Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Folio From The Shahnama Of Shah Tahmasp: Sindukht Brings Gifts To The Court Of Sam
Safavid, c. 1522-35 CE
Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour, gold and ink on paper
46.5 x 31.2 cm
Zal, the son of the great paladin Sam, and Rudabeh daughter of Mehrab, king of Kabul, and queen Sindukht, fall in love with each other - to the great disapproval of everyone, including Manuchihr, the Shah of Iran. His anger is due to the fact that Rudabeh and the house of the king of Kabul are descendants of the tyrant Zahhak, who was destroyed by his grandfather Faridun. In a fury, Manuchihr orders Sam to embark on a war and wipe out Kabul, and to burn Mehrab’s palace down to its foundations and destroy all members of Zahhak’s family without exception. The only person favourably disposed towards Zal and Rudabeh is Sindukht, Rudabeh’s mother, who succeeds firstly in calming the anger of her husband Mehrab and then in persuading Sam, Zal’s father, to accept the union. The story has a happy ending: the union of Zal, an albino child abandoned by his parents and brought up by the simurgh, and Rudabeh, the descendant of an evil king possessed by a demon, results in the birth of a son, Rostam, who will become one of the greatest heroes of the Iranian world. To succeed in her diplomatic mission and secure the great paladin’s agreement for the marriage of Rudabeh and Zal, Sindukht empties Kabul’s royal treasury and travels to Zabul, laden with magnificent gifts. Sindukht herself is dressed in gold brocade and wears pearls and rubies in her hair. She pours forth 300,000 gold coins at Sam’s feet, and offers him thirty horses, one hundred camels and one hundred mules, all laden with gold, jewels, musk, camphor, rich fabrics and other treasures in such abundance that her retinue stretches over nearly four kilometres from the gates of Sam’s palace. In this painting part of her vast escort, including three elephants and their Indian cornacs, is visible on the right-hand side, yet the artist has decided to capture the moment when Sam receives the very remarkable ambassador from Kabul in his chambers. Their discussion is private; gestures and looks eloquently express the queen’s powers of persuasion. Cary Welch regards this work as the fruit of a collaboration between two Shahnama artists, whom he identifies as Painter A and Painter C. Painter A was probably the artist known as Qadimi of Gilan, “the Veteran”, who, like ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, had Sultan Muhammad as his mentor. Qadimi was the clown of the workshop, adept at striking, vigorous images and humour, but he could also paint with exquisite refinement. He specialised in caricatures and lively, highly charming depictions of various animals. Painter C is identified by the name of ‘Abd al-Vahhab, the father of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. By nature he was more spiritual than the mischievous Qadimi and it is possible that he created the ravishing ladies accompanying Sindukht and their garments. ‘Abd al-Vahhab, also known as Khawadjeh Kaka, painted thirty-one miniatures in the Shahnama and collaborated in ten others.
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