'Abd al-Hayy

page from the "Divan" Ahmada Džalaira by 'Abd al-Hayy, Freer Gallery of Art, 1406-10

Abd al-Hayy al-Lucknawi ʿAbd al-Ḥayy was a Persian illustrator specializing in discreet, miniature art. His career spanned from the late 14th century through the early 15th century.[1] He is most commonly recognized for his wall paintings that decorated many ornate palaces, including the palaces of the Timurid Empire and his monochromatic ink paintings.[2]

Early life and relationships[]

Early life[]

`Abd al-Hayy began his career by training under Shams al-Din, another artist that was well regarded for his art. Shams al-Din most notably worked on The Court of the Jalāyir Sultans of Baghdad.[3] `Abd al-Hayy's training took place primarily during the reign of the Jalayirid Shaikh Awais Jalayir, where he soon became a highly regarded and coveted painter due to skill and unique artistry.[2]


`Abd al-Hayy is commonly associated with Jalayerid Ovays, another notable miniature artist. Ovays is most often regarded as ʿAbd al-Ḥayy's most prominent mentor during his early career.[2]

ʿAbd al-Ḥayy also is often affiliated with Ostāḏ Šams al-dīn, Ovays’s chief painter.[4] Their professional relationship is theorized to have begun during Ovays's reign. During this period, Šams al-dīn spent much of his time and energy instructing ʿAbd al-Ḥayy, where he subsequently became the teacher of Aḥmad b. Ovays. Many suggest that Šams al-dīn’s instruction can be attributed to ʿAbd al-Ḥayy's remarkable success.[4]



`Abd al-Hayy is theorized to have specialized in monochrome ink drawings.[2] More specifically, he often created "black and white brush drawings, embellished with gold highlights and delicate tints."[5]

`Abd al-Hayy also is recognized for his skilled work on the wall paintings at the Timurid palace. While most wall paintings of similar time period and intent depict landscapes and battles, very few depict living figures. `Abd al-Hayy's work contrasts this and his artistic subjects stray from the trends of the 14th century. Of the surviving paintings we can attribute to him, we can see his particular interest in drawing animals, such as ducks and lions.[2]


While the evidence to support theories of `Abd al-Hayy's specializations is minimal, the specialization of ink drawings would match the popular miniaturist styles of the late 14th and early 15th centuries. It has been theorized that ʿAbd al-Ḥayy’s monochrome ink style influenced the styles and trends of wall paintings because much of his work is represented monochromatically.[2]

ʿAbd al-Ḥayy’s also has non monochromatic work attributed to him, directly defying evidence towards his monochromatic specializations. In one particular art piece, a portrait of a sleeping prince is executed in full color and in a style that is more akin to Jonayd Baḡdādī, another popular miniaturist during that time period. The contradiction between this painting’s style and that attributed to ʿAbd al-Ḥayy has not yet been resolved.[2] One potential conclusion is that the name "`Abd al-Hayy" was not uncommon in 15th and 16th century. Due to this, it is impossible that "`Abd al-Hayy" is a conflation of a multitude of artistic figures.[6]

The most significant wall painting that decorated the Timurid Palace and is attributed to Abd al-Hayy is of a woman and child. It is commonly cred to `Abd al-Hayy because of its striking similarity to his marginal drawings in a copy of Ahmad Jalayir's Divan.[7]


`Abd al-Hayy's artistry and unique style went on to influence artists. For example, `Abd al-Hayy's pupil, Ahmad Jalayir, contributed a black and white drawing to a manuscript of the Abūsa῾īdnāma (“Book of Abu Sa῾id”) at the direct influence of `Abd al-Hayy. In addition, a number of folios that are attributed to the late 14th century and preserved in various albums bear the notation that they were copied from ῾Abd al-Hayy's drawings by Muhammad ibn Mahmud Shah Khayyam.[8]

Another of `Abd al-Hayy's pupils, Ahmad Jalayir created similar monochromatic, black and white drawings to accompany his manuscripts in the Abusa'idnama ('Book of Abu Sa'id').[1] While texts from the time period do not directly confirm `Abd al-Hayy's involvement nor influence over these manuscripts, many scholars have concluded with firm certainty that these illustrations were done by `Abd al-Hayy. Evidence for this can be seen in the text of the manuscript that states that the unnamed painter, who was assisted by Aḥmad b. Ovays, prepared an Abū Saʿīd-nāma containing black and white drawings, a signature of `Abd al-Hayy.[2] There are also a number of paintings that explicitly state that they were copied from `Abd al-Hayy's drawings, some of which can be dated back to the late 14th century.[2]


  1. ^ a b "‛Abd al-Hayy." Grove Art Online. 2003. Oxford University Press. Date of access 6 May. 2021, <https://www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000000089>
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i P. P. Soucek, “'Abd-Al-Hayy Kaja,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/2, p. 115; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abd-al-hayy-kaja
  3. ^ Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2016, March 16). Aḥmad Mūsā. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ahmad-Musa
  4. ^ a b Dost, M., & In Cag̲h̲tāʼī, M. A. (1936). A treatise on calligraphists and miniaturists. Lahore: Chabuk Sawaran.
  5. ^ KLIMBURG-SALTER, DEBORAH E. “A SUFI THEME IN PERSIAN PAINTING: THE DIWAN OF SULTAN AHMAD GALA'IR IN THE FREE GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON D.C.” Kunst Des Orients, vol. 11, no. 1/2, 1976, pp. 43–84. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20752468. Accessed 22 May 2021.
  6. ^ ROGERS, J. MICHAEL. “CENTRALISATION AND TIMURID CREATIVITY.” Oriente Moderno, 15 (76), no. 2, 1996, pp. 533–550. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25817434. Accessed 22 May 2021.
  7. ^ "'Abd al-Hayy Brief Bio". Archived from the original on 2021-05-12.
  8. ^ "῾Abd al-Hayy." In The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. Ed. Jonathan M. Bloom, Sheila S. Blair. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. 21-May-2021. <http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com.ezproxy.wellesley.edu/article/opr/t276/e4>.