"The Feast of Sada", Folio 22v from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp

Author: Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020)

Artist: Painting attributed to Sultan Muhammad (active first half 16th century)

Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript

Date: ca. 1525

Geography: Made in Iran, Tabriz

Culture: Islamic

Medium: Opaque watercolor, ink, silver, and gold on paper

Dimensions: Painting: H. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm)
W. 9 1/16 in. (23 cm)
Page: H. 18 1/2 in. (47 cm)
W.12 1/2 in. (31.8 cm)
Mat: H. 22 in. (55.9 cm)
W. 16 in. (40.6 cm)

Classification: Codices

Credit Line: Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970

Accession Number: 1970.301.2


The first kings of Iran contributed to civilize humanity by introducing a variety of activities and crafts. Fire, however, was an accidental discovery. According to legend, one day King Hushang saw a hideous monster hiding behind a rock and tried to scare him by throwing a stone at him. Hitting a boulder, the rock produced sparks, and fire was discovered. The shah interpreted this as a divine gift and decided to celebrate the event on that same night with a great gathering. Hence, the feast of Sada, commemorating the discovery of fire, was established.
The exuberant quality of this composition has long been associated with the style of Sultan Muhammad, a major artist of the early Safavid period and the director of the manuscript project for several years. The scene develops around its main protagonist—fire, surrounded by a lively and colorful crowd of humans and animals. The gathering is framed by iridescent rock formations hiding monstrous shapes, which could be interpreted as entrapped spirits, perhaps a visual pun by the artist meant as a reminder of the unwitting cause of Hushang's discovery.