Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Folio From A Shahnama: Bahram Gur Kills The Unicorn
Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour, gold and ink on paper
Page 32.6 x 23.3 cm; Image 14.5 x 14.8 cm
This folio depicts the Sassanian King Bahram V (r. 420-38 CE), known as Bahram Gur, killing a unicorn while three of his companions watch from the hills. Although the historical King Bahram V fought two wars, one with Rome in 422 CE and other with Huns in 427 CE, he is portrayed in the Shahnama as an exceptional hunter and just ruler. This painting depicts one hunting exploit, when the Indian king Shangal asked Bahram Gur to rid his land of a huge and terrifying rhinoceros. True to form, Bahram Gur showered the beast with arrows and then delivered the coup de grâce by cutting off its head. Painted in the Turkman style of Shiraz, the illustration contains only the essentials of the story which takes place in a landscape enlivened by clumps of blossoming flowers. The text on this page refers to the rhinoceros as a karkadan, a word translated as ‘rhinoceros’ and ‘unicorn’, while in other versions of the Shahnama the beast is called karg which is translated as either ‘rhinoceros’ or ’wolf ’. Perhaps because of this confusion the scene was far less often illustrated between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, than the other hunting feats of Bahram Gur.
© 2007 The Aga Khan Development Network. This is the only authorised Website of the Aga Khan Development Network.