Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Folio From A Shahnama: Bijan Takes The Rein To Aid Gustaham
Timurid, dated 899 H/1493-94 CE
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper
34.3 x 24.2 cm
This illustration from a Shahnama manuscript depicts an episode from the story of the Iranian hero Bijan and his companion, Gustaham. Gustaham once came to Bijan’s aid along with the hero Rustam, after Bijan fell in love with Manija, the daughter of Turanian King Afrasiyab. When Afrasiyab discovered this forbidden love, he angrily threw Bijan into a pit, but Rustam and Gustaham came to Bijan’s rescue. Later, when Gustaham’s life was in danger as a result of his pursuit of two escaped Turanians after the Battle of the Twelve Rukhs, the tables were turned; this time, Bijan saved Gustaham from dying of serious injuries. The Persian text on this page, written in nasta‛liq script, suggests that the painting depicts Bijan and his father Giv, who tried to discourage Bijan from putting himself in danger in his effort to find Gustaham and transport him back to safety. Anthony Welch has attributed this folio to the same school of painting as the illustrations of the well-known “Big-Head” Shahnama, believed to have been produced in Lahijan in 1493-94 CE for Sultan ‛Ali Mirza, ruler of the Kar-Kiya dynasty of Gilan (Welch 1978a, p. 56). While the paintings in the Gilan manuscript have been executed by different hands, thus exhibiting a variation in styles, Canby acknowledges that many paintings in the “Big-Head” Shahnama do include figures with disproportionately large heads not unlike the ones shown here (Canby 1998, pp. 40-41). Indeed, a comparison of this painting to some of the ones from the Gilan manuscript reveals a close relationship between the large-headed figures and their unusual, somewhat comical display of teeth (see Lowry and Nemazee 1988, pp. 96-109, esp. pls. 107 and 109). Canby also notes that, while this painting style would have been considered “naïve” and “primitive” by the Timurids’ (r. 1370-1506 CE) codified aesthetic standards, it did have some impact on Safavid painting in the sixteenth century (Canby 1998, p. 41).
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