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Chapter Three: The Making of A Persian Manuscript—The Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp

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Siyavush Plays Polo: Folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp. About 1525–30. Author: Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020). Artist: Attributed to Qasim ibn 'Ali (active 1525–60). Iran, Tabriz

After reading this chapter, you will be able to:

  • identify some of the key themes and events presented in the Persian national epic, the Shahnama (Book of Kings)
  • make connections between figures and events in the story and the illustrated pages of the manuscript produced for Shah Tahmasp
  • understand the process and materials used to create a royal manuscript of this caliber

This chapter explores one of the masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum's collection, the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp (reigned 1524–76).

The poet Abu'l Qasim Firdausi did not invent the stories and legends that make up the Shahnama, but undertook the ambitious project of collecting them and setting them to verse.

Although the majority of the stories in the Shahnama involve battles and struggles between the forces of good and evil, other themes include love, humor, and the supernatural.

Around 1524, the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp (reigned 1524–76) commissioned an illustrated manuscript of the Shahnama.

In the royal Safavid workshop, the making of a manuscript—especially one as ambitious as this—drew upon the resources of the state to employ artists and supply materials such as paper, ink, gold leaf, pigments, and leather bindings.

Read in-depth information about featured works of art related to this unit.

A list of resources for additional reading, with grade levels indicated

A list of sources used to compile the information in this unit

Unit Five: Chapter Three Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan: The Making of a Persian Royal Manuscript

Students will be able to identify some of the key events and figures presented in the Persian national epic, the Shahnama (Book of Kings); make connections between the text and the illustrated pages of the manuscript produced for Shah Tahmasp; and create a historical record of their community.

The Feast of Sada: Folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp

The lesson plan related to The Making of a Persian Royal Manuscript features a folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp.