The Div Akvan throws Rustam into the Sea from Firdawsi's "Shahnamah"


This painting represents an episode described in the Shahnamah (The book of kings), the epic story of ancient kings and heroes of Persia composed by the renowned poet Firdawsi during the first decades of the 11th century. The text on the fragment’s recto and verso describes the painting. King Khusraw summons Rustam to help him stop a div (demon) disguised as a wild ass that is ravaging the royal herds. After three days of unsuccessful battle, the hero falls asleep in the grass. Thereupon, the Div Akvan casts aside his disguise, resumes his demonic form, rushes towards Rustam, and digs up the ground around the hero. He gives Rustam the choice of being thrown against the mountains, to be eaten by lions and onagers, or cast into the sea, where he would drown. Knowing that the demon’s action would be the exact opposite to his request and realizing that, if cast into the sea, he would have a chance to swim to safety, he asks to be thrown against the mountains. Rustam is then cast into the sea, swims back to the shore, and returns to defeat the demon in combat. The painting shows the precise moment when the Div Akvan pauses before deciding to hurl Rustam into the waters. The demon stands tall, his outstretched arms supporting a still-sleeping Rustam, as his gold bell bangles clang loudly. A posteriori labels added to the right of Rustam’s head and at the demon’s waist identify Rustam and Div Akvan. On the right side of the composition, rocky mountains and two threatening tigers are depicted, while, at the bottom of the painting, a variety of fish swim in the sea. Immediately above the painting, the chapter heading executed in gold ink identifies the scene and its corresponding text. The painting's style and composition are typical of illustrated manuscripts of the Shahnamah produced during the Safavid period in Iran. The shapes of the rocky outcrop, loosely painted in light-blue, pink, and yellow washes, seem to hint at facial features. The layout of the text and the script (nastaʻliq) as visible on the painting's verso also are characteristic of 16th-century Persian manuscripts. The lower-right corner of the painting has suffered damage and thus a small portion of the painting is lost to us today.

Last updated: September 30, 2016