freer sackler museum

anonymous asked:

do you happen to know what the henna traditions/designs from uzbekistan are? do bukharan jews have any henna traditions?


In the Middle Ages, Bukhara and Samarqand (modern Uzbekistan) were part of the Persian cultural world, and so they shared in the tradition of elaborate Persian-style henna patterns, at least as far as we can tell from manuscript illustrations (see this post for an overview). One such painting from Bukhara, ca. 1565, shows a woman with hennaed fingernails and stripes on her fingers, with additional designs in cartouches (perhaps flowers? Or calligraphy?) on her palm (here is a close-up of the painting, in the British Museum):

A very similar scene (attributed to the same artist), showing a very similar henna pattern, is shown in a painting in the Smithsonian Freer Sackler Museum from Bukhara, ca. 1550. Another painting in the Freer from Bukhara, ca. 1558, shows a similar pattern — hennaed nails and stripes, and a cartouche on the back of the hand: 

There’s also yet another painting in the Louvre that I saw a few years ago, also from Bukhara, showing a similar design, so it seems that this may have actually been a regional style. Catherine Cartwright-Jones suggests that these cartouches may have even had magical or talismanic functions, although I’m not sure.

Unfortunately, as in other parts of Persia, this style of henna pattern died out during the Qajar dynasty as fashions turned more towards a European-influenced aesthetic. But people in Bukhara definitely continued to use henna, right until the present day! 

And that includes Bukhari Jews for sure. The henna ceremony was known in Bukhari communities as ḥanabandan (”tying the henna”), as it was in Iran. The groom had a henna ceremony too, known as shab-e jubanan (”the night of the bachelors”), although it was common for him to have only his pinkie hennaed, while the bride had both her hands and feet hennaed. 

A Jewish bridal party in Bukhara, ca. 1871, from the LOC

The henna was brought from the groom’s house and placed on a small table known as khanche-ye ḥana (the henna tray) along with candles, sweets, fruit, and a sugar cone wrapped with colourful ribbons. Apparently the Bukharan community served a special pilaf for the henna ceremony too… When the henna had dried, it was wrapped up in special cloths known as ḥanaband and tied with ribbons (saghpich), hence the name of the ceremony.

And henna was not just for weddings, but was also used as a general cosmetic, to celebrate holidays and other happy occasions. In this image of a Bukhari Jewish family (taken in Jerusalem in 1925 by German-Jewish photographer Abraham Pisarek), you can see that everyone is dressed in festive clothing and the girl’s fingernails have been hennaed.

I previously featured another photo from Samarqand ca. 1905, showing Bukkhari Jewish girls with hennaed fingernails, here. A close-up:

So as you can see, in the 19th and 20th centuries Bukharan henna was done mostly on nails rather than in the elaborate patterns that had once been traditional. But there’s no reason why we can’t revive them! Hope that helps.