No. 4    Zahhak enthroned

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Ferdowsi, Shahnameh
Provincial Turkman: Mazandaran, 8 April 1446
Patron: Amir Mohammad b. Mortaza
Scribe:  Fath Allah b. Ahmad Sabzavari

Opaque watercolour, ink and gold on paper

London, British Library, MS Or. 12688, vol. I, fol. 22r


The first evil king, Zahhak, ruled Iran for a thousand years. In his youth he was guided by Eblis (the Devil) and took advantage of the murder of his father, the Arab king Merdas. Disguised as a cook, Eblis treated Zahhak to exotic meat dishes and in return asked to kiss his shoulders. Snakes grew from the site of the kisses. Zahhak cut them off, but they grew back. Eblis, this time transformed into a physician, advised the king to feed the snakes daily with the brains of young men. Here, Zahhak’s courtiers stare at the king’s transformation. Disaffected elements invite him to seize the throne of Iran from Shah Jamshid. This manuscript was planned to receive one hundred and fifty-three illustrations, a clear indication of the patron’s status and wealth.


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The Fitzwilliam Museum : Ferdowsi's Shahnameh

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