By Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art
Freer | Sackler - The Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art
Folio from a Haft Awrang (Seven Thrones): The Townsman Robs the Villager's Orchard (1556-1565) by JamiSmithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art
Gardens in West and South Asia consisted of royal pleasure gardens, tomb gardens, flower gardens, orchards, groves, and temple gardens.
Architectural features such as pavilions, canopied platforms, kiosks, and tents were also essential to royal gardens.
These structures offered shade and a resting place for viewing the cultivated surrounds and served as symbols of the sovereignty of the ruler.
Let's take a closer look at "The Townsman Robs the Villager's Orchard" a 16th century Iranian folio from a copy of Haft Awrang (Seven thrones) by Jami.
According to the poem, this orchard resembles a "garden of paradise." To make the scene look like paradise, the artist has filled the garden with colorful birds, vines, pomegranate and plum trees.
One of the most popular trees found in orchards in Iran are pomegranate trees, and they are often included in paintings. The flowers are bright red, and the leathery skin of the fruit ranges from pale yellow to crimson red. Its tart, succulent seeds are the staple of many Persian dishes. As pomegranate trees are drought tolerant, they are ideal for Iran's dry climate.
The large tree at the back is an Oriental plane tree, known as chinar in Persian. The tree is related to the American Sycamore. A common tree in Persian gardens, the plane tree has large, deeply lobed leaves and its bark is usually flaky, but it can also become thick and gnarled. Plane trees grow in most climates, but benefits from hot summers.
Persian gardens often included pavilions, offering visitors such as these elegantly dressed youths a place to rest and view the surrounding landscape. Pavilions were ideally located near a pool or a stream and decorated with tiles and paintings to create a perfect setting.
This visitor from town is breaking off branches and tearing fruit off the tree, while the owner of the orchard looks on helplessly, lamenting the inconsiderate behavior of his guest.
The figure at the doorway is the gardener of the orchard, identifiable by his spade. He is offering a large bunch of grapes to a beggar, a gesture conveying his kindness and charity. This contrasts with the insensitive behavior of the visitor breaking branches.
Like most gardens in Iran, this orchard is surrounded by a high brick wall, which defines its limits and offers privacy for the occupants. A wooden gate in the lower right provides access to the exterior.
The yellow leaves and the pomegranate tree, which bears fruit in the late summer, suggest that the artist has represented the orchard in the fall season.
Many royal gardens in Iran and India were located outside the city limits, as is the case here. Walls often surrounded gardens, separating them from their harsh, arid surroundings and emphasizing their private and secluded nature. For the public, such enclosed gardens became symbolic expressions of the king's power and control over his domain.