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Bodleian Libraries

The State Library of Victoria's 2012 exhibition Love and devotion: from Persia and beyond showcased a rich selection of manuscripts from the world-renowned collection of the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford.

The Bodleian Library is at the core of the University’s network of more than thirty libraries, known collectively as the Bodleian Libraries. The Bodleian Library is the second largest in Great Britain, after the British Library. Its collection includes more than nine million volumes and is one of five legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom.

The richness of the Bodleian’s holdings of Persian manuscripts owes much to the foresight of  scholar–collectors. The Library’s founding in 1602 coincided with a time of increasing interest in the East. When it opened, the Bodleian Library already possessed a copy of the Qurʾan, and in that year acquired by gift a Persian and a Turkish-language manuscript. The first Mughal Indian works followed soon after with a gift in 1640, by Archbishop William Laud, of an album of ragamala paintings (depictions of musical modes).

The Bodleian’s Oriental collections grew steadily over subsequent centuries with the acquisition of manuscript collections amassed by Oxford academics and Orientalists such as Thomas Greaves, Edward Pococke and Archbishop Narcissus Marsh.

In the 19th century the Bodleian’s holdings of Persian and Indian manuscripts increased dramatically with the acquisition of Sir William Ouseley’s collection. Sir William had served as a military officer in India before travelling to Persia in 1810 as secretary to his brother, Sir Gore Ouseley, who had been appointed British ambassador there. Both brothers were avid collectors of manuscripts and, remarkably, through the donation of JB Elliott, a Bengal civil servant, Sir William’s collection was soon reunited with that of his brother, Sir Gore, whose collection Elliott had previously acquired.

The Bodleian’s collection of illustrated Mughal Indian manuscripts is particularly fine and, in addition to the works acquired from the collections of the Ouseley brothers and JB Elliott, is due also to the major bequest of Sir Francis Douce in 1834.

The exhibition Love and devotion: from Persia and beyond will be on display at the Bodleian  from 29 November 2012 to 28 April 2013.