"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

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

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 462
In the reign of Hushang, grandson of Gayumars, the world came to understand the usefulness of minerals and the arts of smithery, agriculture, and irrigation. One day, Hushang spied a dragon lurking behind the rocks. He hurled a stone at it, which missed the monster but hit a larger rock, causing sparks to fly. Realizing the significance of this phenomenon, Hushang built a large fire and held a feast to celebrate its discovery. The witty yet benevolent depictions of people and animals characterize the liveliest of Sultan Muhammad’s creations. Also typical of his style is the oval composition with mountains rising into the margins of the page.


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Seven Folios from Shah Tahmasp's Shahnama

Although not the largest royal manuscript produced for Shah Tahmasp of Iran, the Shahnama (Book of Kings) ranks as the most important. Its 258 paintings by fifteen artists, working from the early or mid-1520s until the mid-1530s, form a compendium of Safavid painting from the first third of the sixteenth century. A veritable classroom for the great and lesser masters of Iran, the Shahnama project brought together artists from East and West who subsumed their regional styles into a Safavid idiom defined by perfect brushwork, complex, multifigure compositions, brilliant color, and lively characterization.

Martin Dickson and Stuart Cary Welch have described a scenario for the circumstances surrounding the commission of the manuscript, proposing that Shah Isma‘il I ordered a deluxe Shahnama for his first-born son, Tahmasp, in 1522, when the prince returned to Tabriz after six years in the former Timurid capital at Herat.[1] Alternatively, Shah Tahmasp may have ordered the manuscript in 1524 to commemorate his accession to the throne in that year, for the commissioning of opulent illustrated manuscripts to mark the coronation of a new ruler was a long-established practice in Iran.[2] Qadi Ahmad, writing at the end of the sixteenth century, states that as a prince, Tahmasp studied painting with the preeminent Tabriz artist, Sultan Muhammad.[3] Assuming this student-teacher relationship developed from 1522 on, Shah Tahmasp himself may have arrived at the idea of commissioning an imperial Shahnama at the suggestion of Sultan Muhammad. Since by 1522 Isma‘il I had succumbed to the alcoholism that killed him, his motivation for ordering such a manuscript is more difficult to divine. Welch claimed that an earlier royal Shahnama, on which Sultan Muhammad had begun production at the behest of Shah Isma‘il as a gift for Tahmasp, was never finished because its style was too foreign to the young Tahmasp, who had been reared in Herat and was familiar with the painting of the great Bihzad and other late Timurid artists.[4] However, such a supposition relies not only on dating the earlier, unfinished manuscript to about 1520, rather than five years earlier,[5] on the basis of style but also on accepting the notion that Tahmasp at the age of eight could tell the difference between the Herat and Tabriz schools of painting and prevail upon the artists at the Safavid court to abandon their project.

Dickson and Welch have posited three phases of production for the manuscript. During the first, Sultan Muhammad would have been director of the project, followed in 1527 by Mir Musavvir, who was in turn succeeded in the early 1530s by Aqa Mirak, a contemporary and close friend of Shah Tahmasp. While the sequence of paintings generally follows this chronology—the earliest works appearing at the beginning of the manuscript—some were added later near the beginning or replaced earlier versions of the same scene.[6]

This folio, "The Feast of Sada" represents the annual celebration of the discovery of fire, which is commemorated fifty days before Nauruz, the Persian New Year. It is said that Hushang, the grandson of the first king, Gayumars, threw a stone at a horrible monster that missed its target but hit another stone and caused sparks to fly. Realizing that he had discovered flint, the means to start fire, Hushang introduced fire worship to mankind, a form of reverence that continues among Zoroastrians to this day.

The painting depicts Hushang seated in the center of a meadow and holding a cup of wine as he turns to one of his men, who offers him a pomegranate. A third figure, at the left, is seated on a rug and also drinking wine. Before them blazes the fire that Hushang had lit to celebrate the feast. This particular arrangement of figures and rocky outcrops soaring into the upper margin is typical of Sultan Muhammad and is most brilliantly realized in his masterpiece, "The Court of Gayumars" from this manuscript.[12] While the level of detail here is far less complex than in the Gayumars image, the painting also displays other features characteristic of this artist: the facial types, the sympathetic portrayal of animals (Hushang was the first to domesticate them), and the melding of intense colors in the rocks. Sultan Muhammad’s figures are smaller in scale than those of the second-generation Shahnama artists, but they concur with the late fifteenth-century style found in the few known examples of royal Turkmen painting, most particularly a Khamsa of Nizami to which Sultan Muhammad and other artists added illustrations in the early sixteenth century.[13]

Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]


1. Dickson and Welch 1981, vol. 1, p. 4; Welch 1972, p. 53.

2. Robert Hillenbrand contended that, by the early sixteenth century, illustrated Shahnama manuscripts had gone out of fashion as commemorative volumes for new rulers. However, his suggestion that fifteenth-century rulers commissioned only illustrated books of mystical or love poetry did not take into consideration the major works on the wars of Timur, the Zafarnama, or the religious manuscript, the Mi‘rajnama, produced for the Timurid sultan, Abu Sa‘id. Hillenbrand, R. in Melville 1996, pp. 54–56. Both Shah Tahmasp’s successor, Shah Isma‘il II, and his successor, Shah ‘Abbas, commissioned illustrated Shahnamas at the start of their reigns, which suggests that the choice to embark on such a project was connected to their identity as Safavid rulers, distinct from their Turkmen and Timurid predecessors.

3. Ahmad ibn Mir Munshi al-Husaini. Calligraphers and Painters: A Treatise by Qadi Ahmad, Son of Mir- Munshi (circa A.H. 1015/A.D. 1606). Translated by V[ladimir] Minorsky. Smithsonian Institution Publication 4339. Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers, vol. 3, no. 2. Washington, D.C., 1959, pp. 180–81.

4. Welch 1972, pp. 48–54, 60; Dickson and Welch 1981, vol. 1, pp. 34, 45.

5. Canby 1993, pp. 79–80, dates the painting to about 1515–22.

6. Dickson and Welch 1981, vol. 1, p. 5; Welch 1972, pp. 62–63, 84.

12. Collection of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, Geneva.

13. Topkapı Palace Library (no. H762).
Inscription: In Persian in nasta’liq script part of a poem from the Shāhnma of Ferdowsī , the story of هوشنگ (Hushang).
(Abu’l-Qasim Ferdowsi,The Shāhnāmeh (The book of kings), ed, Djalal Khalqi- Muṭlagh, Mazda publishers in association with Bibliotheca Persica, Costa Mesa, California and New York, 1988, vol.1, p.29-31. This part of story appears in this reference under the title پادشاهي هوشنگ چهل سال بود (The rule of Hushang was forty year ).The first line (2 couplets)does not appears in this reference and the last 2 lines (4 couplets) appear in p. 29 and the rest in p.31).

Shah Tahmasp, Iran (until 1568; gifted to Selim II); Sultan Selim II, Istanbul (from 1568); Sultan Selim III, Istanbul (by 1800); Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Paris (by 1903–d. 1934); his son, Baron Maurice de Rothschild, Paris and Pregny, near Geneva (by 1955–d. 1957); [ Stiebel Ltd., New York, until 1959; sold to Houghton]; Arthur A. Houghton Jr., New York (1959–70; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A King's Book of Kings: Persian Miniatures from Shah Tahmasp's Shahnama of 1528," May 4, 1972–December 31, 1972, no catalog.

Welch, Stuart Cary. A King's Book of Kings: the Shah-nameh of Shah Tahmasp. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. pp. 92-95, ill. pp. 93-95, folio 22v (color, b/w).

Swietochowski, Marie, and Richard Ettinghausen. "Islamic Painting." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 36, no. 2 (Autumn 1978). pp. 28-29, ill. p. 28 (b/w), folio 22v.

Dickson, Martin, and Stuart Cary Welch. The Houghton Shahnameh. Vol. vols. I & II. Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1981. vol. II, ill. pl. 9 (b/w).

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 96-97, ill. fig. 73 (color).

Canby, Sheila R. "Five Centuries of Painting." In Persian Masters. Bombay: Marg Publications, 1990. p. 62, ill. fig. 4.

de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 323, ill. fig. 29 (color).

Burn, Barbara, ed. Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York; Boston: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. p. 84, ill. (color).

Canby, Sheila R. Persian Painting. London: British Museum Press, 1993. pp. 79-80.

Melville, Charles, ed. Safavid Persia : The History and Politics of an Islamic Society. Pembroke Persian papers. London - New York: I.B. Tauris & Company, Ltd., 1996. pp. 54-56.

Barry, Mike, and Stuart Cary Welch. "et l'Enigme de Behzad de Herat (1465–1535)." In L'Art Figuratif en Islam Medieval. Paris: Flammarion, 2004. p. 367, ill. p. 367 (detail), folio 22v.

Canby, Sheila R. "The Persian Book of Kings." In The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp. Madrid, 2011. p. 29, ill. (color), folio 22v.

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 138B, pp. 7, 202-208, ill. p. 204 (color).

Haidar, Navina, and Marika Sardar. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art Symposia." In Sultans of the South: Art of India's Deccan Courts. Brugge, Belgium: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. p. 108, ill. fig. 4.

Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 144-145, ill. pl. 27 (color).

Canby, Sheila R. The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp: The Persian Book of Kings. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. pp. 70, 20, ill. fol. 21v (color), full-page ill. p. 70; detail p. 20.