"Tahmuras Defeats the Divs", Folio 23v 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. 11 1/8 (28.3 cm)
W. 7 5/16 in. (18.6 cm)
Entire Page: H. 18 1/2 in. (47 cm)
W. 12 5/8 in. (32.1 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: 1970.301.3


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"; 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.