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No. 45     The Simorgh restores Zal to Sam


Ferdowsi, Shahnameh
Timurid: Herat, c.1444
Patron: Mohammad Juki b. Shah Rokh

Opaque watercolour, ink and gold on paper

London, Royal Asiatic Society, Persian MS 239, fol. 16v


Sam had long been childless, but when an albino son was born to him he abandoned him in the Alborz mountain to die, because of his perceived defect. The Simorgh, a mythical bird, took the infant to her nest and brought him up. Years later, Sam had a dream about his son and set out to find him, but could not reach the mountain top. The Simorgh gave the boy feathers that he could burn to summon her at need and carried him down to his father. Overjoyed, Sam named his son Zal (‘white-haired’).

As usual, Zal is shown here as an infant rather than the boy described in the Shahnameh. The rendering of the Simorgh derives from Chinese versions of the Asiatic pheasant. The colourful rocks lend a magical quality to the mountains.

Together with Nos. 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 53, 54 and 55, this illustration belonged to a copy of the Shahnameh made for Mohammad Juki b. Shah Rokh, brother of Ebrahim Soltan (the patron of Nos. 33, 34, 35, 36, 38 and 39). Mohammad Juki died before the manuscript was completed. In the early sixteenth century, it came into the possession of a later Timurid ruler, Babur, who took it to India when he founded the Mughal dynasty there. 



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