Following a rout at the hands of the Iranians, the army of Turan regrouped and planned its attack. Before the battle could begin, the Turanians learned that the whole Iranian army was in its cups, drunkenly celebrating its victory. Taking the Iranians by surprise, the Turanians attacked their encampment, slaughtering the besotted soldiers as the few survivors fled in disarray. The artist Qadimi has captured the chaos of the melee with Iranians trapped amidst tents and terrified horses as the Turanians attack them with swords, daggers, and spears.
Although not the largest royal manuscript produced for Shah Tahmasp of Iran, the Shahnama (Book of Kings) ranks as the most important. Its 258 paintings by fifteen artists, working from the early or mid-1520s until the mid-1530s, form a compendium of Safavid painting from the first third of the sixteenth century. A veritable classroom for the great and lesser masters of Iran, the Shahnama project brought together artists from East and West who subsumed their regional styles into a Safavid idiom defined by perfect brushwork, complex, multifigure compositions, brilliant color, and lively characterization.
Martin Dickson and Stuart Cary Welch have described a scenario for the circumstances surrounding the commission of the manuscript, proposing that Shah Isma‘il I ordered a deluxe Shahnama for his first-born son, Tahmasp, in 1522, when the prince returned to Tabriz after six years in the former Timurid capital at Herat. Alternatively, Shah Tahmasp may have ordered the manuscript in 1524 to commemorate his accession to the throne in that year, for the commissioning of opulent illustrated manuscripts to mark the coronation of a new ruler was a long-established practice in Iran. Qadi Ahmad, writing at the end of the sixteenth century, states that as a prince, Tahmasp studied painting with the preeminent Tabriz artist, Sultan Muhammad. Assuming this student-teacher relationship developed from 1522 on, Shah Tahmasp himself may have arrived at the idea of commissioning an imperial Shahnama at the suggestion of Sultan Muhammad. Since by 1522 Isma‘il I had succumbed to the alcoholism that killed him, his motivation for ordering such a manuscript is more difficult to divine. Welch claimed that an earlier royal Shahnama, on which Sultan Muhammad had begun production at the behest of Shah Isma‘il as a gift for Tahmasp, was never finished because its style was too foreign to the young Tahmasp, who had been reared in Herat and was familiar with the painting of the great Bihzad and other late Timurid artists. However, such a supposition relies not only on dating the earlier, unfinished manuscript to about 1520, rather than five years earlier, on the basis of style but also on accepting the notion that Tahmasp at the age of eight could tell the difference between the Herat and Tabriz schools of painting and prevail upon the artists at the Safavid court to abandon their project.
Dickson and Welch have posited three phases of production for the manuscript. During the first, Sultan Muhammad would have been director of the project, followed in 1527 by Mir Musavvir, who was in turn succeeded in the early 1530s by Aqa Mirak, a contemporary and close friend of Shah Tahmasp. While the sequence of paintings generally follows this chronology—the earliest works appearing at the beginning of the manuscript—some were added later near the beginning or replaced earlier versions of the same scene. .
One of the turning points in the Shahanama concerns the division of the world by Shah Faridun into three parts to be assigned to his three sons. Salm received Rum, Byzantium, and the western world; Tur was assigned Turan, the lands of the Turks to the east; and Iraj was given Iran, much to the envy of his brothers. In time, they murdered Iraj, thus setting in train the blood feud between Iran and Turan that consumes much of the epic. This folio, "The Besotted Iranian Camp Attacked at Night" shows one of the many battles between the two foes. At the urging of the Turanian king, Afrasiyab, his general Piran had gathered an army of thirty thousand men and set out toward the Iranian camp. Instead of encountering troops prepared to fight, the Turanians came upon an encampment of revelers, most of whom were drunk and utterly unprepared for battle. A rout ensued that left two-thirds of the Iranian army annihilated.
In this scene, the artist has interpreted the Iranian army’s devastation as a melee in which white tents punctuate the confusion and slaughter. Attributed by Welch to Qadimi, one of the lesser artists on the Shahnama project, the painting teems with so many figures that the hillocks rising toward the night sky are nearly invisible. Thanks to the distinctive Safavid turban, the Iranians are distinguishable from the Turanians. At the right, the soldier Giv, who tried to rally his drunken troops, is shown on horseback looking the worse for wear. While not the most refined artist at Tahmasp’s court, Qadimi was recognized as a talented portrait painter. According to Qadi Ahmad, Shah Tahmasp "kept him in the kitabkhana" (royal library cum workshop), which suggests that he was well liked at court and did not leave Tabriz to serve other patrons in the mid-sixteenth century.
Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Dickson and Welch 1981, vol. 1, p. 4; Welch 1972, p. 53.
2. Robert Hillenbrand contended that, by the early sixteenth century, illustrated Shahnama manuscripts had gone out of fashion as commemorative volumes for new rulers. However, his suggestion that fifteenth-century rulers commissioned only illustrated books of mystical or love poetry did not take into consideration the major works on the wars of Timur, the Zafarnama, or the religious manuscript, the Mi‘rajnama, produced for the Timurid sultan, Abu Sa‘id. Hillenbrand, R. in Melville 1996, pp. 54–56. Both Shah Tahmasp’s successor, Shah Isma‘il II, and his successor, Shah ‘Abbas, commissioned illustrated Shahnamas at the start of their reigns, which suggests that the choice to embark on such a project was connected to their identity as Safavid rulers, distinct from their Turkmen and Timurid predecessors.
3. Ahmad ibn Mir Munshi al-Husaini. Calligraphers and Painters: A Treatise by Qadi Ahmad, Son of Mir- Munshi (circa A.H. 1015/A.D. 1606). Translated by V[ladimir] Minorsky. Smithsonian Institution Publication 4339. Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers, vol. 3, no. 2. Washington, D.C., 1959, pp. 180–81.
4. Welch 1972, pp. 48–54, 60; Dickson and Welch 1981, vol. 1, pp. 34, 45.
5. Canby 1993, pp. 79–80, dates the painting to about 1515–22.
6. Dickson and Welch 1981, vol. 1, p. 5; Welch 1972, pp. 62–63, 84.
14. Welch 1979, p. 83.
15. Ahmad ibn Mir Munshi al-Husaini. Calligraphers and Painters: A Treatise by Qadi Ahmad, Son of Mir- Munshi (circa A.H. 1015/A.D. 1606). Translated by V[ladimir] Minorsky. Smithsonian Institution Publication 4339. Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers, vol. 3, no. 2. Washington, D.C., 1959, p. 185.
Inscription: In Persian in nasta'liq scrit-- verses from the Shāhnma of Ferdowsī , story گفتار اندرداستان فرود سیاوش(Story of the Furud Siyavash)
(Abu’l-Qasim Ferdowsi,The Shāhnāmeh (The book of kings), ed, Djalal Khalqi- Muṭlagh, Mazda publishers in association with Bibliotheca Persica, Costa Mesa, California and New York, 1992, vol.3, p.74-75.
Shah Tahmasp, Iran (until 1568; gifted to Selim II); Sultan Selim II, Istanbul (from 1568); Sultan Selim III, Istanbul (by 1800); Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Paris (by 1903–d. 1934); his son, Baron Maurice de Rothschild, Paris and Pregny, near Geneva (by 1955–d. 1957); [ Stiebel Ltd., New York, until 1959; sold to Houghton]; Arthur A. Houghton Jr., New York (1959–70; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A King's Book of Kings: Persian Miniatures from Shah Tahmasp's Shahnama of 1528," May 4, 1972–December 31, 1972, no catalog.
Cambridge, MA. Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums. "Wonders of the Age: Masterpieces of Early Safavid Painting," March 29, 1980–May 18, 1980, no. 23.
Mohl, Jules, ed. Le Livre des Rois. Vol. I. Paris, 1876. pp. 527-531.
Welch, Stuart Cary. A King's Book of Kings: the Shah-nameh of Shah Tahmasp. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. pp. 157-159, ill. pp. 156, 158-159, 241r (color, b/w).
Welch, Stuart Cary, Sheila R. Canby, and Norah M. Titley. "Masterpieces of Early Safavid Painting, 1501–1576." In Wonders of the Age. Cambridge, MA: Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums, 1979. no. 23, pp. 82-83, ill. p. 82 (b/w).
Dickson, Martin, and Stuart Cary Welch. The Houghton Shahnameh. Vol. vols. I & II. Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1981. vol. II, ill. pl. 145 (b/w).
Canby, Sheila R. Persian Painting. London: British Museum Press, 1993. pp. 79-80.
Melville, Charles, ed. Safavid Persia : The History and Politics of an Islamic Society. Pembroke Persian papers. London - New York: I.B. Tauris & Company, Ltd., 1996. pp. 54-56.
Canby, Sheila R. "The Persian Book of Kings." In The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp. Madrid, 2011. p. 165, ill. (color), folio 241r.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 138D, pp. 7, 172, 202-208, ill. p. 205 (color).
Canby, Sheila R. The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp: The Persian Book of Kings. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 207, ill. fol. 241r, full-page color ill.