No. 39     Eskandar (Alexander the Great) contemplates the Talking Tree

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Ferdowsi, Shahnameh
Timurid: Shiraz, c.1430
Patron: Ebrahim Soltan b. Shah Rokh
Illuminator: Nasr al-Soltani

Opaque watercolours, ink and gold on paper

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ouseley Add. 176, fol. 311v

 

Towards the end of his travels, Eskandar, or Alexander the Great, came to a town at the edge of the world. The local curiosity was a tree with two trunks of talking heads; the male trunk spoke by day and the female at night. Intrigued, Eskandar visited the tree and heard a voice prophesying his death. He is shown here standing before the tree in bewilderment, his finger to his lips. The tree’s mystical qualities are emphasized by the assortment of human and animal heads. The absence of text lends the image an unusual solemnity.

Together with Nos. 33, 34, 35, 36 and 38, this illustration belonged to a splendid copy of the Shahnameh commissioned by Timur’s grandson, Ebrahim Soltan (1394–1435), son of Shah Rokh, c.1430.

 

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