Tahmuras Defeats the Divs: From the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp, Safavid period (1501–1722), ca. 1525
Attributed to Sultan Muhammad (Iranian, active first half of 16th century)
Opaque watercolor, ink, silver, and gold on paper; page: H. 18 1/2 in. (47 cm), W. 12 5/8 in. (32.1 cm)
Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.3)
The fight against the obscure forces of evil, here personified by a horde of multicolored divs (demons), was among the most challenging tasks of the early kings of Iran. Tahmuras, who became known as the "div-binder," was the ruler who succeeded in subduing them. In order to have their lives spared, the divs promised to teach man the precious art of writing. This is how humankind learned various alphabets, including Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Persian, and Sogdian.
This extraordinary painting, which has been attributed to Sultan Muhammad, reveals the penchant for experimentation that characterizes the work of Persian artists in this period. In addition to some foreshortenings and the depiction of figures in perspective, which probably imitate Western examples, the imagery of divs in this manuscript witnesses remarkable changes when compared to past illustrations. They become progressively anthropomorphized—by means of explicit sexualization—and incorporate traits of demons of Central Asian origin, which, we know, were circulating on both silk and paper in the royal library at Tabriz.