Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Firdausi

Painting by Mu'in Musavvir (active ca. 1630–97)
Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020)
Object Name:
Illustrated manuscript
Attributed to Iran, probably Isfahan
Ink, opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper
Painting (folio 158v): H. 9 15/16 in. (25.2 cm) W. 5 5/8 in. (14.3 cm) Text block: H. 14 5/16 in. (36.4 cm) W. 8 9/16 in. (21.7 cm) Binding: H. 14 1/2 in. (36.8 cm) W. 9 1/16 in. (23 cm) D. 2 in. (5.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Monroe C. Gutman, 1974
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 462
Fol. 158v: The Div Akvan carries Rustam to the Sea
On a quest to find a div (demon) that had been killing the shah’s herds, Rustam grew tired and went to sleep in a meadow. The div, Akvan, spied him and lifted him with the mound of earth on which he lay. As Rustam trembled with fear, Akvan said: "Tell me where you want me to leave you. Shall I throw you into the sea or onto the mountains?" Rustam chose the mountains, knowing that the div would do the opposite. The orange div with its flaming gold eyelids and strangely shaped horns is typical within the work of Mu‘in Musavvir, who illustrated a number of Shahnama manuscripts in the second half of the seventeenth century.
Folio: "The Div Akvan Throws Rustam into the Sea".

Illustrated here is the story of the div Akvan, who discovered Rustam sleeping in a meadow. Having dug out the plot of earth upon which Rustam was resting, the div (demon) raised the hero and his "bed," shown here as a boulder, high in the sky. Akvan then gave him the choice of being tossed into the sea or dashed against the mountains. Understanding the div’s psychology, Rustam chose the mountains. Predictably Akvan threw him into the sea and he survived.

Of the artists working in Iran from the 1630s to the 1690s, Mu‘in Musavvir was one of the most prolific. In addition to single-page drawings and paintings of a wide variety of subjects, he illustrated at least six Shahnama manuscripts during that period as well as several versions of the Tarikh-i jahangusha-yi khaqan sahibqiran (History of the World-Conquering Lord of the Fortunate Conjunction). Mu‘in’s distinctive style, which shows little of the European and Indian influences so popular at the Safavid court from the 1640s onward, featured painterly brushwork and a fondness for a particular shade of violet pink, evident here in the background. As has been noted elsewhere, the artist worked for nonroyal patrons, who were presumably more conservative in their taste than Shahs Safi (r. 1629–42) and ‘Abbas II (r. 1642–66), and at certain times lived outside the capital, Isfahan.

In this illustration Mu‘in focuses on the essential elements of the story. Rustam, wearing his trademark tiger-skin cuirass and leopard-skin helmet, reclines on a boulder and gazes at the sea, now blackened, below him. The bright orange Akvan, a giant compared to Rustam, lifts the rock like a bodybuilder, his two-tiered blue and crimson skirt revealing a demon-sized male member between his calloused knees. In the 1650s and 1660s Mu‘in Musavvir depicted this episode three times. While no reproduction of the scene from the undated manuscript in the National Library of Russia is available, the dispersed illustration from the 1650 David Collection Shahnama provides a close comparison. That painting differs from ours only in small details, such as the position of Rustam’s arms and legs, the placement of his ox-headed mace, the length of the div’s skirt, the treatment of his gold belt, and the vegetation along the shoreline. Presumably Mu‘in considered his earlier formula to have worked and saw no reason to change it. Only much later, in 1693, did he return to the subject and alter the composition.

Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: Signature in Persian in nasta‘liq script:
رقم كمينه معين مصور غفر عنهم
Work of the humble Mu‘in Musavvir, forgive his sins
Ph. Walter Schulz, Leipzig, Germany (by 1914); Professor O. Moll, Düsseldorf, Germany ; Monroe C. Gutman, New York (by 1929–d. 1974; bequeathed to MMA)
Museum für Islamische Kunst, Pergamonmuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "The Arts of Islam. Masterpieces from the M.M.A.," June 15, 1981–August 8, 1981, no. 83.

Kühnel, Ernst, ed. "Der Maler Mu'in." Pantheon, 5, 42 (1942). pp. 108-114.

Stchoukine, Ivan. Les Peintures des Manuscrits de Shah Abbas Ier à la Fin des Safavis. Bibliotheque Archeologique et Historique, Vol. tome LXXVI. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1964. pp. 62-72, passim; discussed p. 70.

"Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York." In The Arts of Islam. Berlin, 1981. no. 83, pp. 204-205, ill. p. 205 (b/w).

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. 154, pp. 228-229, ill. p. 228 (color).

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