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No. 35     The King of Mazandaran turns himself into a rock


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. 73r


This striking miniature of a stone horseman illustrates the battle between Rostam and the King of Mazandaran, a master-sorcerer of demons, who refused to pay tribute to King Key Kavus. Just as Rostam was about to spear his chest, the sorcerer transformed himself into a rock — the moment captured here. Rostam puts his finger to his lips in amazement and Rakhsh bites the stone horse in disbelief. But Rostam was able to carry the massive stone to Key Kavus’s camp, where the sorcerer resumed his normal shape and was executed. The petrified king is normally shown as a round boulder. This portrayal of an equestrian statue is unusually elaborate. The two slanting segments of the horizon bear down on the sorcerer, suggesting his defeat. In the more spacious half of the composition, Rostam’s lance, the instrument of his victory, soars up and out of the picture, its pennant fluttering triumphantly.

Together with Nos. 33, 34, 36, 38 and 39, 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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