"Buzurgmihr Masters the Game of Chess", Folio from the First Small Shahnama (Book of Kings), Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020), Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

"Buzurgmihr Masters the Game of Chess", Folio from the First Small Shahnama (Book of Kings)

Author:
Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020)
Object Name:
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Date:
ca. 1300–30
Geography:
Made in Iran or Iraq
Medium:
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Dimensions:
Painting: H. 1 15/16 in. (4.9 cm)
W. 4 13/16 in. (12.2 cm)
Page: H. 6 3/8 in. (16.2 cm)
W. 5 1/4 in. (13.3 cm)
Mat: H. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm)
W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
Classification:
Codices
Credit Line:
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1934
Accession Number:
34.24.1
Not on view
The text of the Shahnama has its own version of how the game of chess was introduced into Iran from India. In order to avoid paying tribute to the Sasanians, the rajah of Hind (India) sent an envoy challenging the Iranian ruler to figure out how this game was played. The clever vizier Buzurjmihr secured the tribute for his king by solving the problem. The Iranians are dressed in Mongol costume, whereas the erudite vizier wears Arab-style tunic and turban. The Indian envoy, all alone among the Iranians as if underscoring his defeat at the game, is typically represented as a dark-skinned man wearing baggy clothes and a loose turban.
The Shahnama has its own version of how the game of chess was introduced into Iran from India. In order to avoid paying tribute to the Sasanians, the rajah of Hind sent an envoy challenging the Iranian ruler Nushirvan to figure out how this war game was played. Buzurjmihr, the clever vizier, gained the tribute for his king by solving the problem.

The Iranians in attendance on Nushirvan are dressed in Mongol costumes, whereas the vizier is given an "erudite" status by his Arab-style tunic and turban. The Indian envoy, all alone among the Iranians as if underscoring his defeat at the game, is typically represented as a dark-skinned man wearing baggy clothes and a loose turban. The composition, set against a plain gold background, is strictly symmetrical, focusing attention on the three main characters in the center and especially on the stark white of the chessboard.[1]

[Komaroff and Carboni 2002].

Footnotes:

1. Simpson, Marianna Shreve. The Illustrations of an Epic: The Earliest "Shahnama" Manuscripts. Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1979, fig. 63; Swietochowsi, Marie Lukens and Stefano Carboni. Illustrated Poetry and Epic Images: Persian Paintings of the 1330s and 1340s. Exhib. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994, p. 123, fig. 35.
[ Heeramaneck Galleries, New York, until 1934; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia 1256-1353," October 28, 2002–February 16, 2003, no. 34.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia 1256-1353," April 13, 2003–July 27, 2003, no. 34.

Dimand, Maurice S. Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 29 (1934). pp. 58-60, ill. fig. 1 (b/w).

Swietochowski, Marie, Stefano Carboni, Tomoko Masuya, and Alexander H. Morton. Illustrated Poetry and Epic Images:Persian Painting of the 1330s and 1340s. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994. p. 123, ill. fig. 35 (b/w).

Carboni, Stefano. "Chessmen in the Department of Islamic Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Scacchi e Scienze Applicate suppl. no. 7, fasc. 15 (1996). ill. front cover (b/w.

Rossabi, Morris, Charles Melville, James C.Y. Watt, Tomoko Masuya, Sheila Blair, Robert Hillenbrand, Linda Komaroff, Stefano Carboni, Sarah Bertelan, and John Hirx. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353, edited by Stefano Carboni, and Linda Komaroff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. no. 34, pp. 151, 253, ill. fig. 176 (color).

Mackenzie, Colin, and Irving Finkel, ed. Asian Games The Art of Contest. New York: Asia Society, 2004. no. 12:6, p. 141, ill. (color).