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Lesson Plan: The Making of a Persian Royal Manuscript

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The Feast of Sada: Folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp
About 1525
Author: Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020)
Artist: Attributed to Sultan Muhammad (active first half of the 16th century)
Iran, Tabriz
Opaque watercolor, ink, silver, and gold on paper; painting: 9 1/2 x 9 1/16 in. (24.1 x 23 cm); page: 18 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. (47 x 31.8 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.2)

Collection Area: Islamic Art
Subject Areas: English Language Arts, Visual Arts, World History
Grades: Middle School, High School
Topic/Theme: Art and Writing


Goals

Students will be able to:
  • identify some of the key events and figures presented in the Persian national epic, the Shahnama (Book of Kings);
  • make connections between the text and the illustrated pages of the manuscript produced for Shah Tahmasp; and
  • create a historical record of their community.

National Learning Standards

English Language Arts
NL-ENG.K-12.2 Understanding the Human Experience
NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding

Visual Arts
NA-VA.9-12.3 Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
NA-VA.9-12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
NA-VA.9-12.6 Making Connections between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines

World History
NSS-WH.5-12.6 Era 6: The Emergence of the First Global Age, 1450–1770


Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.


Questions for Viewing

Before looking at the featured work of art, read the following excerpt from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) describing the celebration that took place after King Hushang (first Iranian dynasty) accidentally discovered fire when a stone hit a rock and created a spark. Take a moment to visualize the scene. Share the image that came to mind with a classmate.

They lit a huge fire, and in honor of the divine splendor [the discovery of how to light a fire] which had been revealed to Hushang, they instituted a festival of rejoicing. This is called the Sadeh festival, and it was celebrated with great reverence by the ancient Iranians, and the custom is still observed as a memorial of that night.

— Dick Davis, The Lion and the Throne: Stories from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, Vol. 1 (Washington D.C.: Mage Publishers, 1998), p. 18

  • How does the painting compare to your image of the scene? What details in the painting does the text support? What aspects of the story does the writer leave open to our imagination?
  • Describe this celebration. How might your community honor or celebrate a discovery?
  • Look closely at the figures in the painting. What might their clothing, accessories, pose, and location suggest about their status and relationship to one another?
  • Survey the setting. What aspects of the landscape has the artist emphasized? How? How would you describe the relationship between the figures and the landscape? Why?

Activity

Activity Setting: Classroom
Materials: Paper, pencils, newspapers and magazines from the past year (or computer with Internet access), and colored pencils (or paints and brushes)
Subject Areas: Language Arts, Visual Arts, World History
Duration: Approximately 120 minutes

The featured work of art presents one event recorded in the Book of Kings, a history of Iranian kingship from the creation of the world to the conquest of Iran by Arab Muslims in the mid-seventh century. List the five most important events you would choose to record if you were writing this year's history—consider politics, sports, technology, sciences, natural disasters, wars, economy, fashion, and arts and entertainment. Create an illustrated page with a short article describing each event and the reason for including it in your timeline. Post all of the entries created by the class in chronological order. Note trends among the group (such as event type) and compare and contrast the rationale presented in the submissions. Explore ways to group the works to create more focused timelines for the year (for example, the year in entertainment).

(Alternative: Each person creates a timeline for the year they were born, or a timeline with one entry for each year since their birth.)


Resources

Davis, Dick. The Lion and the Throne: Stories from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: Mage Publishers, 1998.

Ekhtiar, Maryam D., and Claire Moore, eds. Art of the Islamic World: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012.

Ferdowsi, Abolqasem. Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings. Translated by Dick Davis. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007.

Leoni, Francesca. "The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Yalman, Suzan. Based on original work by Linda Komaroff. "The Art of the Safavids before 1600." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.


Objects in the Museum's Collection Related to this Lesson

Tahmuras Defeats the Divs: Folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp
About 1525
Author: Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020)
Artist: Attributed to Sultan Muhammad (active first half of the 16th century)
Iran, Tabriz
Opaque watercolor, ink, silver, and gold on paper; painting: 11 1/8 x 7 5/16 in. (28.3 x 18.6 cm); page: 18 1/2 x 12 5/8 in. (47 x 32.1 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.3)

Siyavush Plays Polo: Folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp
About 1525–30
Author: Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020)
Artist: Attributed to Qasim ibn 'Ali (active 1525–60)
Iran, Tabriz
Opaque watercolor, ink, silver, and gold on paper; painting: 11 3/16 x 9 5/16 in. (28.4 x 23.7 cm); page: 18 5/8 x 12 9/16 in. (47.3 x 31.9 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.26)


Author: Adapted from lessons by classroom teachers Dr. Sujay Sood and Julie Mann
Date: 2012

Tahmuras Defeats the Divs: Folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp

After reading Unit Five, Chapter Three, you will be able to identify some of the key themes and events presented in the Persian national epic, the Shahnama (Book of Kings).