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KEY WORDS AND IDEAS
Birth of Islam, Prophet Muhammad, Buraq (celestial steed), manuscript, mihrab (prayer niche), figural painting
LINK TO THE THEME OF THIS UNIT
From a sixteenth-century manuscript of a thirteenth-century literary work, this painting depicts one of the most spiritual and revered episodes in Muhammad's life—his ascension to Heaven.
The Bustan (Orchard) of Sa'di, one of the great works of Persian literature, contains moral advice and illustrated anecdotes. Like other folios featuring the Prophet, this image teaches followers about his life. It was once part of a richly illustrated and illuminated (gilded) manuscript of poetic verses commissioned for private use by a ruler or other wealthy patron.
The Prophet Muhammad is mounted on the celestial steed Buraq at the center of the composition. They ascend to the heavens, guided by the Archangel Gabriel. The illustration clearly distinguishes between the heavenly world of angels and golden clouds, and the earthly world below, where three figures are asleep in a mosque.
Painted by Muslim artists for a Muslim patron, this image portrays the Prophet unveiled, a practice now deemed blasphemous by conservative religious authorities. Throughout Islamic history, however, artists depicted the Prophet both with and without a face veil.