Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Folio From A Shahnama: Kai Khusrau Surveys His Forces
Safavid, 1654 CE
Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour, gold and ink on paper
37.9 x 23.5 cm
Once again, the mighty armies of Iran prepare for battle, against their perennial enemies, the neighbouring Turanians. King Kay Khusrau is enthroned upon a majestic white elephant, reviewing his troops. The Iranian champions on horseback bow their heads to their shah, with pennants fluttering gaily from their lances, ready for battle. The ox-headed mace held by Kay Khusrau is associated with Faridun, the shah’s ancestor. Following many long years of warfare with the Turanian king Afrasiyab, Kay Khusrau is finally and conclusively victorious over his enemy, but this victory does not ultimately bring contentment: Kay Khusrau’s great military successes cause him to withdraw from the world rather than embrace it. Depicted here at the height of his power, this ambitious king will eventually abandon worldly pursuits for spiritual concerns, to the baffled confusion of the military heroes at his court. Dated 1654 CE, this fine codex is the first of a two-volume copy of Firdausi’s Shahnama, richly illustrated by Muʿin Musavvir, a prolific artist of the 17th century, active from the 1630s to 90s. The second volume is dated 1066 H/1655-6 CE, and is now in the collection of the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. Muʿin Musavvir had been trained by the painter Reza ʿAbbasi (d .1635 CE), who had dominated the Safavid visual mode in the early 17th century, and although other Indian and European vogues were becoming current as the century progressed, unswervingly Mu`in continued to work in his teacher’s by now traditional style. A considerable corpus survives of Mu`in, including single-page drawings and illustrated manuscripts, and also lacquered pen-boxes. He had at least two Safavid courtiers as portrait-sitters, but yet there seems to be no evidence that he ever worked for the Safavid shahs, as he is not mentioned in the written sources. Almost in compensation for this, many of his drawings and paintings are signed and dated, and sometimes inscribed with yet further information regarding the precise location and circumstances of the work.
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