Mary and the Infant Jesus

Mary and the Infant Jesus, circa 1570s–1580s. Turkey, Ottoman period, or Iran, Safavid period. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul.

This image of Mary (known as Maryam in the Qur’an) is from a falnama, a rare illustrated text used by the ruling elite of the 16th-century Islamic world to practice bibliomancy—the art of divination or prophecy through text. The practice of bibliomancy was thought to deliver insight into the world of the unknown. Here we see Maryam surrounded by a verdant landscape and nursing the infant Isa (Jesus). In their intimate embrace, Maryam offers her breast as Isa offers a pomegranate in return. Golden flames create a halo around their heads, signifying their sanctity. The composition is one of contradictions—the inconsistent scale and dissonant color palette creates drama in an otherwise serene setting. Notice how Maryam is disproportionately large while the baby Isa, depicted as a tiny adult, is relatively small. The figure watching the scene from the distant hillside represents a heavenly being or angel.

Mary and the Infant Jesus, circa 1570s–1580s.

(adj.) Of or related to the empire founded by Turks at the turn of the 14th century C.E. and lasting into the early 20th century. (n.) One from that empire.

An inspired message related by a prophet; also, the process whereby a prophet relates inspired messages to others.

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