[Over an image of figures in Persian dress relaxing in an elaborate courtyard, the following text appears: The State Library of Victoria & Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford present. Rays of sunlight move across a colourful wall mosaic of a man and woman in Persian dress. Onscreen text appears Love and devotion: from Persia and beyond.
As Susan Scollay speaks, colourful painted images appear. One painting shows a man and woman riding a camel – the woman holding a harp, the other a bow and arrow. A wild ass lies on the ground before them. Above the painting are four columns of Persian script. More Persian script appears above the painting of a large variety of birds gathered on a hillside. The grassy slopes are dotted with flowers. Another image with an elaborate decorated border shows a couple in Persian dress being attended by musicians and other servants as they eat. Susan, with long dark hair, sits near a tall wooden cabinet. Text onscreen: Susan Scollay, Exhibition Co-curator.]
Susan Scollay: For the exhibition, we chose the theme of love and devotion because when you look at Persian manuscripts, Persian poetry and stories and narrative prose, the overwhelming feeling you get is that these are stories which range from simple boy-girl love stories to really beautiful elevated stories of spiritual love and mystical love, which leads to a union with God.
[As Shane Carmody speaks, more pictures appear. Columns of Persian script appear above and below a painting depicting two figures seated under a flowery tree at the foot of rolling hills. A book lies between them. An old book is open to a detailed map labelled Persia. A painting shows a woman in a pink robe kneeling on a balcony of a large ornate building. A young man stands in the courtyard below, near a lush garden. Through a window near the woman, an older man is visible. Two servants work on the stairwell.
[In a painting, a luxuriously dressed man sits in an ornately decorated tent pavilion. As a man in a turban addresses him, another stands a short distance away, wringing his hands. Two more men sit talking near musicians while another two stand near the man in the tent.
Shane, in a dark suit, sits near an ornate wooden clock. Text onscreen: Shane Carmody – State Library of Victoria. Director Collection & Access.]
Shane Carmody: The Persian tradition of love poetry is an ancient one that kept repeating through various cultures. It begins in Persia, which is largely what we would consider modern-day Iran. It reappears in the Mughal Empire in northern India and then it has its final great flowering in the Ottoman Turkish Empire. And at various points in that long history, the Western explorers, soldiers, crusaders, armies intersected, fought, became part of a common tradition.
[As Susan Scollay speaks, a black-and-white image of a balding European man appears over a page of Persian and English script. A page in an old book is titled The tragedie of Romeo and Juliet. The spelling used is archaic. The page fades back to video of Susan.]
Susan: Edward FitzGerald, when he translated the work of Omar Khayyam in the middle of the 19th century, introduced a whole world of Persian ideas into English literature. Even Shakespeare and John Donne the poet, some of their sonnets contained references to these Eastern poetic ideals and poetic ways of expressing themselves, which have lasted in our culture today.
[As Clare Williamson speaks, a man wearing white gloves adjusts a machine, then peers at a screen showing an old book open to a colourful painting and a page of Persian script. The book is cradled by a thin cushion. Wearing the gloves, he adjusts the book. As he holds a sheet of white card above the book, a camera flashes. He lifts his hand from the camera. Clare, a short-haired woman, sits among stately wooden desks. Onscreen text: Clare Williams, Exhibition Co-curator.]
Clare Williamson: The poets that are represented in these manuscripts date back to around the 10th, 11th century, with Firdausi’s great epic poem Shahnama, or ‘Book of kings’, through to the poets such as Nizami and Jami, Rumi, Hafiz. All of these poets will be represented in the manuscripts coming to us from the Bodleian Library.
[Video footage pans across a vista of historic English buildings. Onscreen text: Oxford. As Shane speaks, footage shows a young couple walking past the imposing grey brick buildings of the Bodleian Library; tall ornate spires ornament its parapets. A hand sketches a round building with a domed roof. Video shows the building itself. Onscreen text: Radcliffe Camera. The ceiling of the dome is decorated in a green-and-white geometric pattern that's dotted with ornamental flowers. Onscreen text: Bodleian Library. This fades onto an octagonal skylight. Onscreen text: State Library of Victoria.
[In a huge octagonal room, people sit at the long desks that radiate out from the central octagonal desk. The walls are lined with bookshelves. In a smaller room, bookshelves of dark wood are filled with large bound volumes. Along the base of the shelves, old-fashioned desks run to narrow windows. Near a grassy lawn, people walk past the corner of a building protruding from a footpath. On the library buildings, the word Victoria appears in gold above ornate columns. The words State Library glitter above a statue of St George slaying the dragon. Close-ups show the ridged, worn spines of the large leather-bound volumes lining a shelf. Shane Carmody sits near the clock.]
Shane: Any visitor to Oxford is immediately captured by the romance of the buildings. There are the most gorgeous old colleges and in the middle of it all is this extraordinary round building, which is a beautiful part of the Bodleian Library. The interesting thing is that when we built this library here in Melbourne, people had that idea that that’s what a library was – it was like a temple, and so you have this extraordinary architecture. And what is very exciting about this exhibition is that you take one of the ancient seats of learning – Oxford – and you bring some part of their collection to Melbourne and you show it in a library that was built in that tradition and as part of that continuing thirst for knowledge and search for knowledge and storage of knowledge.
[In Oxford, towering heavy doors framed by a stone arch are dotted with colourful coats of arms. The doors slowly open, revealing a courtyard leading to an ornate building. A statue is visible through a doorway. A tall window has a view of the Bodleian Tower of Five Orders, with the stone archway at its base. A man standing on the back of a punt rows a couple down a winding, tree-lined river. A couple walk hand in hand past trees.]
Shane: And when you put those two things together – a Western tradition that was brought to Australia as part of our culture with an Eastern tradition that was captured and taken to Oxford as part of a scholarly culture – you get another intersection between these two great libraries. It’s a fabulous moment because we can take two traditions and weave them together around this idea of love.
[As Richard Ovenden speaks, a colourful painting shows a couple in Persian dress sitting among flowering trees. The woman plays a harp. Two columns of Persian text are surrounded by an elaborate pattern of flowers. In the middle of a page of script is a brightly coloured picture of two Persian men standing among trees. The irregular shape of the picture protrudes far out onto the wide border of the book’s page. A black-and-white sketch depicts a group in Western dress near the base of a mountain, it is surrounded by a pink Persianate border. A man in a dark suit sits near a narrow spiral staircase. Onscreen text: Richard Ovenden – Bodleian Library, Keeper of Special Collections & Associate Director.]
Richard Ovenden: These peoples, these civilisations, created some of the most beautiful and long-lasting works of literature and art that the world has ever seen, and these works also had a dialogue with the West. These ideas were transmitted through the manuscripts that were collected and brought to places like the Bodleian Library to whole new generations of writers and artists who became passionate devotees of Persian art and culture, and I think these books should be seen as cultural ambassadors.
[A white-haired man sits near a bookcase. Onscreen text: Charles Melville – University of Cambridge, Professor of Persian history ]
Charles Melville: The Shahnama is always going to be important. I think it’s important as a work of world literature, even outside Iran, that people should be reading this for its message and for the power of the stories.
[In a painting, a man wearing a crown sits on a throne while robed courtiers stand nearby in groups. This fades into another painting where men in brightly coloured clothes ride horses, one wearing a crown riding ahead of the others. This fades into a third painting where a heavily armed man holds another man to the ground with his knife raised. Two horses watch.]
Charles: But for Persians themselves it's because it’s always going to be important as reference to their past. It’s their Shakespeare, it’s their Chaucer. It’s their main expression of their poetry and their characters, the actions that have reflected in their history and I think it’s always going to be of vital importance to them.
[A man wearing round glasses sits near a bookcase. Onscreen text: Dr Mammad Aidani – University of Melbourne, research fellow, School of Historical Studies.]
Dr Mammad Aidani: You have to really go to the soul of Persians. And the soul of Persians, as I understand it, really is embedded in the poetry of these great poets that the West or we read. Particularly Omar Khayyam, Hafiz, Sadi and specifically Rumi. So, if you want to know your soul, you have to read these greats.
[As Mammad speaks, a painting appears. In it six men with long white beards and turbans sit on a mat near a river. The painting zooms slowly backwards; behind the painting is a skein of smoke wafting through a black background. The picture fades leaving the smoke. White Arabic text fades up above the title Love and devotion: from Persia and beyond. The smoke fades away. The title is replaced by the words, State library of Victoria, free exhibition – 9 March to 1 July 2012.
[Credits appear on the black screen: IMAGES courtesy of the State Library of Victoria and the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Filmed and edited by Philippe Charluet.
[Music credits appear: Music – Les chants brulés (album) Ney o avaze (song) by Alireza Ghorbani. Accords croisés (label, production, édition) accords-croises.com
[On the next screen, the words A video by Stella Motion Pictures www.love-and-devotion.com appear above the logos for the State Library of Victoria, the State Government of Victoria, the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford and Film Victoria.]