An occasional series of blog posts on digitised manuscripts in the British Library

Annabel Teh Gallop, British Library

The Serat Selarasa is the most beautiful Javanese manuscript in the British Library, and perhaps the earliest finely-illustrated Javanese manuscript known. The manuscript is dated 1804, and according to a note in the text was once owned by the wife of a Dutch East India Company official in Surabaya. This was probably F.J.Rothenbühler, from whom Col. Colin Mackenzie received this manuscript in 1812. Mackenzie evidently had a special interest in this manuscript, for amongst his private papers is a complete English translation of the Serat Selarasa (Mackenzie 1822, vol.28, pp.1-152).

‘The History of Shallah-rausah’, English translation of Serat Selarasa. Mackenzie 1822, vol.28, p.1

‘The History of Shallah-rausah’, English translation of Serat Selarasa. Mackenzie 1822, vol.28, p.1

Although the manuscript was illustrated by the same artist throughout, there is a different approach in the first part of the manuscript (up to f.19v), where the pictures are larger and the characters range vertically across the page, some with ethereal pastel background settings, as seen below. Thereafter, the pictures are structured more conventionally along the bottom of the page, essentially on a single horizontal plane.

Prince Selarasa kneels before a holy man, Kiai Nur Sayid, who has stayed in one place for so long, neither eating nor drinking but smelling flowers and praying to God, that a vine has grown up around his body.  The narrative power of the image is reinforced by enclosing the whole scene within a vine.  MSS.Jav.28, f.8r

Prince Selarasa kneels before a holy man, Kiai Nur Sayid, who has stayed in one place for so long, neither eating nor drinking but smelling flowers and praying to God, that a vine has grown up around his body. The narrative power of the image is reinforced by enclosing the whole scene within a vine. MSS.Jav.28, f.8r

Mackenzie also received another illustrated Javanese manuscript from Rothenbühler, a copy of the Serat Panji Jayakusuma (MSS.Jav.68), and a translation of this text, entitled ‘History of a Raja of Kling’, is found in the same volume of Mackenzie’s papers (Mackenzie 1822, vol.28, pp.153-320). This manuscript is almost but not quite as fine as the Serat Selarasa, with considerable use of silver (now tarnished) as well as gold, and further investigation is needed to determine the artistic relationship between the two manuscripts.

Serat Panji Jayakusuma.  MSS.Jav.68, f.10v

Serat Panji Jayakusuma. MSS.Jav.68, f.10v

http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?index=0&ref=MSS_Jav_28

References

Annabel Teh Gallop with Bernard Arps, Golden letters: writing traditions of Indonesia / Surat emas: budaya tulis di Indonesia (London: British Library; Jakarta: Lontar, 1991), pp.88-89.

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