Image of the Day: “Jonah and the Whale” (Persian Miniature)

Metropolitan Museum of Art | (Persian Miniature Painting) | – –

“Jonah and the Whale”, Folio from a Jami al-Tavarikh (Compendium of Chronicles [A medieval World History])

Inscription: In Persian, on the arms of Jonah:

“The sun’s disk went into darkness, Jonah went into the mouth of the fish.”

The story of Jonah and the Whale, mentioned in the Qur’an (37:139), was popular in the Muslim world and frequently illustrated in manuscripts of world history. This large-scale painting, however, never formed part of a manuscript. Rather, it may have been used during oral recitation or storytelling. Scholars have also suggested that with its strong palette, monumental figures, and spare composition, this work may reflect a now-lost wall painting tradition. Here, we see Jonah after his release from the belly of the fish. Above him, a gourd vine grows—sent by God to protect him from the elements—and, gliding across the top of the painting, a spirited angel with colorful spreading wings offers Jonah a garment.

Object Name:

ca. 1400

Attributed to Iran

Ink, opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper

H. 13 1/4 in. (33.7 cm) W. 19 1/2 in. (49.5 cm)


Credit Line:
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1933

Accession Number:

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 455

4 Responses

  1. Jobah and a whale? Or Jonah and a Great Fish? The Judaeo-Christian scriptures do not refer to a whale – which of course would be smooth skinned.. The Islamic image appears scaly like a fish. Furthermore, the illustration definitely shows a vertical fish tail, not a horizontal whale tail. Bit I am being unnecessarily pedantic. It is a fine picture.

    • Well, you’re not half so pedantic as Herman Melville. His detailed review of whale art through the ages notes that it’s a rarity to find a horizontal-tailed whale portrait. Nearly every artist assumed the “great fish” had a fish tail.

      …. well, at least up through 1850 or so …

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