Shamsa medallions were decorative illuminated rosettes used most frequently as frontispieces in books, especially Korans, where the owner or patron of the book is celebrated by name in the center. They were used particularly in Qur’ans due to the fact that images of animals or people were strictly forbidden and they were an allowable elegant form of decoration for the holy manuscripts. There are many examples to be found in the manuscript arts of the East during the Safavid Persian Dynasty (1501-1722) time frame including those of the Ottoman Turks as well as Indian artists.
This particular shamsa medallion was designed by the hand of another artist, but traced & then illuminated by my own hand with mostly period pigments. This is a very period methodology as the complete production of an illustration could involve many people including painters, assistants, gold-sprinklers, etc (Canby). The design of the medallion is based on an extant piece from Safavid Persia out of the Emperor Akbar’s Khamsa of Nizami circa 1580-1590. Unfortunately, the photograph of the original shamsa is in black and white but you will find a copy of it depicted in my appendix.
Persian painters mixed a dazzling range of hues utilizing minerals, inorganic and organic materials including but not limited to gold, silver, lapis lazuli, cinnabar, orpiment, malachite, indigo, azurite, verdigris, vermillion, red and white leads, red-brown iron oxide, carmine from the kermes insect, carbon and some unidentified plant dyes (Canby). However, in Persian Painting, Canby shares that expense and availability of materials dictated the choice of pigment types so substitutes for various pigments was not uncommon. I mixed my own period hues by combining a small amount of water & my pigments with gum arabic, which in the late 16th century Persian painters adopted as a binding medium (Canby). I used a ratio of 2 parts pigment to 1 part gum arabic & enough water to muddle. Please find a table of colors, period material and my own materials in my documentation.
How this piece was illuminated
"In Iran, the hair particularly favoured for artists’ brushes was that of long-haired white cats which were especially bred for the purpose, but squirrel hair was also used. The hairs were tied into a bundle and then fitted into a quill, preferably one taken from a wing of a pigeon (Titley)." I have utilized modern paint brushes for this purpose for a variety of reasons including time, cost, efficiency and the unfortunate happenstance that my cat happens to be short-haired.
I inspected the hue combinations used in a variety of shamsas illuminated in Safavid Persia as well as Ottoman Turkey to determine what the medallion should look like. Some of these examples included shamsas 1 and 3 as seen in this documentation as well as the original extant piece from Emperor Akbar’s Khamsa of Nizami. The original I studied from is a black and white photograph which only lends itself to showing whether light or dark shades were used in each area of the piece. While this made illuminating the piece challenging, it also allowed me more creativity with my color choices. I chose to use the lapis lazuli and gold ochre as my base colors and utilized the glauconite, hematite, carbon black, turquoise green mix and permanent white for accents as well as shading.
Baker, Amy. "Common Medieval Pigments". Austin, TX. 2005
Canby, Sheila R. Persian Painting. Trustees of the British Museum. London, UK. 1993
Matthews, Rory. "Illustrations from the Padshahnama c.1630-40". The Royal Collection Royal Palaces, Residences and Art Collection. 2006 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. 7 June 2007. http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/eGallery/object.asp?detail=scrapbook&…
Titley, Norah M. Persian Miniature Painting. First University of Texas Press. 1984.