GOLESTĀN-E HONAR, a 16th-century treatise on the art of calligraphy, with brief biographical notices on a selection of past and contemporary calligraphers and artists, by the Safavid author and historian Qāżi Aḥmad b. Šaraf-al-Din Ḥosayn Monši Qomi Ebrāhimi. It is an important primary source for the history of the art of bookmaking in Persia in the late Timurid to early Safavid period, containing first-hand information on some of the artists and patrons with whom the author and members of his family came into contact. Qāżi Aḥmad himself seems to have been well aware of, and even performed, some of the tasks involved in the production of manuscripts and albums (we know of at least two manuscripts that he copied in 978/1570 and 999/1590; Qāżi Aḥmad, pp. 93, 89, tr. Minorsky, pp. 138, 141, 192; Modarresi Ṭabāṭabāʾi, p. 81; Maḥfuẓ, p. 212). However, allowance should be made for a degree of exaggeration in some of the assertions in the book (e.g., the career of the author’s father at various Safavid courts; for a study of the inconsistencies found in his treatment of Solṭān-Ebrāhim Mirzā, see Farhad and Simpson; see also Manṣuri, pp. 17-79, who questions the authenticity of the contents of Golestān-e honar). It is also not clear what criteria were used in the selection of the individual artists whose careers are mentioned or who actually made the selection; there were some relatively important and equally active scribes and painters who receive no notice (for a list of them see Manṣuri, pp. 91-186). In fact, one of the scribes of the extant manuscripts of Golestān-e honar, a certain ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla Musawi, admitted that he was responsible for at least one interpolation in the manuscript that he copied (Dānešpažuh, 1973, p. 119-20; Akimushkin).

Golestān-e honar exists today in two versions, both of which have been published. The first version, composed around 1006/1597-98, contains a preface, an introduction, three chapters, and an epilogue (ḵātema). In the preface to this version, Qāżi Aḥmad hopes that his book will find a place in the libraries of Shah ʿAbbās and his military commander Farhād Khan Qaramānlu (qq.v.), both of whom were at the time on a military campaign to re-capture Herat from the Uzbeks (Qāżi Aḥmad, tr. Zakhodera, plate 4, tr. Minorsky, p. 44; Golčin-e Maʿāni, Taḏkerahā II, p. 709). The introduction, very much in the vein of previous manuals on calligraphy (e.g., Solṭān-ʿAli Mašhadi’s Sirat al-soṭur and Qoṭb-al-Din Moḥammad Qeṣṣaḵᵛān’s Dibāča to a Shah Ṭahmāsb album), briefly points out how the art of writing came about and traces its origin to Imam ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb. The next three chapters are devoted to the description of ṯolṯ, taʿliq, and nastaʿliq scripts (see CALLIGRAPHY), with brief biographical sketches of those who mastered the scripts. The epilogue is devoted to painters, illuminators, calligraphy and illustration cutters, masters of gold sprinkling and color blending, and binders.

In what is now commonly considered a revised version of Golestān-e honar (completed sometime around 1015/1606), the names of Shah ʿAbbās and Farhād Khan were removed from the preface, primarily because by that time Farhād Khan had been executed by Shah ʿAbbās and Qāżi Aḥmad himself had fallen from grace with the king due to a dispute with another scribe over a book in Shah ʿAbbās’ library (Qāżi Aḥmad, pp. 97-98). Furthermore, some of the biographical notices were moved around, abridged, or updated, and a few new ones added. Most of the contents of the epilogue in the first version are treated in a new fourth chapter, while a new epilogue deals in more detail with such subjects as illumination, text frames, color blending, and ink making. There is also an unpublished abridged version of Golestān-e honar, prepared by a Mirzā Fażl-Allāh Bābā Khan for Farhād Mirzā Moʿtamed-al-Dawla (q.v.), which seems to include still more updates and additions and even a reference to an event of 1039/1629. If the reference to this date was actually included by Qāżi Aḥmad and not by Bābā Khan, it would be the latest date cited in his writings (Golčin-e Maʿāni, p. 717; Dānešpažuh, 1969, pp. 543-48; idem, 1973, pp. 125-27). Moḥammad-Taqi Dānešpažuh recently identified as another copy of Golestān-e honar an untitled 18th-century manuscript that is defective at both the beginning and end; it is kept in the Golestān Palace Library (Dānešpažuh, 1986, pp. 119-20; Ātābāy, pp. 483-86).

Besides the information that he had collected from his personal contacts with artists, Qāżi Aḥmad seems to have also relied on earlier sources in writing his treatise, some of which he declares to have known or used (e.g., Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru’s Zobdat al-tawāriḵ; Šaraf-al-Din ʿAli Yazdi’s Ẓafar-nāma, Solṭān-ʿAli Mašhadi’s Sirat al-soṭur, which he actually quotes in its entirety; Simi Nišāpuri’s “treatises,” perhaps including Jawhariya; Majnun Rafiqi’s “epistle on writing,” quite possibly his Sawād al-ḵaṭṭ; and Sām Mirzā’s Toḥfa-ye sāmi), and some which he does not readily admit to have utilized (Qoṭb-al-Din Moḥammad Qeṣṣaḵᵛān’s Dibāča mentioned above; Dust Moḥammad’s famous Dibāča to the Bahrām Mirzā album; Qāżi Aḥmad Ḡaffāri’s Tāriḵ-e jahānārā; and the anonymous Risāla dar bayān-e kāḡaḏ, morakkab-e alwān, wa ḵaṭṭ-e awhal; see Qāżi Aḥmad, pp. 30, 59, 64-78, 85-86, tr. Minorsky, pp. 19, 69, 106-25, 133; Manṣuri, p. 80, Māyel Heravi, pp. xliii-iv, lxv).

Golestān-e honar was first published in an extensively annotated Russian translation and partial facsimile edition by Boris N. Zakhoder in 1947. Zakhoder’s translation was based on a single manuscript in the Museum of Oriental Cultures in Moscow. Vladimir Minorsky was able to locate and examine three additional manuscripts: one owned by his student Clara C. Edwards (which Minorsky judged to be “a presentation copy”), one in the Salar Jung Library in Hyderabad, and a copy of one in the private collection of Ḥosayn Āqā Naḵjavāni in Tabriz (Qāżi Aḥmad, tr. Minorsky, pp. 34-39). These additional manuscripts and Zakhoder’s translation provided the basis for Minorsky’s English translation in 1959 (which also included a translation of Zakhoder’s introduction and reproductions of illustrations from the Moscow and Edwards manuscripts). Aḥmad Sohayli Ḵᵛānsāri produced another edition of Golestān-e honar (Tehran, 1973) based solely on the Naḵjavāni manuscript.



Oleg Fedorovich Akimushkin, “Khaidarabadskiĭ avtograf ‘Traktata o kalligrafakh’ Kazi Akhmada Kumi” (The Hyderabad autograph of Qāżi Aḥmad Qomi’s "Treatise on Calligraphy”), in Ex Oriente: Collected Papers in Honour of Jiri Bečka, Prague, 1995, pp. 33-37.

Muhamad Ashraf, Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the Salar Jung Museum and Library II, Hyderabad, 1966, pp. 242-48.

Badri Ātābāy, Fehrest-i kotob-e adabi ʿerfāni-e ḵaṭṭi-e Kāḵ-e Golestān, Tehran, 1357 Š./1978.

Moḥammad-Taqi Dānešpažuh, “Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Golestān,” FIZ 26, 1365 Š./1986, pp. 109-82.

Idem, “Fehrest-e nosaḵ-e ḵaṭṭi-e Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Majles-e senā,” Nosḵahā-yeḵaṭṭi 6, 1348 Š./1969, pp. 427-587.

Idem, “Āstān-e ṟażawi dar Golestān-e honar-e Qomi,” Nāma-ye Āstān-e qods 9/4, 1352 Š./1973, pp. 115-27.

Idem, “Rang-sāzi dar kāḡaḏ wa rang-zedāʾi az ān,” Honar o mardom, no. 181, 2536 (1356) Š./1977, pp. 16-35.

Massumeh Farhad, and Marianna S. Simpson, “Sources for the Study of Safavid Painting and Patronage, or, Méfiez-vous de Qazi Ahmad,” Muqarnas 10, 1993, pp. 286-91.

Aḥmad Golčin-e Maʿāni, Taḏkerahā II, pp. 708-32.

Ḥosayn-ʿAli Maḥfuẓ, “al-Maḵṭuṭāt al-ʿarabiya fi’l-ʿErāq,” Majalla maʿhad al-maḵṭuṭāt al-ʿarabiya 4/2, 1958, pp. 195-228.

Firuz Manṣuri, Fehrest-e asāmi o āṯār-e ḵošnevisān-e qarn-e dahom-e hejri-e qamari wa naqd o barrasi-e Golestān-e honar, Tehran, 1366 Š./1987.

Najib Māyel Heravi, Ketāb-ārāyi dar tamaddon-e eslāmi, Mašhad, 1372 Š./1993.

Ḥosayn Modarresi Ṭabāṭabāʾi, “Qāżi Aḥmad Qomi,” Barrasihā-ye tāriḵi 10/2, 1354 Š./1975, pp. 63-99.

Ḥasan Narāqi, “Golestān-e honar,” Honar o mardom, no. 144, 1353 Š./1974, pp. 57-63.

Ḥosayn Naḵjavāni, “Moʿarref-i-e ketāb-e Golestān-e honar,” in idem, Čehel maqāla, Tabriz, 1343 Š./1965.

Qāżi Aḥmad, Golestān-e honar, tr. Boris N. Zakhoder as Traktat o kalligrafakh i khudozhnikah, 1596-97/1005, Moscow and Leningrad, 1947; tr. Vladmir Minorsky as Calligraphers and Painters: A Treatise by Qāḍī Aḥmad, Son of Mīr-Munshī, Washington, D.C., 1959.

(Kambiz Eslami)

Originally Published: December 15, 2001

Last Updated: February 14, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 1, pp. 77-79