The story of Joseph, who had 11 brothers, a coat of many colors, and was sold into slavery in Egypt, only to become the Pharoah’s most important advisor, is found in the Book of Genesis in the Christian Bible. But variations on this story are also part of many cultures in the Middle East, and a particularly popular version was told as a poem by the famed
Persian poet Nūr ad-Dīn ‘Abd ar-Rahmān Jāmī, or Jāmī, (died 1492). Titled Yūsuf wa Zulaykhā, it tells the love story of Joseph (Yūsuf) and the wife (Zulaykhā) of the man who enslaved him.
A late 18th-century, richly illustrated, 436-page copy of this poem, bound in lacquer covers that likely were taken later from another book to enhance the aesthetic appeal of this manuscript, is now part of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s extensive collection of Islamic manuscripts. The volume became a treatment project this year for Rachel Bissonnette, a second-year Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) Fellow majoring in Library and Archives Conservation Education (LACE). Her special interest in Islamic art and culture has, she said, made this project a special treat, granting her the opportunity to learn more about Islamic manuscripts. Her plan is to stabilize the volume so that it can be safely handled and digitized.