Islamic Arts of the Book at the Smithsonian: Providing for Research Across Disciplines


Together, the Freer and Sackler have the finest collections of illustrated manuscripts from the Islamic world in the U. S. The collections contain extremely rare illustrated texts, tremendous depth in certain formative periods, such as fourteenth-century and sixteenth century Iran, and thematic depth in illustrated copies of the Shanama. These rare texts have no searchable or comprehensive catalogue, yet they could offer an incomparable resource for inter-disciplinary research. The challenge is to produce catalogue records for a museum collection compatible with description standards used by libraries. Comprising 1,200 manuscripts and folios of paintings and calligraphy, the collections include Korans from the late eighth to the late nineteenth centuries, but are especially celebrated for illustrated literary works from Iran. These works include Balami’s Tarikhnama (ca. 1300), probably the earliest extant illustrated world history from the Islamic world, and one of two extant copies in the world of the Divan (collected works) of Sultan Husayn Jalayir (1402), containing the earliest examples of ink drawings from West Asia. The Freer and Sackler also hold the largest repositories in the United States of illustrated texts and individual paintings of the Shahnama (Book of kings) by Firdawsi (d. 1020), the Khamsa (Quintet) by Nizami (d.1209) and the Haft Awrang (Seven thrones) by the fifteenth century poet Jami (d. 1492).


Cataloging Hidden Collections

Amount Awarded

Year Added



Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery


  • Massumeh Farhad

Collection Size

1166 objects

Date Range

990 - 1899

Geographic Scope

The collections cover a geographic area that extends from Afghanistan in the east to North Africa and Spain in the West.