• Persia, Shiraz, 1536-37
  • Ink, coloured pigments and gold on paper
  • Inv. L.A. 180
  • Eastern Islamic Art

The game of polo

Persia, Shiraz, 1536-37

Gulistan and Bustan by Sa’di are classical works of Persian literature that were copied and illustrated at various periods. The Bustan (garden) consists of about a hundred moral tales in verse and prose.

The scene illustrated in this miniature is taking place during a game of polo in which a prince and richly costumed courtiers are taking part. Among those watching is a young beggar talking to an old man. These two figures, situated in the centre field, appear to be taking no notice of the game. The dialogue inscribed at the top of the miniature, is of the old man asking the young man what would happen to the young man if he were injured by the polo stick, to which the young beggar replies”, Well then, like the ball, I’d fall at your feet!”

Polo, one of the favourite pastimes of the court, was frequently used by Persian poets as a metaphor for love, interpreted in the spiritual sense of a union of souls with the Divine Creator.


Taken to England in 1689 by Coronel J. Sotheby; Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian through Colnaghi, Sotheby's sale, London, July 27th, 1924.

H. 29.5 cm; W. 19 cm
Lisboa 1963

Arte do Oriente Islâmico – Colecção da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, exhibition catalogue, Lisbon Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, 1963, no. 125

London 1976

The Arts of Islam, exhibition catalogue, The Arts Council of Great Britain, London (Hayward Gallery), 1976, p. 357

Goffen 1995

Rona Goffen (ed.) – Museums discovered: The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1995, p. 168-169, colourpl.

Lisboa 1998

Culturas do Índico, exhibition catalogue, Lisboa, Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, 1998, p. 190

Madrid 2001

Un jardín encantado. Arte islámico en la Colección Calouste Gulbenkian, exhibition catalogue, Madrid (Fundación Santander Central Hispano), 2001, p. 82-83, no. 27, colourpl.

Lisbon 2001

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum – Album, Lisbon, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2001, p. 42, no. 25, colourpl.