The Book of Kings


This manuscript containing 215 illustrations is one of the largest pictorial cycles of the Shāhnāma, the Persian Book of Kings. Several painters, working at different times, were involved in its illumination; the miniatures thus are not uniform in style. Four distinct groups can be identified, with the two oldest groups dating from the 16th century. The miniatures of the first group show large-scale compositions with many figures, executed in minute detail using brilliant colors. The pictures of the second group are of lesser quality with regard to composition and figure drawing. The third group consists of two full-scale illustrations in the style of the court of Isfahan, and which were added in the early 17th century. The fourth group, however, is comprised of miniatures that do not seem related to the Iranian tradition and might be of Indian origin. Some of the best illustrations in this manuscript were possibly painted at the court of Sultan Ibrāhīm Mīrzā in Mashhad before 1565. The Shāhnāma was composed at the end of the tenth century by the poet Firdawsi (circa 940–1020). This beloved national epic is a heroic narrative of pre-Islamic Persia from mythic beginnings to the seventh-century Arab invasion. The legends form part of Iranian identity and have a status in world literature similar to those of Homer’s epics and the plays of William Shakespeare.

Last updated: February 12, 2016