Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Folio From The Shahnama Of Shah Isma'Il: Isfandiyar Kills The Simurgh
Safavid, 1576-77 CE
Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour, gold and ink on paper
Page 41.1 x 30.4 cm; Image 38.5 x 28.4 cm
An angry simurgh swoops down to attack Isfandiyar, its colourful long tail-feathers wrapping around the magnificent tree that cradles the nest of the bird’s young chicks. Isfandiyar, a hero of the Shahnama, remains in his horse-drawn chariot as the simurgh impales itself on the chariot’s spiky projections. Isfandiyar’s horse and a group of onlookers appear unperturbed at this horrific scene. The artist’s emphasis instead is on the use of brilliant colours to organise the painting compositionally and to highlight virtuoso details such as the tree with its technicolour leaves. This painting belongs to a manuscript of the Shahnama commissioned by Shah Isma'il II (r. 1576-77 CE) upon his accession and left unfinished at the time of his death in 1577 CE, according to Robinson who cites as evidence the artists’ names, as well as the style and deluxe quality of the manuscript in addition to the lack of illustrations from later episodes in the manuscript (Robinson 1976). The name Siyavush appears in the lower left corner of this painting. A young slave at the court of Shah Tahmasp, his artistic talents were noted by the ruler and he was sent to train under Muzaffar 'Ali. Siyavush became one of the most important sixteenth-century Iranian painters and contributed several paintings to this manuscript.
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