Humanities and Arts
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When I began studying the Miftāḥ al-Fużalāʾ (Key of the Learned), Robert Skelton, the doyen of the art of the book in India, challenged me to imagine the many other manuscripts that would have been available to the artists who made this book. Attributed to the central Indian sultanate of Malwa, the Miftāḥ is the only known illustrated Persian dictionary (farhang) in the Islamicate manuscript tradition. For its fifteenth-century makers, the Miftāḥ was a wholly new text, written in 1468–69 by Muhammad ibn Muhammad Daʾud Shadiyabadi. The Miftāḥ required its artists to search for and codify visual representations of particular words from canonized manuscript genres such as the Islamicate cosmography (ʿajāʾib al-makhlūqāt) or works of belles-lettres (adab). This process of selectively adapting from an array of genres in order to create a new one, namely the illustrated farhang, would have allowed artists to experiment with the Islamicate manuscript tradition in India. By illustrating definitions, the Miftāḥ also became a manual on literary and visual languages for students in the fifteenth century. This article demonstrates that the book was conceived as a didactic work intended to educate members of sultanate society.