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Piercing Details: Telling a Story of Chance

by Rose Milnes, Curatorial Assistant for South Asian Art, Islamic Art, and Antiquities


South Asian Art , Islamic Art , antiquities , Gulistan , Sa'di

There’s always that time at the Cincinnati Art Museum when magic happens—when departments like curatorial, conservation, and design and installation come together twice a year to rotate light-sensitive works in our galleries, including works on paper and textiles, to preserve the artwork for future generations. Gallery rotations happen across the museum, and they offer opportunities for curators to take some time and to marvel at the incredible collections under our care.

For the Department of South Asian Art, Islamic Art, and Antiquities, the collections we steward span from neolithic to contemporary over a geography that stretches across thousands of miles. During our gallery rotations, then, choosing a few objects to place on display can be difficult. How to choose?

Once I gazed at The Youth Accidentally Hits the Target, I knew this was a painting I wanted people to see. The work is a page from a dispersed copy of the Gulistān by the Persian poet Sa’di and tells a story of chance. During an archery competition, over 400 archers attempt to shoot their arrows through a ring, only to be bested by a child playing on the sidelines. The bold colors, delicately rendered architecture, and graceful figures do much to illustrate the scene beautifully, but perhaps the more interesting details lie beyond the borders of the page. The boy, situated on the far left, has disappeared from the page entirely due to damage. All that’s left of the child is his fist as he clutches his bow, pointed directly at the ring above the archers’ heads.

A second detail in the painting only reveals itself with close inspection. At the top of the page, the boy’s arrow flies through the ring, into the sky, and … beyond the painting itself. The arrow point, barely visible in its flight, pierces the borders of the page as it continues beyond the scene.

Come see the new rotations in Gallery 143 and Gallery146 at the Cincinnati Art Museum until December 2024, and maybe you can discover new details, too!

A painting of an archer riding a horse and shooting at a target overhead in front of a large crowd
The Youth Accidentally Hits the Target, Page from a dispersed copy of the Gulistan by Sa’di, circa 1595–1600, or later, India, Mughal period (1526–1857), opaque watercolor and gold on paper, Gift of John J. Emery, 1951.299