Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Folio From The Shahnama Of Shah Tahmasp: Salm And Tur Receive The Reply Of Faridun And Manuchihr
Safavid, c. 1520-30 CE
Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour, gold and ink on paper
47.1 x 32 cm
In order to decide the division of his kingdom, the good king Faridun - who vanquished the treacherous Zahhak, nailing him to the walls of a cave in Mount Damavand leaving him to his miserable fate - put his three sons to the test by appearing to them in the guise of a terrifying dragon. To Salm, named for his prudence in the face of danger, he gave Rum and the West (the Byzantine Roman Empire). To Tur, “whose bravery shines brighter than flames” he gave Turan and China (Central Asia and the Chinese Orient). To his youngest son Iraj, who came up with a sensible solution faced with the dragon, proving that he was the most worthy of all of them, he bequeathed his crown and the kingdom at the centre of the world, Iran and the Arab territories. Iraj’s two older brothers were jealous and plotted to kill him, threatening war if Iraj did not receive a kingdom as distant as theirs. When Iraj visited them, without an army, to make them offers of peace, Tur decapitated him. Faridun was inconsolable, mourning the death of his favourite son and the treachery of his elder brothers. In the years that followed he devoted his attention to the education of his grandson and heir Manuchihr. Salm and Tur discover that Manuchihr has trained in all the arts of warfare, that he commands a powerful army and intends to avenge Iraj’s death; terrified, they send a messenger to Faridun, begging him to pardon them and promising to serve Manuchihr faithfully. Faridun cannot trust them, replying “And we will drench with blood, both leaf and fruit,/The tree sprung out of vengeance for Iraj.” This work depicts the return of the messenger who bears this terrible response to his masters, who are visibly horrified: “The envoy having further told the message/Of Faridun, those tyrants’ heart grew sore,/ Their faces blue as lapis lazuli.” They writhe in pain as he describes the majestic appearance of Manuchihr, and the determination and power of the paladins of Iran. Cary Welch considers that this painting was produced by ‘Abd al-‘Aziz under the direction of his mentor, the great painter Sultan Muhammad, one of the three main masters of the Shahnama, who skilfully blended the Turkmen exuberance of Tabriz with the refinement of Herat, the city of his birth. Welch observes that ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was an original, highly individual colourist who delighted in exploring the possibilities of the magnificent pigments available to him in the workshops of Shah Tahmasp, adding that he strove nonetheless to meet the requirements of discipline, lucidity and accuracy in the scale of the figures, along with the harmonious composition of Behzad’s works - qualities which are all in evidence in this magnificent painting. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz took advantage of the “twin” courts of Salm and Tur to create a symmetrical image, with his two princes on double thrones, flanked by their retinue to right and left, and echoed by the two hills in the background and the two tents shaded by two trees under the golden sky. The more flamboyant Turkmen style of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz can be appreciated in another of his contributions to the Shahnama, “Zal is sighted by a caravan” (fol. 62 v), with its undulating simurgh, currently in Berlin’s Museum of Islamic Art.
© 2007 The Aga Khan Development Network. This is the only authorised Website of the Aga Khan Development Network.