Friday, August 19, 2016

Bibi Ferzana and Her Flowers

Often, the plants that appear in Indian miniature paintings are just stylized herbage that does not represent a particular species, or only a few key kinds of plant, such as lotuses, banana plants, or mango trees are identifiable among a backdrop of generalized foliage or flowers. On the other hand, there are also many works that evince a great interest in the identifiable, botanically accurate representation of most or all the flora they contain. The below painting of one Bibi Ferzana - her name is inscribed in tiny nasta'līq script right under the hem of her skirt to her left - is such a work, all about that botanical accuracy.

 Bibi Ferzana; watercolor, ink, and gold on paper; Mughal Empire, ca. 1675

The star of this composition - apart from the lovely Ferzana, of course - is clearly the Caesalpinia pulcherrima shrub she is facing. In Indian Persian and Hindi-Urdu, this plant bears the delightful name گل طرہ गुले तुर्रा gul-e urrah or "turban ornament flower". Ferzana is holding a flowering stem of Narcissus tazetta - very much the standard narcissus species in much of pre- and early modern West, South, and East Asia - presumably just plucked from the clump just to her left. Just in front of the clump of narcissi is a tiny orange-red species tulip - Tulipa linifolia? Tulipa vvedenskyi? Tulipa greigii? - which echoes the tulips on the hanging sash of Bibi Ferzana's outfit. At the bottom of the image, two clumps of what I believe are supposed to be small-flowered double white chrysanthemums - گل داؤدی गुलदाउदी gul-e dā'ūdī or 'David's flower' in Persian and Urdu-Hindi - flank an orange African marigold (Tagetes erecta) and a small, feathery cockscomb (Celosia cristata) with purplish leaves. The only flower I have not been able to identify to any degree is the little pink spike to the right of the Caesalpinia pulcherrima, which appears to be the same type of flower that ornaments the fabric of Bibi Ferzana's pants. Does anyone have any idea what it might be?

Source: LACMA

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