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Category: Welch Islamic and South Asian Collection

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).



Coloring Book from the Welch Collection

By popular demand, and to brighten your quarantines, the Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection has come out with a coloring book! These images are all from this fantastic open-access collection, and we hope you’ll have fun with it.

Feel free to use the links in the coloring book to see the full-color versions, or just go with your imagination! We’d love to see your completed pictures! If you’d like to share, use the hashtags #ColoringWelch and #ColorOurCollections, or tag us at @HarvardFineArtsLibrary on Instagram,  @MENALibAHS on Twitter, #harvardfineartslib on Tumblr, and follow us if you haven’t already.

Click on the image below to download our 2020 coloring book.


Front cover of the coloring book

Coloring Book from the Welch Collection




Stuart Cary Welch Islamic & South Asian Photograph Collection – Part 5. Overview: Islamic Art in Private Collections

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

The importance of our open access Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Digital Images Collection has been noted in this series of blog posts. Yet, since the research, digitization, and cataloging of the collection is an on-going effort, we have not developed any systematic general description of this resource. But as the number of digitized images has grown, we have begun to define broad categories of images that could help researchers and art lovers around the world better understand what the Welch Collection can offer to them. This multi-part series from the project’s staff cataloger Alice West aims to highlight key strengths of the Welch Collection as a whole. In her first post, West describes one of the important subsets of the collection: works in private collections.

In this digital era, it may seem that anything one needs to find is readily available online. Yet researchers in any field, and in the field of Islamic art in particular, know that this perception is deceiving. Relative to the overall number of important Islamic manuscripts and artifacts, the number of their images available online or, for that matter, in print, is surprisingly low. There are many reasons for this, including shortage of technical and financial resources available for digitization efforts, as well as the unwillingness of institutions and private collectors to share their treasures with the public due to economic, political, ownership, and other concerns.

The Welch Collection fills in some of the ‘digital gaps’ by offering images from multiple sources that may not be otherwise available to the public. What are these gaps? One of the largest in terms of accessibility is private collections. Initially assembled for personal enjoyment, many prominent private collections from the late 19th–mid-20th century were later sold, bequeathed, or transferred to permanent hold to public museums and libraries. These include the collections of Calouste Gulbenkian, Victor Goloubew, Nasli Heeramaneck, Edmund de Unger, Leo S. Figiel, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, and many others. The majority of these collections have been fully or partially digitized by the hosting institutions. At the same time, many of the collections stayed private and are closed to the public eye. Although our digitization effort is not completed, we can already say that the Welch Collection holds hundreds of images of paintings, calligraphy, and decorative art that are currently held in otherwise inaccessible private collections, including that of B. W. Robinson, Bedros Sevadjian, Stuart Cary Welch, and many anonymous owners.

Periodically, objects from these collections are offered at auctions such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s, and one may find their images online or in older auction catalogs. These are, however, expensive and not widely available. Even when an image is available on the auctioneer’s website, Welch’s collection, in most cases, offers a superior image or its details (close-ups).


Side-by-side photos of painting from a private collection, illustrating the superior quality of the images from the Welch collection. On left, a bearded man in a jeweled turban and earrings is shown in profile from the waist up, seated formally on a red divan and holding a white teacup. Image has a soft focus and yellow hues. Same photo on right (Welch collection) has dramatically higher resolution.

A Portrait of Raja Bhao Singh of Bundi. 18th century. Private collection. Detail. (Pic. 1a. Left: Photo: Sotheby’s. Pic. 1b. Right: Welch Collection)


An example of one such object is A Portrait of Raja Bhao Singh of Bundi, currently in a private collection. This portrait was sold in May 2006 by Sotheby’s, and its image is still available on the auctioneer’s website (1a. picture on the left). The Welch’s image, however, is obviously crisper and clearer in comparison, and its high resolution also allows for excellent close-ups (1b. picture on the right).


Side-by-side views of a miniature painting, illustrating detail visible only in the close up photos of the Welch collection. Full-view panel on left depicts a ruler sitting cross-legged on a platform surrounded by courtiers, with candles and wine set before him. Worshippers in the background gaze at the new moon from the flat rooftop of a tall building. The detail at right (Welch collection) reveals two young male courtiers in turbans and richly-embroidered clothing, praying with eyes closed and hands raised against a night sky.

Divan of Hafez, Celebration of ‘Id. c. 1527, private collection. Full view (Pic. 2a. Left ) and detail (Pic. 2b. Right). Photo: Welch Collection.


Another example is Celebration of ‘Id from a dispersed Divan of Hafez, which is a relatively well-known miniature held by the private Art and History Trust of the Soudavar family and seen in several publications, most notably on the cover of Abolala Soudavar’s large volume of Reassessing Early Safavid Art and History. The Welch collection, however, offers quite a different look at this miniature by providing an amazing level of detail in its forty five unique high-resolution images of the miniature’s different sections (2a – 2d).


Three gem-studded gold bottles with long elegant necks on an elaborately-decorated low hexagonal table.

Pic. 2c. Divan of Hafez, Celebration of ‘Id. c. 1527. Detail.  Photo: Welch Collection.


Woman in festive clothing with henna designs on her hands, peeking from behind a window curtain embroidered with gold dragons.

Pic. 2d. Divan of Hafez, Celebration of ‘Id. c. 1527, private collection. Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.


Of particular interest to researchers are the privately-held works that are not currently available to the public at all, as well as those that are only in limited professional publications as mere descriptions or, at best, as poor quality black-and-white photographs. The Welch Collection will be the only accessible repository where researchers can examine these objects in detail and in color. The beautiful Safavid album drawing below entitled Seated Girl, ca. 1600, is in a private collection in London (pic. 3). It is signed by Habib-allah of Mashhad, one of the artists in the court of Shah ‘Abbas the Great at Isfahan (Iran), and is an example of Habib-allah’s “faultless line,” and the elegant, flowing ease of the Safavid drawings [1].


Ink drawing of a young woman seated outdoors on the ground, beneath orange and purple clouds. Possibly holding a pear. A shawl over her head and shoulders is held in place by a red headband decorated with a black feather just above the forehead. The figure is drawn in contour lines with light touch, while heavier ink highlights the face, eyebrows, and long wavy sidelocks.

Pic. 3. Habib-allah of Mashhad,  Seated Girl. c. 1600, private collection. Photo: Welch Collection.


While our Welch Collection holds only one, full view, digital representation of Seated Girl, another picture from a private collection in Cambridge, MA, entitled Chinese Ladies in a French Chateau Garden, has twelve associated detailed images. Indeed, this painting abounds in different subjects scattered all over that warrant a closer look. Painted in the early 1800s in India, it is attributed, at least partially, to a Mewar artist Chokha and, according to Andrew Topsfield, represents “an anthology of borrowed European and Far Eastern themes, deriving from French fashion prints and mid-18th century Chinese export paintings …” [2]. A single low-resolution full view of this painting is featured in Topsfield’s paper (pic. 4a), but it is Welch’s collection that lets you explore it closer in twelve hi-resolution images of details (pic. 4b-d).


Two ladies in a French garden, standing near a black table with a blue-and-white porcelain vase. One figure holds a flower pot and another a round Chinese fan. A chateau is seen in the background.

Pic. 4a. Chokha (attr.), Chinese ladies in French chateau garden. Early 19th century, Mewar, Rajasthan (India). Private collection, Cambridge, MA. Photo: Artibus Asiae.


Tree with pink flowers against rolling blue hills. A small white dragon curls around a branch looking down on a temple.

Pic. 4b. Chokha (attr.), Chinese ladies in French chateau garden. Early 19th century, Mewar, Rajasthan (India). Private collection, Cambridge, MA. Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.


Europeans in 18th century fashion, walking among flower beds.

Pic. 4c. Chokha (attr.), Chinese ladies in French chateau garden. Early 19th century, Mewar, Rajasthan (India). Private collection, Cambridge, MA. Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.


A blue-and-white porcelain vase with curved handles and golden lid. The design on the vase depicts a European couple with dog.

Pic. 4d. Chokha (attr.), Chinese ladies in French chateau garden. Early 19th century. Mewar, Rajasthan (India). Private collection, Cambridge, MA. Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.


A popular image of Shah Jahan on the Peacock Throne exists in several versions, one of which is in a private collection. This particular painting with its beautiful margins featuring botanicals and birds is available through Wikimedia, but despite of its large size its details fall far behind the ones from of the Welch Collection (pic. 5b-d).


Two fowl birds, each in its own frame of dark twigs against gold background, looking at each other.

Pic. 5a. Shah Jahan on the Peacock Throne. 1634–1635, India, private collection. Detail. Photo: Wikimedia.


High quality image of same bird painting revealing white spotted chest feathers , yellow eyes, rough paper texture, and other details.

Pic. 5b. Shah Jahan on the Peacock Throne. 1634–1635, India, private collection. Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.


Finally, we would like to share with you a preparatory study titled Four Views of a Baby Elephant at Play from Stuart Cary Welch’s own private collection (pic. 6a-c). As a symbol of intellectual and mental strength in Hinduism and the Indian culture, elephants were a popular subject in Indian art. This baby elephant adorned with golden bells is painted with realism and grace characteristic of the Kotah drawing masters.


Four views of a cheerful gray baby elephant against a yellow background; three kneeling and one standing on hind legs, arranged in a circle. The elephant wears gold bells dangling off a thin white collar. Two small figures, possibly trainers, lunge in opposite directions in top right corner.

Pic. 6a. Four Views of a Baby Elephant at Play. c. 1720–1730, Rajasthan, Kota (India). Full view. Photo: Welch Collection.


Contour line drawing of lunging male figure with hands spread apart, wearing cloth around his waist. There’s a hint of light red on his undergarments and turban.

Pic. 6b. Four Views of a Baby Elephant at Play. c. 1720–30, Rajasthan, Kota (India). Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.


Profile of baby elephant with chin bristles, wrinkles in skin of extended trunk, and a pink tongue in a smiling mouth.

Pic. 6c. Four Views of a Baby Elephant at Play. c. 1720–30, Rajasthan, Kota (India). Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.


To browse rare images from private collections assembled by Stuart Cary Welch, go to and in Advanced Search set Image Repository to “private collection” and Keyword Anywhere to “Welch”.

In subsequent blog posts in this series, we will continue talking about the different categories of images that one can find in the collection. As we continue to catalog these exciting (and open access!) images, we hope that whenever you search our collection, you will find just what you were looking for!


[1] Robinson, B. W. Picture Book of Persian Paintings. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1965, p. 17.

[2] Topsfield, Andrew. “Court Painting at Udaipur: Art under the Patronage of the Maharanas of Mewar.” Artibus Asiae. Supplementum, Vol. 44, Court Painting at Udaipur: Art under the Patronage of the Maharanas of Mewar (2002), p. 230.



Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection – Pt. 4

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


The Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection is a great resource for research, and not just for art historians. A PhD candidate in the Department of South Asian Studies, I have had the privilege of working with the images in the collection as a student cataloger since the beginning of this year. Exploring Stuart Cary Welch’s often masterfully beautiful images of artwork and architecture from South Asia and the wider Islamic World is a joy in its own right. There are photographs of works not published elsewhere, and while these often present a frustrating challenge for us as catalogers, they are nonetheless a bit like buried treasure when one comes upon them. Yet even of comparatively well-known pieces the collection sometimes has better – clearer, brighter, higher-resolution – images than those available in printed publications or elsewhere online. Moreover, Welch frequently took detail shots of interesting features of a work; these are particularly valuable in the case of Indian and Iranian manuscript illuminations and album paintings, with their often small size but prodigious detail. However, the time spent with the collection has also turned out to be quite fruitful for my own research, and has resulted in ample visual material to weave into my dissertation.


Emperor Jahangir with Holy Men in a Garden


My project focuses on horticultural writing and garden culture in Mughal India – that is, the role of gardens and gardening in the intellectual and social life of early modern South Asia, and its reflection across a wide variety of literary genres. Images of gardens, horticultural practices, and plants in Mughal and Rajput paintings are an important complement to these texts, or even a set of texts in themselves. Take, for instance, the above painting of Mughal Emperor Jahangir in a garden by the court artist Abu’l Hasan, painted between 1615 and 1620. Not only does it reflect garden layout – a central watercourse, a pavilion set into the garden’s enclosing wall, rectangular, slightly sunken flowerbeds – but also an identifiable plant palette of Oriental plane trees and narcissi and irises in the flowerbeds. While all three of these plants frequently appear in Mughal painting as motifs inherited from Persian literature and Timurid pictorial tradition, their combined and realistic appearance here, in conjunction with the absence of any of the tropical plants frequently depicted in Mughal art, suggests that this is meant to be a garden in the temperate parts of the Mughal Empire in Kashmir or Afghanistan. The crowd of scholars and noblemen around Jahangir and the cauldron set up to prepare food point to the social use of gardens as a setting for various types of receptions, while the minutely detailed candles and torches indicate that this particular event is taking place at night.


Garden Scene from Album of Indian Paintings and Calligraphy


A similar level of detail can be discerned in this next scene above painted around the same time and now included in an album held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Here, however, the garden is only populated by three human figures: two gardeners, one with a spade and one with an animal skin filled with water, and a woman who has evidently been collecting flowers from the garden, as she is holding a bouquet in one hand and a leaf bowl of white blossoms in the other. The sunken beds in this garden are densely planted with trees, flowering shrubs, and some herbaceous flowers. In the background, a border of poppies is blooming brightly against a dense wall of trees. About a century later, an artist at the court of the Emperor Muhammad Shah produced a rendering of a garden that appears to synthesize all the features discussed in the elaborate garden set pieces of contemporary Indian literary works, such as these in a passage from a lengthy garden description in the Masnavī-i dilpazīr of Sa‘ādat Yār Khān ‘Rangīn’ (1757-1835), written in 1798:

Across from the central gate was a canal / Whose waves were no less than those of the Narmada River
All the way from the portico to there / Fountains were spouting forth from it

Cascades were falling from them / As if the rains of Sāvan and Bhādon were falling day and night
In front of them such showers came down / A cloud would be daunted coming before them
The trelliswork on both sides of the walkway / How can anyone describe it!
Having ordered sandalwood and ebony / And having had them split by craftsmen
Wooden pergolas were made / Like those in the squares of Kabul
Grapevines were made to grow all over them / So that no one be bothered by the sun
On both sides water was flowing / In this manner was this walk laid out

In the garden Muhammad Shah visits in the painting, watercourses adorned by impressive fountains run from the stately entrance gateway and an ornate, multi-storied pavilion set into the back wall of the garden to intersect at a square pool in its center. Borders of roses, poppies, marigolds, and other flowers line the paths along the watercourses, and wooden pergolas run along the walls of the garden on either side of the pavilion.


Muhammad Shah in a Garden


Muhammad Shah in a Garden, Detail 1


Muhammad Shah in a Garden, Detail 2


In Stuart Cary Welch’s detail shots, the grape vines trained over the trellises can be discerned particularly well, as can the exquisite detail of the flowering banana plants and campā trees in the row of trees at the very front of the painting. The latter is a type of magnolia, Magnolia champaca, with extremely fragrant yellow flowers which was much celebrated in Indian literary traditions, including in the Persian poetry produced in India by both Indian-born and Iranian émigré poets.


Fort Walls and Garden


Fort Walls and Garden_detail


The last work I chose to highlight, produced by Shaykh Taju at the Rajput court of Kota in Rajasthan in the mid-eighteenth century, is somewhat different from these Mughal works, and a bit of an oddity even for the Kota atelier. It consists of a schematic painting of a fort set at the edge of the lake. Only the walls and gates of the fort are sketched out, except for some lotuses blooming on the lake and a formal flower garden blazing with poppies and other herbaceous flowers within the fort walls. Hard to make out in full view images but very clear in one of Welch’s detail shots, a single banana plant rises amongst the flowers in one of the garden beds. This painting, though perhaps not quite as detailed and realistic as some of the previous examples, corresponds strikingly to a number of observations I make in my dissertation regarding a Sanskrit gardening manual. The Viśvavallabha of Cakrapāṇi Miśra, written around 1577 in the Kingdom of Mewar just to the west of Kota, stresses the planting of gardens inside forts, arguably in a reflection of local architectural realities. It is also unique among Sanskrit horticultural treatises in that it incorporates a number of temperate plants typical of Persianate gardens, many of them under their Persian names. Chief among these is the poppy, which predominates in the flower garden Shaykh Taju painted. The banana, meanwhile, is an Indian native and was a mainstay of Sanskrit gardening texts. As such, it became one of the first plants to be inserted in Persian gardening and farming manuals as they were recompiled and adapted for South Asia in the Mughal period. Shaykh Taju’s garden in its fort setting, then, exemplifies the convergence of textual and horticultural traditions my research traces in a single, poignant image, and serves as a perfect illustration to conclude one of my dissertation chapters.

Similar research possibilities await in the Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection regarding myriad other topics. We strive to tag the image records thoroughly and strategically to make targeted searches as productive as possible. However, it is also worthwhile to just explore the collection. You never know what you might find.

Announcement: Explore our Stuart Cary Welch Islamic & South Asian Photograph Collection!

You’re invited to share in a project with us here at the Harvard Fine Arts Library: a digital humanities game using images of Islamic and South Asian art, with the chance to win an art publication of your choice, worth up to $150 USD!

For more information about The Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection, see the collection page on our website. The collection consists mostly of high-definition photographs of paintings and drawings, both famous and rare, but it also contains images of historical photographs, metalwork, and architecture.

The game is easy! Just register, then click through the images and add tags, separated by commas. Keywords are fine, but the most important details would be any deeper knowledge you can impart (language, style, rough time period/era, story/text identification, motifs, techniques, artist, repository, etc.)

At the end of each round, the participants will be entered into a drawing to win an art book of their choice valued up to $150 USD. NOTE: you do need to register for an account and play the game at least once in order to be entered into the prize drawing!! 


Register HERE (you’ll need to confirm your email)

…then access the game HERE!


The theme for this month is: 

The Natural World: Indian & Islamic Paintings and Drawings



A little taste of themes to come (new rounds will be announced on our Instagram page, @harvardfineartslibrary, so give us a follow!):

The Supernatural World (paintings and drawings)

The Real World (historical and architectural photographs)

Challenge round (Difficult! Metalwork, frontispieces, etc.)


Thanks so much, and we hope you enjoy exploring this exciting collection! If you don’t mind, we’d love your feedback after playing, which you can give via the short form here: Have fun!

Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection – Pt. 3


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

The Stuart Cary Welch South Asian Photograph Collection is a collection of over 60,000 35mm slide images of Islamic and Indian art, which documents artworks from the most prominent civilizations in the Islamicate world spanning the deserts of Uzbekistan all the way through to the Himalayas and onward to the Indian subcontinent. The credit for this collection belongs to its namesake. Stuart Cary Welch made use of his far-flung connections and influence as a renowned curator and art historian to document previously difficult-to-access artworks produced over the course of a millennium. While the Welch collection encompasses artworks of various forms and media in addition to architectural works, painted manuscripts constitute the heart of its contents.

Under the Mughal emperors such as Akbar (reigned 1556–1605), Jahangir (reigned 1605–1627), and Shah Jahan (reigned 1605–1627), royal patronage of the arts produced a great number of paintings, poetry, and exquisite manuscripts chronicling the sumptuous wealth and splendor of the court with its attendant rituals and ceremonies. Such manuscripts displayed the cosmopolitanism and erudition of the emperors for whom they were commissioned. This was also a golden age for Mughal architecture, particularly under Shah Jahan, who commissioned several large monuments including Taj Mahal.[i]



This detached folio from the Jahangirnameh (Memoirs of Jahangir) in the Aga Khan Museum depicts Jahangir appearing before his subjects from a jharoka, or balcony during the darshan ceremony, evoking the royal style of Hindu kings. The darshan ceremony, initiated by Akbar during his reign, emphasized the illuminating power of the emperor through ritual performance.[ii]



Other images convey not only the trappings of imperial wealth in the Mughal court, but also the social arrangements and hierarchy by which the emperor distinguished himself from the nobles and the nobles from the largely Hindu subjects of the empire. Take the example of this painting at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, depicting the Emperor Jahangir in the midst of a darbar. A darbar served an array of purposes including formal discussions of affairs of state and royal ceremonies. Here, Jahangir is seen in an audience hall surrounded by his son Prince Khurram (Shah Jahan) and grandson Prince Shah Shuja, along with courtiers. The position of the courtiers flanking the emperor denotes their privileged status following the strict protocol governing such ceremonies.







Yet another defining feature of Mughal paintings is their striking realism. A painting from the Johnson Album housed in the British Library exemplifies the commitment of commissioned artists to extraordinary detail and naturalism. Jahangir championed this particular style, as reflected in this painting that depicts a hunter scaling a tree. The hunter, whose eyes are set on squirrels high up in the branches, is at the bottom of the tall tree with no shoes. His expression is determined and his right foot is already in climbing action. But, the squirrels above already know that he has no chance. They are going on with their usual business, ignoring the man below. The depictions of squirrels show that the artist spent quite a long time studying them, such that he could accurately capture their busy activities and movements during the autumn season.






The aforementioned images provide just a small glimpse of the artwork documented by Stuart Cary Welch during his long, path-breaking career. Works from the Mughal Empire have been showcased here, and future blog posts will cover the many other empires and societies in which these artworks were generated.


[i] Mughal Empire on Wikipedia: (retrieved on 11/27/17)

[ii] Jahangir at the jharoka window of the Agra Fort, folio from Jahangirnameh (Memoirs of Jahangir) from Aga Khan Museum’s website: (retrieved on 11/27/17)


There will be an exhibit of the Welch Collection images at the Fine Arts Library at Littauer Center from January 22, 2018.

Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection – Pt. 2

Written by Bronwen Gulkis

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

Slides on the light table

Before the widespread availability of high-quality digital images, patrons at the Fine Arts Library viewed images on 35mm film slides, strips of developed film housed in a lightweight metal, plastic, or paper frame. These could be viewed through a slide projector, or at a light table–the Fine Arts Library still has some of these tables in our Lamont location. The library also has over 607,000 slides left from these days, and most scholars and professionals would have kept their own image collections as well. However, this was not always the case. Stuart Cary Welch, the former curator of Indian and Later Islamic art at Harvard, owned a collection of approximately 65,000 slides, which he left to the Fine Arts Library. In a memorial essay for Martin Dickson, “Salute to a Coauthor,” Welch later recalled that when he began amassing his slides, a colleague of his “spurned their use as not quite honorable, akin to cheating at cards.”[1] However unorthodox his methods may have been at the time, they were eventually adopted across the field of Islamic and Indian art.

Like any analogue technology, the clarity and resolution of 35mm slides was dependent on the type of film used and the developing technique. Most of the Stuart Cary Welch collection was photographed on Kodachrome, a proprietary film and emulsion technique owned by Kodak and popular throughout the 20th century. Kodachrome was prized for its archival qualities, since the color dye was added to the film surface in layers during the developing process, allowing for greater clarity, nuance, and pigment stability. However, like all archival materials, slide images degrade over time. The Fine Arts Library staff and our team of photographers has been working to preserve these images by re-photographing the physical slide, and then editing this digital image to restore and their original color balance.

Slides also fostered a unique collaborative way of working. Welch recalled that Martin Dickson, a professor of Persian Studies at Princeton, “underwent trial by color slide” in 1960 upon first visiting the Welch residence to discuss the project that became The Houghton Shahnama.[2]  Veterans of the Fine Arts Library will recall a time when professors prepared for their lectures by sorting slides side by side on a light table and loading them into a carousel. Welch collected images from across America, Europe, the Middle East, and India, and then manually reconstructed manuscripts and artistic communities by grouping dispersed images in the same carousels. As we inventory Welch’s slides, we often come across these carousels, filled with images from his publications and lectures.

Today, it is so easy to access high-quality digital images that we forget the meticulous processes that earlier scholars went through to assemble their image collections. Now that 35mm slide technology is no longer in use, these slides become artifacts of a formative period in the discipline of art history. Our next post will cover some of the treasures of this exciting research collection.




[1] Welch, Stuart Cary. “Salute To A Coauthor: Martin Bernard Dickson”. In Intellectual Studies On Islam: Essays Written In Honor Of Martin B. Dickson, 9. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1990, 9.

[2] Welch 1990, 14.


Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection: Part I

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

Written by Alejandra Dean

In the basement of Lamont Library, a little-known collection is poised to make big contributions to the field of art history. Behind the neatly stacked boxes of microfilm reels and shelves of government documents lining the library’s D-level, a small, tucked-away office provides access to some of the world’s most treasured artworks. Beginning in May of 2017, Lamont’s Room D-10 was transformed to accommodate a collection of over 60,000 35mm slide images of Islamic and Indian art. The collection totals enough to fit 60 small moving boxes and previously belonged to the eminent 20th century scholar Stuart Cary Welch. Cary Welch’s slides were donated to Harvard as part of his estate in 2014, and now a team of students and library staff are working together to unveil this hidden legacy to a larger global audience.

This post inaugurates a new blog series written by the Welch project’s staff and student catalogers. Posts will contextualize how such a unique corpus of images made its way to the Harvard Fine Arts Library and will provide insight into what it’s like to prepare 65,000 slides for a new virtual existence online. To date, upwards of 10,000 Welch slides have already been scanned and published as digital images free to browse and download on Artstor.

But before we start taking a behind-the-scenes look at this process, it’s important to shed some light on the project’s raison d’être: Stuart Cary Welch himself. Known for his role as a curator at both the Metropolitan Museum of Art (from 1979-1987) and Harvard’s Fogg Museum (from 1956-1995), Cary Welch was one of the first art historians in the United States to promote the study of Islamic and Indian art. In his own words:

“Because no courses in Persian or Indian painting were given at Harvard (or elsewhere) during the 1950s, my path to knowledge was autodidactive, through travel and study of collections. This enjoyable program was catalyzed by building an archive of 35mm Kodachrome slides, oddly an innovative practice at that time.”[1]

It may or may not have come as a surprise to Welch, then, that his ‘innovative practice’ would become internationally mainstream over the next few decades. During the second half of the 20th century, university art history departments adopted the use of slides as a pedagogical tool. When digital media replaced analog image technology in the 1990s, these pre-information age collections started to take on new didactic roles beyond the classroom. So what exactly are 35mm slides, how were they used, and why are they important today? Our next post will more closely examine this fascinating film format.

[1] Cary Welch, Stuart. 1990. “Salute To A Coauthor: Martin Bernard Dickson”. In Intellectual Studies On Islam: Essays Written In Honor Of Martin B. Dickson, 9. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press.