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No. 53     The paladins in the snow

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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. 243r

 

After a long and prosperous reign, the virtuous Key Khosrow prayed that he might die before succumbing to pride. He renounced his kingship, gave away his treasures, left the throne to Lohrasp, and made his way into the mountains accompanied by his closest paladins. He asked them to leave him and return to the valley. Zal, Rostam and Gudarz obeyed him reluctantly, but others remained. Key Khosrow spent the night reading the Avesta (the primary collection of sacred Zoroastrian texts) and bade his companions farewell. In the morning they searched for him in vain, fell asleep and were buried in the snow.

Ignoring the text, the artist has created a charming image of travellers caught in the snow. Chinese motifs, such as the swirling purplish-gray clouds and the tree stump delicately covered in snow, mingle with gestures observed from life.

Together with Nos. 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 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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