100 years in the service of Afghan cultural heritage
Symposium on June 17, 2022, from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm
Venue: Louvre Museum - Michel Laclotte’ Grand Auditorium
The French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan
Created in 1922, the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan works on the study, protection and enhancement of the rich Afghan cultural heritage.
Today, while the Afghan heritage is in a difficult situation, this celebration aims to make known what has been done, but also to mobilize the attention of all to protect this so fragile cultural heritage.
At 5:30 pm, screening of Yusuf and Zuleikha, animated film directed by Patrick Pleutin and Nasir Hashimi, with Kapila Motion pictures, produced by Pascale Bastide, with the support of the French Institute of Afghanistan and the US Embassy in Kabul. Using a traditional form, the storytelling, and modern technologies, (i.e. multimedia), this production aims to rekindle interest in two Afghan historical treasures: the 15th century poem “Yusuf and Zuleikha“, by Jâmi Mawlana (1414‑1492), a mystical and symbolic poem that presents a Sufi, and even platonic vision, highlighting beauty and love as an initiatory path.
The series of animated short films presented today is based on seven painted scenes preserved in the Kabul Archives and depicting episodes from the history of Yusuf and Zuleikha. They belong to a group of sixty or so small-scale (80 x 130 mm) paintings currently mounted under passe‑partout. The subject of each scene is identified by a caption on the montage. Since their reverse is inaccessible, it is impossible to know whether they have a text or not on the reverse, and therefore whether they were extracted from a manuscript or whether they were originally painted independently of a text, to create a cycle of images to take place in an album.
From the Koran to Poetry
The story of Yusuf and Zuleikha draws its inspiration from the 12th Sura of the Koran. This sura evokes the story of the prophet Yusuf, not in the form of a story delivered by an outside narrator, but rather in the form of a succession of dialogues between the different protagonists. Here, we find the outlines of the biblical story of Joseph, sold by his brothers, who became a slave in Egypt, thrown in prison because of a woman who tries to seduce him, and finally freed thanks to his knowledge of oneiromancy (interpretation of dreams). The commentaries on this sura, as well as texts relating in more detail the story of the prophet Yusuf, have provided additional or complementary elements, from which the poets have composed long novels in verse. It is also from these texts that they drew the name of Zuleikha, which is not given in the Koran. Under the pen of poets, Zuleikha becomes a prominent figure and the upset love she feels for Yusuf is the main theme of the story.
Different versions of the story of Yusuf and Zuleikha have been put in verse. They generally adopt a particular literary form to Persian literature called “mathnavi“. This poetic form consists in linking two hemistatistics with perfect rhymes, each hemistich being built on the same meter (meter = succession of short or long syllables creating a rhythm). If the rhyme of each hemistich pair changes constantly, the meter and thus the rhythm remains the same throughout the story, and this one can unfold over thousands of verses (one verse = a couple of hemistichs rhyming together).
The most famous mathnavi‑shaped version was composed in the second half of the 15th century by the Sufi poet Nur al‑din Abd al‑rahman Jâmi, whose name is generally abbreviated in Jâmi, an adjective from the name of the village in which he spent his childhood (Jam, in the Iranian Khorasan, not far from the border with Afghanistan). His Yusuf and Zuleikha story had an immense success in all regions of the Islamic world where the Persian language was practiced by the literate elites and the powerful ones (Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Indian subcontinent, Anatolia, etc.). Numerous manuscript versions (copied by hand), more or less luxurious, illuminated or not, with or without illustrations, have been produced, from the end of the 15th century to the 19th century, on the eve of the definitive disappearance of the manuscript tradition in favour of the mechanical reproduction of texts (lithography and printing with movable characters).
The Kashmir School of Painting
The set of pages preserved in the Kabul Museum are to be linked to the region of Kashmir, a region in which, from the middle of the 18th century, a school of illumination and book painting developed with original style. The illuminated or illustrated texts in this style reflect the local linguistic and religious diversity: there are illuminated Korans (with aniconic decoration), Persian texts, more rarely Pashtos, illustrated or simply illuminated, but also Hindu and Sikh religious texts. The emergence of this Kashmir school is contemporary with the rise in power, in the second half of the 18th century, of the Durrani Afghan dynasty, which unites under its rule Afghanistan and present‑day Pakistan, and the Kashmir Valley and other parts of western India. But this school also survived the gradual erasure of the Durrani power in northern India, which contributed to the emergence of a Sikh state in Pakistan and that of other princely states, which rallied to the British, such as the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
In the 18th century, and again in the first half of the 19th century, the Persian language, the language of administration, is still very present in northern India and practiced among the literate, Muslim and non‑Muslim classes. Famous Persian texts illustrated by Kashmir painters include Firdawsi’s Book of Kings (Shahnameh), Le Verger (Bustan) Sa'di’s , Persian poet Nezami’s Khosrow and Chirine’s novel and of course Jâmi’s Yusuf and Zuleikha. Manuscripts with paintings attached to this Kashmir school are now kept in many libraries around the world, both in the initial distribution area of these manuscripts (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia) but also in all libraries in Europe and the United States with holdings of oriental manuscripts (e.g. the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, the British Library in London, the New York Public Library, etc.). In these libraries, the illustrated copies of Jâmi’s Yusuf and Zuleikha are numerous.
Features of the Kashmir Style
The Kashmir school uses a bright and warm color palette, a limited number of colors, in which yellow and red dominate. The colours are treated in flat; the brushstrokes are visible. The gold of headdresses, thrones, princely canopies, patterns of costumes, carpets and drapes, the gold of the stars in the night sky and the gold of the blazing halo that distinguishes the prophet Yusuf, bring a sparkle, just like the tiny white dots to evoke the pearls or diamonds of the necklaces, the water jets of the basins. The characters are not individualized but correspond to types: Yusuf is the archetype of the young man with androgynous and hairless face and wavy curls. The other male characters, depending on their age, are beardless or have a black or white beard. The female types are also repetitive; the only possible variation is the colour of the skin, more or less dark. No expression can be read on faces; attitudes and gestures are the media of expression. The treatment of the landscape is very simple, organized in overlapping registers, punctuated by tufts of repetitive herbs. The horizon is rejected up. The stylisation of certain elements of the landscape is pushed, such as the trees on the horizon treated as simple triangular forms. The architectural elements (small white marble pavilions, dais, terraces, ponds) reflect the style of architecture of northern India.
For some architecture photos:
The vast majority of manuscripts attributed to Kashmir are simpler and faster than this set of pages, of above average quality; other pages preserved in the Kabul Archives illustrate the faster and more common style that characterizes the manuscripts of this school (IMG 1476, 1514, 1529 are representative) - If you want to see other manuscripts of this school and copies of Yusuf and Zuleikha, you can take examples here:
In charge of collections Ottoman World and Book Art
Department of Islamic Arts