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Category: Asian art

Stuart Cary Welch Islamic & South Asian Photograph Collection – Part 6

‘Missing’ Images for Catalogs and Finding Aids

Written by Alice West

This post is the sixth in a series about the Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection written by the project’s staff in the Digital Images and Slides Collections of the Fine Arts Library.


Previously, we talked about an important subset of Stuart Cary Welch’s photographs, images of Islamic and South Asian art in private collections. This time, we look at another interesting subset, the images that are currently available to the general public only as textual descriptions in catalogs or finding aids.

Libraries and museums maintain inventories of the objects they own. Some inventories are simple itemized lists, while others publish catalogs that provide descriptions of the objects. It takes an enormous effort to compile a catalog with descriptions, whether detailed or not. Compilation of library catalogs is a branch of art history in its own right, and some catalogers, such as Hermann Ethé, Lynda York Leach, or Basil W. Robinson, are known particularly for their cataloging accomplishments, in addition to their research. Catalogs of illustrated manuscripts are especially time and space consuming, as a manuscript may have dozens and even hundreds of images that need to be identified and described. As a rule, printed catalogs do not include images of all miniatures, as it would make the catalogs prohibitively large and expensive, especially for color printing.

Computer technologies brought a revolution in cataloging. They brought in virtually unlimited storage space, as well as powerful search capabilities. The first stage of this revolution was to convert existing paper catalogs into digital databases. However, due to the sheer scale of this task, many online catalogs are, in effect, scans of the old paper catalogs that have but a few images. Similar to catalogs, institutions compile finding aids that describe groups of objects in their collections, but provide little description of individual objects or images they contain.

This is where the Welch Photograph Collection can help. It may contain the ‘missing’ images from catalogs and finding aids, such as the miniatures from Layli u Majnun (Ouseley Add. 137, Bodleian Library) detailed in Robinson’s Descriptive Catalog [i] (pic. 1 and 2) and Persian, Turkish, Hindustani, and Pushtu Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library by Sachau and Ethé (No. 650). Many leaves of this manuscript are damaged or entirely destroyed, which may explain why, given the limited resources, this manuscript has not been digitized. Still, its miniatures are well-preserved, and the Welch Collection provides an opportunity to take a peek at them [ii].

Camel riders on the left, wearing Arabic-style turbans with hanging ends, are battling horsemen in golden helmets on the right. Majnun and villages are hiding behind the hills, watching the battle from a distance.

Pic. 1. Battle of the Clans. Layli u Majnun by Nizami Ganjavi, Bodleian Library, Ouseley Add. 137, ca. 1573-1574.

Majnun, wearing dark-blue loin cloth, skinny and barefoot, is talking to his friend at the side of a brook. The friends are standing facing each other. A blossoming tree is behind Majnun. Nearby and looking the same direction as him are a leopard and a lioness. A herd of wild goats play in the distant hills. The sky is solid gold with dark-blue bands of clouds.

Pic. 2. Majnun Visited by a Friend in the Desert. Layli u Majnun by Nizami Ganjavi, Bodleian Library, Ouseley Add. 137, ca. 1573-1574.

Dastur-i Himmat (ca. 1755-1760) is a lavishly illustrated West Bengali manuscript meticulously described in Linda York Leach’s Mughal and Other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library. According to the catalog, the Dastur-i Himmat retells in Persian verse the Hindu romance of Prince Kamrup of Avadh and Princess Kamalata of Serendip. The romance was very popular, but the Dastur-i Himmat was a minor version, not often produced. Leach’s large illustrated catalog contains 18 out of 231 images from the manuscript, both color and black-and-white. This is a relatively large number of reproductions for a printed catalog of this scale, but the Welch Collection has at least two illustrations that are ‘missing’ from the catalog: Kamalata and Kamrup with the magician Bidyachand disguised as a parrot on his head and a Battle Scene. Both of these Welch images are details rather than the full versions of the original images, though we are hopeful that their full versions, as well as other illustrations from this manuscript, will be discovered as we continue to catalog the collection.

Two richly attired ladies are kneeling on an open palanquin carried by four men in orange uniforms. A crowd of young men stands facing the ladies. All young men and the ladies are wearing long pearl necklaces studded by rubies and pearl earrings.

Pic. 3. Kamalata is carried out on a litter, while Kamrup stands in a row of her suitors with the parrot Bidyachand on his head. Dastur-i Himmat, Chester Beatty Library, Ms. 12, ca. 1755-1760.

The entire space of the image is filled with clashing horses and warriors waving raised swords and shields. There are dead bodies on the ground and a warrior in the center carries a severed head.

Pic. 4. Kamrup and his companions fight Raja Pirthipat’s enemies (?). Ibid.

With its vast number of Islamic manuscripts and albums, the British Library has one of the most extensive digitization programs in the world. The Library’s fabulous online Johnson Collection, however, is a finding aid that provides detailed textual descriptions of its objects, but not images. Occasional images can be found elsewhere, including, for example, in the British Library’s Asian and African Studies Blog, but you can also look for some of the ‘missing’ images in Welch Photograph Collection, where they are preserved in high resolution, color, and occasionally close-ups. One such image is Young Prince Embracing a Youth (pic. 5a). This miniature belongs to the Bukhara (modern Uzbekistan) school of painting that had significant influence on Mughal art. There are multiple variations on this theme, including one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (pic. 5b) and a 19th century image currently at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia (pic. 5c). While not as widely known, Welch’s image from the British Library’s Johnson Collection stands out for its bright colors and unique style among alternative tinted drawing versions.

Young prince’s leg is high around the youth’s waste and the arm around his neck. The youth has removed his turban and is clutching a bottle in his hand. The picture is richly decorated with illuminated corners and half-medallions.

Pic. 5a. Young prince embracing a youth. British Library, Johnson 56,12. Bukhara school, late 16th century

This image is very similar to the one above, but executed in monochrome with only a light wash. In addition to the wrapped around leg, the prince tries to grab on to his companion’s face, white the latter pushes his hand away.

Pic. 5b. Two youths romping. Iran (?), late 16th century. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1978.18.

The composition here is the same as in the previous two images, with one youth wrapping his leg around the waste of the other, but the bottle of wine is missing. There are extra landscape features, including a tree and a brook at the boys’ feet. This image is a very light beige wash, except for the turbans, sashes, and collars painted in contrasting gold. Poetry lines form a frame around the image.

Pic. 5c: Two youths near a tree. Hermitage Museum, VP-955. Iran, 2nd half of the 19th century.

Another rarely seen miniature described in the Johnson Collection’s finding aid is Young Dervish with Spear and Book (pic. 6) by a renowned 16th century Khorasani artist Muhammadi, who, according to Abolala Soudavar, was “the uncontested master” who influenced the work of Farrukh Beg and Riza ‘Abbasi [iii]. This image was used in at least two later compositions, one of which, Young Noble and Dervish in Conversation from Aga Khan Museum of Toronto (pic. 7), has been reproduced in several printed museum’s catalogs, but not on the museum’s website. Digital versions of both images can be found in HOLLIS, Harvard’s portal to the Welch Collection.

A young man is facing left against a plain background. He is holding a double-edged spear in his left hand and a book in his right. Attributes of a dervish, including a chained bell, an alms bowl, a tin water jar, and a dagger, hang from his waste. The borders are illuminated with a floral pattern and arabesques.

Pic. 6. Muhammadi, Young dervish with spear and book. Iran, ca. 1575. British Library, Johnson 28,14

A young man dressed in fine robes and a large turban is perched on a low branch of a blossoming tree with an open book in his hands. A golden wine bottle is on the ground behind him. Opposite the nobleman is a young dervish with a shaven head, accessorized by a leopard skin, a tin water jug, a chained bell, a kashkul or a beggar’s bowl, a purse, and a knife. A brook runs in the foreground surrounded by field flowers and multi-colored rocks. The golden sky full of scrolling clouds takes up a third of the picture.

Pic. 7. Young noble and dervish in conversation. Iran, ca. 1590. Aga Khan Museum, AKM074

One of my favorite undigitized and understudied manuscripts is Shirin u Khusrau from Hamsa of Hatifi, nephew of the famous poet Jami (Codrington/Reade 244, Royal Asiatic Society). Fihrist Oxford-Cambridge catalog calls it “a manuscript of sumptuous quality,” and rightly so. This Khorasan style [iv] manuscript has only five miniatures and one tinted drawing [v], but its margins illuminated with waqwaq scrolls and human-inhabited cameos are delightful (pic. 8). Among the miniatures, one particularly stands out: it is a girl in a bright robe decorated with standing and sitting human figures (pic. 9).

The wide margins of this poetry page are covered with grotesque scrolls with the heads of animals, people, and demons against a gold background. The four scalloped medallions are proportionally spaced around the margins.

Pic. 8. Waqwaq scrolls with five medallions of youths and girls. Khorasan, ca. 1575. Royal Asiatic Society, Persian 244, f. 3a.

A slender young girl is wearing a long golden robe covered with images of seated and standing noblemen and a cap with long pointy ends hanging on both sides of her face. Her undergarments and skinny shalvars peaking from under her robe are decorated in geometric patterns. The girl is placed against a solid dark background against which her brightly patterned clothing stand out.

Pic. 9. Standing girl holding a spray of flowers. Khorasan, ca. 1575. Royal Asiatic Society, Persian 244, f. 94b.

The Welch Collection has nine out of the 25 miniatures in Jawami al-Hikayat by ‘Aufi (British Library, Or. 11676), for which the British Library catalog provides only textual descriptions. One is particularly lively, showing the Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi (8th century), who is unable to sleep, and his masseur working on caliph’s legs and simultaneously entertaining him by telling stories. Note the intently listening king, the masseur, who applies visible force to do a good massage, and a number of golden metal objects in the foreground, including a wash basin with a ewer and an incense burner to help the caliph relax.

The calif is stretched out on a bed, propped by a large pillow and covered by a blanked waist down. Layers of draperies hang down over the bed decorated in geometric and arabesque patterns. The calif is leaning on his elbow and looking sideways at the masseur, who is kneading the calif’s leg. To the right of the bedchamber, three courtiers are observing this procedure. There is a small fountain pool, a gold incense burner and a gold pitcher with water basin in front of the bed.

Pic. 10. The Calif al-Mahdi and his masseur. Khorasan, ca. 1575. Royal Asiatic Society, Persian 244, f. 94b.

Many images in the Welch Photograph Collection come without notations, so the Fine Art Library’s catalogers rely on manuscript descriptions in catalogs to identify the images. Problems arise when more than one description matches an image. For example, the miniature in pic. 11 from Jawami al-Hikayat matched two descriptions from the catalog [vi]: 1) f. 381a: The four travelers being tested by the Indian princess, and 2) f. 278a: Princes of Rum is talking to her tenth suitor. Luckily, a few lines of text that came with the image helped identify it as folio 278a. This serves as an example of the importance of text that comes with the image, which, unfortunately, is often cut off in reproductions.

In the center of the page, a young man is sitting on a large canopied throne. To his right, a princess, disguised as a maid, is addressing him. A group of young men in long robes and turbans are looking at the princess across a pool fountain. A blue-and-white Chinese vase, a gift for the princess, is in front of this group. The scene unfolds in a landscape filled with flowers and blossoming trees.

Pic. 11. Princes of Rum is talking to her tenth suitor. Iran, early 15th century. Jawami al-Hikayat, British Library, Or. 11676, f. 278a.

I would like to end this overview with a stunning miniature from the Keir Collection, currently at the Dallas Museum of Art, but not on the museum’s website. Its description, along with a color reproduction, appears in a rare printed catalog of the Keir Collection [vii]. The expanse of the gold sky that takes most of the painting makes this image especially beautiful. The unusual composition, as well as the ‘cut off’ figures in the lower left corner make researchers believe that it was cut out of a larger image [viii] or is part of a two-page frontispiece.

Two pairs of geese and magpies cross the solid gold sky that covers nearly three quarters of the picture. A horseman and his companions at the bottom left corner appear cut off at the edges and blend into a mountain of sharp rocks. Fantastic oversized flowers and bare trees punctuate the golden sky. The picture is framed by a quatrain of poetry at the bottom.

Pic. 12. Mongol cavalry in a landscape. Iran, 15th century. Dallas Museum of Art, III.077.

Supplementing catalogs and finding aids with color images was not Welch’s goal, so there is no systematic coverage even for major publications. If an image is missing from a particular catalog, there is no guarantee you will find it in the Welch Photograph Collection. Still, you may want to try searching HOLLIS or ask the librarian in charge of the collection, Nicolas Roth (

Images that have been described in catalogs, but have not been available visually until now, provide additional material to study and may even inspire new research. One thing we are sure about: the Welch Photograph Collection holds many pleasant surprises for its visitors, both academic and general, as the work on cataloging the collection continues.



[i] B.W. Robinson, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Persian Paintings in the Bodleian Library (Oxford: Clarendon, 1958), 1027-1035.

[ii] B.W. Robinson, Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Persian Miniature Paintings from British Collections, VAM (London: s.n., 1951), 80.

[iii] Abolala Soudavar, “The Age of Muhammadi,” Muqarnas 17, no. 1 (2000): 53-72.

[iv] B. W. Robinson, “Muhammadi and the Khurasan Style,” Iran 30 (1992): 17-29.

[v] B. W. Robinson, Persian Paintings in the Collection of the Royal Asiatic Society (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1998), 59-61.

[vi] Norah Titley, Miniatures from Persian manuscripts: catalog and subject index (London: British Museum, 1977).

[vii] B.W. Robinson, Ernst J. Grube, G. M. Meredith-Owens et al., Islamic Painting and the Arts of the Book. The Keir Collection (London: Faber, 1976).

[viii] B.W. Robinson, Persian Miniature Painting from the Collections in the British Isles (London: HMSO, 1976).



Sharing my stories on anti-Asian racism

This post is written by Naoe Suzuki who works for the Fine Arts Library. She is the person who develops our social media posts. She is also a visual artist. The Fine Arts Library stands with Asian American and Pacific Islander communities (AAPI). We condemn hate crimes against Asian communities and stand in solidarity with our staff members, colleagues, students, researchers, and the artists in AAPI communities.

Installation view, image based on a group photo of female students in rows, printed in red and assembled together. Size is 10 feet by 15 feet.

My History not my memory

“In the early nineties when I was a college student in a suburb outside Boston, my car was vandalized on the campus parking lot at night. All the windows were smashed, every single wire and tube in the front was cut and dismantled, and there was a message scratched on the side of the car, “KKK was here.” My registration card, which I kept in the glove compartment, was left on the passenger seat, as if to warn me that whoever did this knew who I was and where I lived. The campus police officer to whom I reported the incident, who was in the dominant group, refused to file it as a hate crime. Despite my pleading and the obvious evidence, the incident was only filed as vandalism. I was not offered any kind of emotional support from the college, and I lived in fear for my safety for many months.

The rising violence against AAPI communities and especially the Atlanta spa shootings reminded me about this incident that happened thirty years ago. I felt great pain and grief for the victims, but I also remembered the fear.

The question over whether Atlanta spa shooting was motivated by racism or sexism is absurd to me because racism and sexism are always entwined for women of color, and especially for Asian women. I hear too many times that Asian Americans are too quiet, shy, or not loud enough to report or talk about these crimes. Perhaps, this may be partially true, but, when I did raise my voice, it was dismissed, erased, and disregarded. I keep seeing this happening over and over again, not only with our voices, but with our bodies too.

According to the data released from Stop AAPI Hate, out of nearly 3,800 anti-Asian incidents from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021, 68% targeted women.[1] To this day, the Atlanta spa shootings are not classified as a hate crime.

During graduate school, my artwork was vandalized when I showed a piece as a work-in-progress before my thesis show. I thought it was racially motivated, but I was told that there was no evidence. I displayed larger-than-life-size prints of figures. The figures were not specifically Asian, but the perception of some viewers was that they were Asians. The prints were ripped, but I was able to repair them and still include them in my thesis show. At that time, my work focused on Asian identity and I often incorporated my experiences as a Japanese woman. Invisibility/visibility of Asian bodies and voices was also important to me. Today, we are still grappling with the invisibility of Asian people. The piece for my thesis (the last image) was called “Perpetual Self Discipline,” which also spoke to the model minority myth, self-discipline as something that many people of Asian descent may be familiar with.”

Detail showing prints of three female students as they sat with their hands clasped.

My History not my memory, detail

Image 1 & 2:
My History not my memory
Naoe Suzuki [artist]
Xerox transfer on Japanese paper
10 ‘x 15’

Installation view. Larger than life size figures are printed on paper with red ink. There are two rows of them hanging. Figures are wearing exercise bloomers often worn by Japanese students. In front of the are cast glass of dumbbells.

Perpetual Self Discipline

Image 3:
Perpetual Self Discipline
Naoe Suzuki [artist]
Xerox transfer on Japanese paper, cast glass of dumbbells and video, Size variable
1996 – 1997


New National Palace Museum database available

Seated Buddha 550-577 AD Northern Ch'i Dynasty

The Fine Arts Library has subscribed to the online database produced by the National Palace Museum in Taipei.  The site contains high quality digital images of objects in the Museum’s collection as well as catalog information about each object in English, Chinese and Japanese.  There are also chronologies and other documents related to the history of Chinese art.

Access is also provided to digital copies of all Museum periodical publications (1983-2010). One can browse the table of contents of every issue by year of publication and by volume number. In addition, you can browse articles by topic (e.g. painting, prints, archaeology, etc.). Full text downloads and prints are available. However, please note that the publications are in Chinese only.

The database is available as an E-Resource on the Harvard Library portal.