Faridun crosses the Tigris on his way to fight Zahhak, from the Book of Kings (Shahnama) by Firdausi (1590/1600) by Reza `AbbasiOriginal Source: https://www.chesterbeatty.ie/
Detached folio, ink, pigments and gold on paper, Persian text with illumination, chapter-heading (recto) and painting (on verso), one of twenty-two folios from a partial copy of the Shahnama, attributed to the early reign of Safavid Shah `Abbas I, possibly Qazvin, Iran, c. 1590-1600.
Full-page painting with small text-columns of Persian poetry, Faridun leads his cavalry army across the deep river, watched by the punctilious ferryman in his boat. The ferryman has refused to carry the army across, because they do not have the correct permit.
These are verses of Persian poetry, written in an elegant script called nasta`liq. They tell how prince Faridun was furious when the ferryman refused to bring his army across the river by boat, and decided to swim across instead. The lines are organised in pairs of parallel text-boxes, because the poetry is composed in rhyming couplets. Here, the poetry pauses after three lines, to create space for the dramatic full-page painting below – and it continues in the text-boxes at the bottom left of the page.
At this point in the story, the young Iranian prince Faridun and his army are riding to the palace of the evil tyrant Zahhak, to defeat him and end his thousand-year reign of terror. There is a comic interlude when they reach the river Tigris: the ferryman won’t provide the army with boats, because Faridun doesn’t have the right permit. Here the official sits on his boat with a baffled look on his face, watching the heroic army swimming across the fast-flowing river.
The waters of the Tigris river have been painted in silver, which now appears black in colour. This is because the metal has long since oxidised. The original scene would have shown a gleaming metallic silver river. By looking closely, the viewer can still see the outlines of the rushing waves.
The poem describes how Prince Faridun rides his rose-red horse directly in to the torrent, undeterred by the lack of boats. Here he turns his head to his forces behind him, to see his loyal men follow him into the waters.
Paintings in sixteenth-century Iran often include details that show the artists playing with the picture-frame. Here , the artist has painted some loose rocks that seem to have “fallen out” of the scene, and a small bare tree growing into the margin space.
CBL Per 277.14
This painting is a page from a book, that was assembled in the last decade of the sixteenth century, in Iran. Some eighty years later, the book was restored, with new pages and other additions. The margins were then decorated in gold, with scenes of animals in a wild landscape. They are not part of the story-line in the main painting, but they add to the beauty of the book as a whole. Here, a crouching leopard looks across at a mountain goat, running away.
All text and images © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
Exhibit presented by Moya Carey
Chester Beatty, Dublin, Ireland