Courting to contract
love and marriage in Iran

21 May –
20 November 2016

Recommend this exhibition

Detail, Lovers in a garden. Painted in the style of ᶜAbd Allah. Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Bukhara, c. 1560–1570. Bequeathed by Percival Chater Manuk and Miss G M Coles and funded by the Art Fund, 1948,1009,0.57

This small display celebrates the traditions associated with love, courtship and marriage in Iran and neighbouring regions.

‘A heart without love is a body without a soul. A soul lives forever because of love.’ So wrote the Persian poet, scholar and mystic, Jami (1414–1492), on love – of all subjects, perhaps the most universal to humankind. In Persianate culture, the theme of love has permeated literature, art and music for thousands of years.

In the display, love and courtship are explored through drawings, illustrated manuscript pages and objects, depicting intimate scenes and classical Persian accounts of celebrated romances. Illuminated Persian marriage contracts (ghabaleh), along with a Judaeo-Persian example (ketubbah) and an Old Babylonian contract carved onto a clay tablet, reflect the legal and social aspects of marriage and its roots in ancient tradition. The works are complemented by a number of richly embroidered textiles, including wedding garments and accessories.

Dating mainly between the 1500s and the 20th century, these objects situate love and marriage within the histories, narratives and contexts of people from the Middle East and Central Asia.

Bridal outfit of Esther Manassah. Silk, cotton and gilded lace. Baghdad, Iraq, about 1865. Gift of Mrs R.E. Rea, As1971,09.2-3