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«Flower Book» by Khurshidbanu Natavan

Khurshidbanu Natavan (August 6, 1832 - October 2, 1897), an Azerbaijani poetess, "Khan's daughter", who was held profound respect in the country for her good deeds and nobility, was known as an eminent poet and public figure, as well as an artist and embroiderer with a very refined taste. It is said that Natavan did not imagine her artistic activity separately from her poetic creativity and received the secrets of this art from her aunt Govhar khanim, who also gave her first education. Although her artistic heritage that has reached our time is not so much, they are considered examples of art enriching Azerbaijani art with new tones. The fact that she donated her embroidery to the famous French writer Alexander Dumas, who was on a visit to the Caucasus, including Baku, went down in history.     

Khurshidbanu Natavan's unique sense of beauty can be seen in the 227-page album compiled by her in 1886, which is currently preserved in the Institute of Manuscripts named after Mahammad Fuzuli of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Science. In addition to thirteen ghazals written by the poetess-artist, this album, which is also called «Flower Book» by experts, contains drawings of various flowers - roses, violets, carnations, as well as lilacs, tulips, and irises - drawn by her with watercolors and pencils. Among them are images of landscapes and various plants. Their number reaches thirty. On the whole, the impressive mood expressed both in their colorful motifs and changing shades of color resonates harmoniously with the lyrical spirit of the poet's poetic heritage. In most cases, this is also confirmed by the artistic and psychological mood that the poem and image placed side by side on the album page instills in the reader. As we have mentioned above, Natavan's artistic creativity is also noteworthy for its contribution to the renewal of centuries-old Azerbaijani fine art with new artistic and aesthetic qualities. 

Khurshidbanu Natavan succeeded in creating a memorable synthesis of literature and fine art by placing her poems dedicated to delicate and tender creatures next to the images of "Nightingale", "Violet", "Flower", "Carnation" and "Butterfly" in the album we talked about. In fact, this itself can be considered a clear example of giving a new form to the ancient traditions of Azerbaijani book art with a rich history...   

The external artistic design of the 227-page album in which these drawings are collected is also very remarkable. So, first of all, the album attracts attention with decorative elements made of colourful threads and beads on the cover. Daffodils, roses and "1886" in Gregorian date are woven on one side of the volume, spruce, poplar, pine and "1304" in Hegira date are woven on the other side... 

There are other paintings of historical importance among the examples of artistic creativity included in the «Flower Book» of Khurshidbanu Natavan. Among the most noteworthy were the paintings of the famous Sheikh Shamil's house and the Gunib fortress. We can assume that these paintings were done during the visits of the poetess to Dagestan together with her husband Khasay khan Usmiyev...  

The nomination of the «Flower Book» of Khurshidbanu Natavan – an album of illustrated verses, submitted by Azerbaijan for the 2022-2023 cycle of the Memory of the World International Register, has been endorsed at the 216th session of the UNESCO Executive Board held in Paris, France on May 19, 2023.    

The document compiled by UNESCO and containing a brief description of the nominations reports that in 19th-century of Europe, female writers were forced to use male pseudonyms to publish their work, while Natavan chaired a literary council in a country located in the Islamic East. Khurshidbanu Natavan is one of the prominent representatives of 19th-century Azerbaijani literature, (1832-1897), the last heir to the Karabakh Khanate, who made a significant contribution to the public life and cultural development of Azerbaijan. Natavan's personality was a phenomenon for Azerbaijan as a woman. The inclusion of Natavan's album of verses "Flower Book" in the Memory of the World International Register demonstrates that the heritage of the Karabakh region of our country dating back to the 19th century is highly valued by UNESCO and its member countries.                

It should be mentioned that three paintings in the album of verses "Flower Book" by Khurshidbanu Natavan were exhibited by the Permanent Delegation of Azerbaijan to UNESCO at the exhibition organized as part of the International Francophonie Day in the UNESCO Headquarters on March 21, 2023.