No. 94     Bahman-Ardeshir swallowed by a dragon

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Abu Tahir Mohammad b. Hoseyn al-Tarsusi, Darabnameh
Mughal, c.1580–1585

Opaque watercolour, ink and gold on paper

London, British Library, MS Or. 4615, fol. 3v


At the outset of the prose epic Darabnameh, Bahman, son of Esfandiyar and known as Ardeshir, rules in Iran. He is told that a dragon has appeared in the mountains and is causing havoc with the herds. He goes alone to deal with the threat and suddenly the fire-breathing dragon emerges and swallows him. This is the only incident in which a monster triumphs over a hero, and it may represent the mythologized version of a political event. This extraordinary image was produced at a significant moment in the development of Mughal painting, when Persian, Hindu and European artistic styles converged. It could be associated with the visit of a Jesuit mission, which brought European pictures, to the emperor Akbar (1156–1605) at Fathpur Sikri in 1580.


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The Fitzwilliam Museum : The Shahnameh in India

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