Folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp: The first joust of the champions, Fariburz and Kalbad - Aga Khan Museum
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Classification
Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures

Object name
Folio From The Shahnama Of Shah Tahmasp: The First Joust Of The Champions, Fariburz And Kalbad

Geography
Iran

Period
Safavid, c. 1540 CE

Dynasty
Safavid

Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour, gold and ink on paper

Dimensions
47.2 x 32 cm

Accession number
AKM00497

Description

This painting represents a famous episode in the unceasing wars between the Iranians and the Turanians. After a bloody combat, the armies withdrew for the night and the opposing commanders, Guderz the Iranian and Piran the Turanian met to negotiate an honourable outcome that would decide the victory while at the same time avoiding the massacre of thousands of innocent lives; the forces involved were tremendous but equal in terms of strength. They decided that the best solution was to have ten knights from each army fight in single combat, with the two commanders themselves forming the eleventh pair of combatants. The side that won this series of eleven duels, involving just twenty-two men, would emerge victorious and carnage would have been avoided. These famous duels are known as the Jousts of the Rooks. The champions were chosen and the place for the contest was decided: an isolated field, overlooked by two hills. One hill was to be Iran and the other Turan; they would display the banners of the champions who had won their duel. In this way the duellists could fight to the death without being seen by their respective armies; only the noble champions themselves were present. The first joust, shown here, opposes prince Fariburz, son of Kay Kavus and the uncle of the Shah, and Kalbad, son of Viseh and brother of Piran. Unlike many other scenes from the Shahnama, which are teeming with characters in order to convey the vast size of armies or the splendour of courtly magnificence, here the solitude and the responsibility weighing on the two heroes fighting in single combat are poignantly expressed in the two figures on horseback, who occupy most of the painting. Kalbad’s death is depicted tragically in the blood gushing from his chest when Fariburz pierces him with his sword. The full shock of the impact is captured in the collision of the two horses, meeting at a gallop, with Fariburz plunging forward to deliver a powerful blow while the body of Kalbad, inert and broken, is violently projected backwards.This is the only painting in the Shahnama produced by Shaykh Muhammad, one of the youngest artists to have contributed to this masterpiece. According to Cary Welch, Shaykh Muhammad was a pupil of Dust Muhammad, who employed him as a colourist and finisher. Shaykh Muhammad was an artist of high quality, producing audacious designs with an innovative expressive flair, his technique often surpassing that of his master. It was around 1540 CE, in other words well after the completion of the Shahnama, that this painting was incorporated in it - at the same time as the work by Dust Muhammad entitled “Haftvad and the worm”, folio 521 v. The text is not by the artist’s hand - it is painted on thicker, more creamy-coloured paper than the rest of the manuscript and was added at a later date. Cary Welch notes that this is the first known painting by Shaykh Muhammad, but his distinctive temperament can already be identified. The slender trees, the sharp rocks and the realistic, heavily bleeding wounds reveal a militant spirit. Yet this aggression is combined with a delicate touch, as evidenced in the surgical precision of the line. The artist’s precocious talent as a portraitist is already evident, too. Fariburz and Kalbad both give the impression of being clearly identified individuals. Despite the painting’s martial subject, the birds, the animals, the landscape and the babbling stream are depicted with a refinement that contrasts with the violence of the main action, embedding it in a lyrical setting that expresses the eternal renewal of nature, indifferent to humanity’s arrogance and murderous folly.

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