Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Folio From The Shahnama Of Shah Tahmasp: Rustam Pursues The Div Akvan Disguised As An Onager
Safavid, circa 1530-35 CE
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper
47 x 31.8 cm
In response to the complaints of a herder whose horses had been attacked by a vicious onager, Kay Khusraw called on the hero Rustam for help in flushing out and killing the beast. According to the description, Kay Khusraw suspected the onager of being an avatar of the destructive div (demon) Akvan. Rustam mounted his gallant steed Rakhsh and departed post-haste to look for the onager. On the fourth day, a golden onager appeared, galloping across a plain; Rustam and Rakhsh took up the chase. But scarcely had Rustam touched the animal’s neck with his snare when the div vanished in smoke. In this painting, Rustam is on the point of seizing the onager, which is turning its head to look back at its pursuer without slackening its speed. Horses are running in all directions, terrified by the div-onager. This early work of Muzaffar ‛Ali, the grand-nephew of Bihzad, radiates exuberance. However, his style was never as simple and accurate as his great uncle’s. Muzaffar ‛Ali, one of the rare artists to have worked for Shah Tahmasp throughout his entire reign, was trained as a calligrapher and gilder as well as a painter. In addition to compiling a muraqqa‛ (album), he helped illustrate Nizami’s Khamsa, executed between 1539 CE and 1543 CE and preserved in the British Library in London; Jami’s Haft awrang, compiled between 1556 CE and 1565 CE for Shah Tahmasp’s nephew; and Asadi’s Gashaspnama, executed in 1573-74 CE. He also produced murals for the royal palace in Qazvin, which was built between 1544 and 1562 to receive the shah in his new capital. This magnificent illustrated folio is from one of the greatest illustrated manuscripts of all time, the Shahnama (Book of Kings) produced for the Safavid ruler of Iran, Shah Tahmasp. This manuscript took twenty years or more to complete. Almost all the major Persian artists from the first half of the sixteenth century were involved in this monumental project, and its 258 illustrations are considered the absolute zenith of the art of Persian painting.
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