of text despite its absence (Roxburgh, 2001, pl. 2/2A). Other changes include the positioning of narrative images at some great distance from their relevant text—these images might activate the memory of a literary text, but they are radically distanced from it within the physical form of the book and were to be enjoyed without the process of reading. Pages such as these are structured in Eskandar Solṭān’s anthologies as a form of visual pleasure whose meanings were activated by the reader-viewer’s memory and associative faculties. The achievement of Eskandar Solṭān’s anthologies led the collection of texts into uncharted conceptual and aesthetic territory.

While Eskandar Solṭān’s anthologies were never wholly repeated, they did show the potential for the jong as an aesthetically elaborated book. Over the course of the 1400s and into the 1500s, the production of Persian jongs responded to ongoing developments in technique (e.g., stenciling, découpage calligraphy, filigree binding [monabbat-kāri]), and a desire for greater technical virtuosity as one medium and its effects were sometimes dissembled into others. The relief effect of wood or stone carving inspired artists to fashion filigree bindings, for example. The making of Persian jongs also shows how artists responded to external factors such as the repertoire of Chinese animal and plant motifs and to imported Chinese papers decorated with gold designs.

One poetic anthology made in Yazd in 835/1431 for Šāhroḵ’s military commander Jalāl-al-Din Firuzšāh, contains poetry composed in Persian and Chaghatay Turkish written in Arabic and Uighur scripts by the poets Kamāl-al-Din Ḵojandi, Amiri, and Bāqer Manṣur Baḵši, the latter also the book’s scribe (London, British Library, Or. 8193). Here visual ambition is manifest in a program of stenciled (ʿaks) designs that comprise clouds, plum trees, pine trees, lotus flowers, birds and foxes, geometric patterns based on stars or hexagons, designs associated with book bindings, landscape or garden scenes, or texts arranged in grids resembling the glazed ceramic revetment of architectural decoration. Fine drawing in black, gold or silver ink provides the designs’ inner details and outer contours. Different colors of pigment—brown, red, pink, silver, and magenta—complement the subtle hues of white, ivory, and pink papers (Roxburgh 2005, pp. 153-55). This repertoire of visual subjects, made of modest mediums and labor-intensive in technique, produces a rich and varied effect.

The non-narrative aspect of Jalāl-al-Din Firuzšāh’s jong was repeated in other examples that combine stenciling with polychrome illumination and, in some examples, polychrome painting. An early safina copied by Jaʿfar of Tabriz in 835/1431-32 (Dublin, Chester Beatty Library, Per. 122), that comprises the Lamaʿāt (“Flashes”) of Faḵr-al-Din ʿErāqi with ghazals (ḡazals) by various poets (Arberry et al, I, pp. 41-42), utilizes stenciled designs—roundels or medallions containing animals and or plants, geometric schemes, prunus and conifers, vases holding plants—and narrative painting. The painting illustrates a scene from Neẓāmi’s Ḵosrow o Širin. The stenciling itself exploits both positive and negative techniques: color is applied to the figures in the positive form; color is applied to the ground in its negative form. Oftentimes, designs are mirrored across the axis of the open book constituting yet another formal conceit.

A later example of a safina, dated to 853/1449 combines the ghazals of Saʿdi, Ḵᵛāju of Kermān, Ḥasan Dehlavi, ʿErāqi and Awhādi (qq.v.), with other poets from the retinue of Bāysonḡor (Dublin, Chester Beatty Library, Per. 127). This example uses stenciling as both frames bordering the poems and as motifs inside the field of the written text, polychrome painted elements amid the stenciling, and a developed program of illumination including ʿonwāns, half-medallions with rays, and floral borders (see fig. 1 for a page from a closely related anthology). On pages where the written surface has been circumscribed and enclosed within a stenciled border, the poetry resembles a miniature text page attached to the folio of the safina: such folios, through trompe l’oeil, appear to result from collaging one sheet onto another. The text on these and other pages is written on horizontal, diagonal and vertical axes recalling the layout used by calligraphers when copying qeṭʿa (single sheets), which they made for occasional purposes. All of these effects are enhanced by a variety of colored papers and pigments and motifs culled from both Persian and Chinese art traditions.

A cluster of anthologies commissioned for the library of the Qarā Qoyunlu Pir Bodāq in Shiraz (1456-60) and in Baghdad (1460-66) continue some aspects of the earlier Timurid examples. In fact, one of the defining characteristics of his bibliophilism seems to have been the formation of anthologies, custom-made collections of poetry and other texts that show his literary preferences. Such books show a blending of idioms from both Shiraz and Herat and focus on a uniform paper color, inventive and artful illumination that meditates on precedent, and the superb calligraphy of Šayḵ Maḥmud (for examples, see Roxburgh, 2005, pp. 158-59).

Creativity and inventiveness in the production of jongs peaked in Persia in the 1400s and continued into the 1500s when techniques such as découpage (qaṭʿe, “cut paper”), gold-sprinkled (afšān), stenciled, and/or painted borders, and the use of colored inks or outline (taḥrir) for calligraphy were introduced and became commonplace. While the preceding examples—a small selection of extant anthologies—show the formal creativity of artists beyond the conventional modes of straightforward illumination and painting, they also had the effect of prompting bookmakers to dispense with the single sheet of paper. Increasingly in the late 1400s and into the early 1500s, books of whatever type were composed of gatherings of folios that were in themselves composed of separate pieces of paper. The folio was now assembled from a sheet set inside a border. The causal effect of the anthology, embraced as both an organizational and aesthetic challenge in the late 1300s through the early 1400s, and augmented by ongoing technical developments and new media applications, was such that it prompted the reinvention of the Persian book. Visual meaning was no longer confined to the illustrative elements of painting or to the symbolic aspects of illumination but lay increasingly in technique and a self-referential visual language.

Figure 1. Folio from an anthology of Persian poetry, Iran, c. 1450.


A. J. Arberry, M. Minovi, E. Blochet, and B. Robinson, The Chester Beatty Library: A Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts and Miniatures, 3 vols., Dublin, 1959-62.

Volkmar Enderlein, Die Miniaturen der Berliner Baisonqur-Handschrift, Berlin, 1991.

G. M. Meredith-Owens, “A New Illustrated Persian Anthology,” British Museum Quarterly 34/3-4, 1970, pp. 122-25.

Nazan Ölçer, ed., Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul, 2002. Francis Richard, Splendeurs persanes: manuscrits du XIIe au XVIIe siècle, Paris, 1997.

Idem, “Un manuscrit méconnu, l’anthologie poétique de la Bibliothèque nationale illustrée et signée par Behzād,” Studia Iranica 20, 1991, pp. 263-74.

B. W. Robinson, “Murakka’,” EI2, pp. 602-3.

David J. Roxburgh, The Persian Album, 1400-1600: From Dispersal to Collection, New Haven, 2005.

Idem, “The Aesthetics of Aggregation: Persian Anthologies of the Fifteenth Century,” in Oleg Grabar and Cynthia Robinson eds., Islamic Art and Literature, Princeton, 2001, pp. 119-42.

Šaraf-al-Din ʿAli Yazdi, Munšaʾāt, Istanbul, Topkapi Palace Museum, R. 1019.

Priscilla P. Soucek, “The Manuscripts of Iskandar Sultan: Structure and Content,” in Lisa Golombek and Maria E. Subtelny, eds., Timurid Art and Culture: Iran and Central Asia in the Fifteenth Century, Leiden, 1992, pp. 116-31.

Wheeler M. Thackston, Album Prefaces and Other Documents on the History of Calligraphers and Painters, Leiden, 2001, pp. 4-17.

Zeki Velidi Togan, On the Miniatures in Istanbul Libraries, Istanbul, 1963.

John E. Woods, “Timur’s Genealogy,” in Michel M. Mazzaoui and Vera B. Moreen, eds., Intellectual Studies on Islam: Essays Written in Honor of Martin B. Dickson, Salt Lake City, 1990, pp. 85-125.

(David J. Roxburgh)

Originally Published: June 15, 2009

Last Updated: April 17, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 1, pp. 11-14

Cite this entry:

David J. Roxburgh, “JONG,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, XV/1, pp. 11-14, available online at (accessed on 30 December 2012).