Flower Garden

University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives. For a digitization of the entire book, see:


Sa'di, Gulistan and Bustan, 1600-1699?, Edward Burgess manuscript collection 043, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon. MS 43.

As treasured and well-known the words of Shakespeare are to us in the West, so too are those of Sa’di for Persians. To this day in Iran, students read the collection of short stories and poems from this illuminated manuscript of Gulistan and Bustan as part of their education, and long after school many adults still have the beautiful introductory words on this ornate first page memorized. According to a bookseller’s catalogue entry, this manuscript belonged to John Ruskin, the preeminent art theorist of Victorian England. He described his view on a Persian manuscript as “wrought with wreathed azure and gold, and soft green, and violet, and ruby and scarlet, into one field of pure resplendence. It is wrought to delight the eyes only; and it does delight them.” This intricate design is typical for Persian works of art, and can even be found in the patterns of modern Persian carpets. Gold, red, and blue colors border the text in a frame and illuminate the pages with varying floral and leaf patterns. Microscopy of a similar Persian manuscript suggests that vermilion may have been used as red ink and in the floral decorations, while red lead was employed as a principal hue or tempered with vermilion. The brilliant blue pigment most likely comes from ultramarine, a highly expensive material yet common for important, well-done illuminated manuscripts. The generous use of gold on every page further adds to the expense and high value of this manuscript, both in its time and beyond. The calligraphic texts are written with a black ink in the Nasta’liq script; words or punctuation appearing in red ink signal the end of one story and the beginning of another. While the manuscript itself dates to 1615 CE, it wasn’t bound in red velvet with silver clasps until later in Europe. Sa’di initially wrote the verses of Bustan (meaning “garden”) and one year later, he wrote the mostly prose book, Gulistan (meaning “a place with flowers”); this manuscript thus combines both literary masterpieces in one.  

Elmira Louie