܀ European maps of the Islamic world acted as windows into the many different cultures, rituals, religions, and customs of the vast regions and ethnicities of the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires. Along with traditional maps, historical atlases included prints of city views, studies of architectural monuments, and anthropological portraits of people encountered abroad. Details of local fashion, famous sites, or curious and noteworthy traditions, both religious and secular, were of equal interest. These maps and views allowed European “armchair travelers” to learn and experience the Islamic world without ever actually leaving the comfort of their home libraries. One could read medieval Persian poetry of Hafez, browse fashion styles of the royal women of Istanbul, or observe Islamic religious rituals through printed atlases, such as the ones compiled here. ܀
Wall Painting of a European-Persian Garden Banquet
Photograph Courtesy of Mohammad Sarraf.
Of course there were also Islamic studies of Europeans and their exotic customs. While there are some extant examples of Ottoman books depicting European costumes, these anthropological studies survive mostly as separate works of art rather than bound and printed books. In the mural shown here, just one of the hundreds of wall frescoes that decorated the Safavid capital Isfahan, Persians are depicted alongside figures from a variety of diverse nations, including India, China, and Europe, creating a Safavid version of a figural wall map. The figures in brimmed hats with lace collars represent European visitors to the Safavid court.