The Persianate Literary Heritage: Hidden Treasures from McGill’s Collections celebrates McGill University’s rich collection of manuscripts, miniatures and lithographs in Persian (Farsi). From the Middle Ages onward, the use of New Persian, or Persian written in Arabic script, became widespread in the central and eastern lands of Islam, not only in Iran and Central Asia, but also in Anatolia and India. And, while Persian epic and mystical poetry remain particularly revered constituents of the Persianate literary heritage, Persian was also the language of choice for countless bureaucrats, historians, philosophers, theologians and scientists throughout the centuries.
The Persian Literary Heritage exhibit highlights some of the most beautiful and unique pieces of literature, art, thought and history in McGill’s Persian collections. Indeed, the collection as a whole consists of 334 volumes and 81 fragments of primarily orphaned leaves. Many of these are illustrated and illuminated, testifying to the diversity,
elegance and scope of Persianate artistry. The collection ranges from the mid-14th century to the early 20th century, and geographically from Iran to Turan (Central Asia) to India. In addition, there is a representative collection of lacquer bookbindings and qalamadans (pen boxes). McGill’s Persian collection has a history that pre-dates the founding of the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) and the Islamic studies Library (ISL) in 1952. By the 1930s, the collection already included several hundred manuscripts, orphaned leaves and lithographs. The acquisition of Persian materials was the work of the University Librarian, Gerhard R. Lomer, and the private Montreal collector F. Cleveland Morgan who actively patronized the New York dealer Hassan Khan Monif. Furthermore, the distinguished Russian scholar of Ismailism, Wladimir Ivanow, was instrumental in developing the Blacker-Wood Persian Collection. Working for Casey A. Wood, the ophthalmologist, bibliophile and McGill Library benefactor, Ivanow brought together an exquisite collection of manuscripts on all aspects of Islam, including the natural and supernatural worlds; several of these manuscripts are included in this exhibition.
Curators: Sean Swanick (Islamic Studies Liaison Librarian) and Heather Empey (McGill School of Information Studies, graduate, MLIS’14)