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Image from the Persian Manuscripts

Persian Collection

Our collection of Persian manuscripts is one of the top four in the UK and the only major Persian manuscript collection that has never been catalogued. The collection contains almost one thousand manuscripts dating from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Produced across the Persianate world, these manuscripts are a tangible demon­stration of the widespread significance of Persian culture.

Beautiful illustrated manuscripts from across seven centuries provide a window into one of the most decorative periods of the history of the book. There are numerous calligraphic and lavishly illustrated texts and decorated bindings for scholars to study and everybody to enjoy.

Poetry is especially well represented with a number of works of great academic interest. However, the manuscripts encompass a wide range of subjects and are important for the study of language, history, art history, religion and theology, philosophy, and the history of science. 

Highlights from the collection include illuminated manuscripts of the Shahnameh and Qazwini’s ʻAjāyib al-Makhlūqāt, a very early manuscript of the Kalīlah wa-Dimnah, and a rare illustrated Arda Wiraf Namah. 

These fragile treasures need specialist attention to ensure that we can provide the widest possible access, whilst ensuring their long-term preservation.

If this collection can be preserved and fully catalogued; who knows what exciting discoveries may lie ahead! Donor support can enable us to develop projects and posts to work on this collection as a priority.

Progress so far

Donor support has enabled us to complete a preliminary stage of a project to undertake the essential task of cataloguing, conserving and digitising the collection.

With the support of the Iran Heritage Foundation, we have:

  • Converted an unpublished index of manuscripts to standardised electronic records
  • Uploaded these standardized records to Fihrist, a searchable interface of basic manuscript descriptions

 With the support of the British Institute of Persian Studies, we are currently:

  • Producing a number of fuller descriptions of manuscripts, based on existing documentation, including brief codicological descriptions, summaries of intellectual content, manuscript histories, and bibliographical data 
  • Digitising five complete illuminated manuscripts and making these images available online via LUNA, for everyone to access free of charge 
  • Linking Fihrist records to available digital images

Soudavar Memorial Foundation logo‌With the support of The Soudavar Memorial Foundation:

  • We appointed James White as the Soudavar Fellow in 2017. Over six weeks, James completed a cataloguing project of 24 of some of the most intriguing Persian literary manuscripts in the collection. XML entries are being made available on Fihrist to contribute to a more detailed understanding of the Persian works in the Rylands collections.

We are now eager to build on these foundations by fully cataloguing, conserving and digitising the collection to bring it to the attention of an international audience for the very first time. By doing so, we will create the conditions for world-leading and innovative scholarship to flourish.

Future projects

We wish to conserve more items from the collection, including repairs to bindings, paper repairs and pigment consolidation, as required.  It is also important to ensure the long-term preservation of the collection by housing it in bespoke boxes. We also wish to digitise a selection of the most rare and unique manuscripts, giving free access to the international community through our online image platform LUNA.

Our objectives are to:

  • uncover the astonishing research potential of the collection, by means of a detailed, online scholarly catalogue, searchable in English and Persian;
  • provide free online access to high quality images of approximately 100 of the most rare and/or significant manuscripts, making them accessible to researchers across the globe;
  • build international links with communities of academic and professional experts in the field of Persian studies.