Charles Melville will be the Central Asia Visiting Professor in November 2017

Charles Melville, Professor of Persian History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Pembroke College, will be the Central Asia Visiting Professor from 20 November until 1 December 2017. Charles Melville will deliver a guest lecture on Thursday, 23 November, co-organized with LUCIS, and a masterclass on Monday, 27 November within the Central Asia Initiative at Leiden University.

Charles Melville

Charles Melville holds a BA Hons. in Oriental Studies (University of Cambridge), MA in Islamic History (London SOAS) and PhD. in Oriental Studies (University of Cambridge). He is Professor of Persian History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Pembroke College.

Charles Melville

Charles Melville

Charles Melville has published extensively on the history and culture of Iran in the Mongol to Safavid periods, and the illustration of Persian manuscripts and the Shahnama of Firdausi. Recent publications include “Rashīd al-Dīn and the Shāhnāmeh”, JRAS 26/1-2 (2016), 201-14; “The end of the Ilkhanate and after. Observations on the collapse of the Mongol World Empire”, in Bruno de Nicola & Charles Melville (eds), The Mongols’ Middle East: Continuity and Transformation in Ilkhanid Iran (Leiden, 2016), 309-35, and “The illustration of the Turko-Mongol era in the Berlin Diez albums”, in Julia Gonnella, Friedrike Weis & Christoph Rauch (eds), The Diez Albums. Contexts and contents (Leiden, 2016), 221-42.

Lecture Thursday, 23 November: Illustrating the history of Tamerlane

17:00-18:30 hrs

Lipsius Building
Cleveringaplaats 1
Room 227
2311 BD Leiden

The lecture is part of WHAT's NEW?! LUCIS Fall Lecture Series

A kingly image
The career of Timur (or Tamerlane, c. 1335–1405 ) was marked by brutal and protracted military campaigns that led to the subjection (if not the pacification) of vast swathes of territory from Central Anatolia and Northern Syria in the West to Central Asia and Northern India in the East, embracing the Caucasus and the Iranian Plateau in the process. These expeditions and the slaughter they perpetrated were visited almost without exception against fellow Muslim rulers and their hapless subjects. Nevertheless, Timur was glorified with elevated titles and regarded as a role model for rulership not only within the Timurid dynasty that he founded but also by neighbouring and later regimes, such as the Ottomans in Turkey, the Mughals in India (who traced their descent from Timur) and the Safavids in Persia (16th–17th c.).

The creation of Timur’s kingly image was the work of his chroniclers and in particular the achievement of ‘Ali Yazdi, whose literary masterpiece, the Zafar-nama (‘Book of Victory’) was commissioned by Timur’s grandson, Ibrahim-Sultan, prince governor of Shiraz in southern Persia (r. 1415–1435). Yazdi’s work became a byword for rhetorical elegance and was reproduced in many tens of manuscripts; some of these, including the first known copy, dated 1436, were illustrated. My paper will present the corpus of illustrated manuscripts and the paintings they contain, and seek to identify the subjects most commonly depicted during the century that followed, in the context in which they were produced, with references also to other works documenting Timur’s career.

Among these, especially, I will seek to distinguish royal or court commissions, such as those produced for Timur’s descendants, from provincial or commercial ones produced in the next century, and the effect this may have had on the choice of scenes to illustrate. It is also interesting to consider how stable was the written text over repeated copying, including the wording and placement of text headings, but the absence of a fixed iconographic cycle, and the large number of unique depictions of scenes. Among these, it is helpful to distinguish between ‘generic’ scenes of battle, single combats, hunting and the ruler’s court, and specific scenes of particular events, for which a knowledge of the text is necessary."

This lecture is co-organized by the Central Asia Initiative at Leiden University and LUCIS. 

Masterclass Monday, 27 November: Text-image relationships in Persian manuscripts

Houghton Library

Houghton Library

15:15-18:00 hrs

Verbarium (Room 104)
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden

Although the juxtaposition of verbal and visual passages on an illustrated manuscript page is an obvious one, the topic of their relationship has not been adequately addressed in the scholarship on Islamic art. Partly this is due to the different interests and background of historians of literature and of art, the former being primarily concerned with linguistic and textual issues – establishing correct readings, noting variants, editing, translating and understanding the authors’ work. Art historians, on the other hand, until relatively recently have concentrated on aesthetic issues, connoisseurship, the identification of artists, schools and styles, and analysis of composition, colour, ‘realism’ etc. Even when the context of the painting is discussed, it tends to be the context of production – and issues of patronage, audience, or precedents – rather than the verbal context. This is witnessed by the normal habit of reproducing images in art books with the text cropped away, even though the essential point of a miniature painting (and perhaps ones in other media) is to illustrate a text, be it a story or an allusion to one. The topic is even more neglected when it comes to historical rather than poetic or literary texts (although the distinction is often not clear cut).

Our session will explore the state of the field in western art history before looking at the theory and practice of illustrating texts in the Persian tradition, and the additional dimensions of understanding how the relationship between text and image – whether close or distant – can enhance our analysis of these works, how they were perceived and received over time, rather than merely decorated.

The masterclass is open only to MA, MA research and PhD students. To register and receive all readings, please contact Dr Elena Paskaleva at:

Last Modified: 09-10-2017