4. Old and New Ways of Seeing: 16th
The sixteenth century saw the advent of the Safavids
Iran’s longest-lived and most successful dynasty since the
pre-Islamic period. Their first move was to proclaim shi‘ism as the
official state religion, venerating the family of the Prophet
Mohammad. Under Safavid patronage, Ferdowsi’s epic became a vehicle
for expressing Persian political and cultural superiority vis-à-vis
the Ottoman Turks, who were consolidating their rule in Anatolia and
the Arab world. After the fall of the Safavids and the bloody career
of Nader Shah (1736–1747), the Qajars established their power in
the 1790s and laid the foundations of the dynasty that ruled Iran
until 1924. They considered themselves the heirs of the Safavids and
promoted an image of Persian kingship in which the Shahnameh
played a central role.
During this time, the capital shifted from Tabriz to Qazvin
Esfahan, then to Mashhad and finally Tehran. Princely copies of the
Shahnameh were made at all of these regional courts,
modest ones were produced in large numbers for the middle classes. By
the sixteenth century, the Shahnameh had
empires west and east of Iran, and fine manuscripts were exported to
and produced in Ottoman Istanbul and Mughal India.
The most magnificent Persian manuscript ever produced was made
Shah Tahmasp (1524–1576) by a team of artists from former Timurid
Herat and the Turkman courts in the west. Another royal copy was made
for his successor, Esma‘il II (1576–1577).
If the subject matter remained largely the same, by the end of
period European influence was making itself felt in the use of
perspective and the arrangement of the picture space.
The following is a selection of manuscripts included in this section of the exhibition. The numbers correspond to the order of the display and the entries in the catalogue.