"The Besotted Iranian Camp Attacked by Night", Folio 241r from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp

Author: Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020)

Artist: Painting attributed to Qadimi (active ca. 1525–65)

Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript

Date: ca. 1525–30

Geography: Made in Iran, Tabriz

Medium: Opaque watercolor, ink, silver, and gold on paper

Dimensions: Painting: H. 11 1/8 x W. 9 1/8 in. (H. 28.2 x W. 23.2 cm)
Entire Page: H. 18 11/16 x W. 12 5/8 in. (H. 47.5 x W. 32.1 cm)

Classification: Codices

Credit Line: Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970

Accession Number: 1970.301.36


The battle of Iran against Turan is one of the dominant themes of the Shahnama. A significant portion of the poem recounts the many stories of expeditions against the Turanians, and the invasions of the latter to conquer Iran-zamin, the land of Iran. In this painting, the Iranian encampment falls victim to a vile attack by the Turanians. Having learned of the army's arrival to avenge Farud's unjust murder, Piran, the commander-in-chief, stirrs the Turanians and takes advantage of the obscurity of the night to anticipate his attack.
Scenes of battle abound in this manuscript of the Shahnama and are always rendered as whirls of twisting bodies and running horses. The noise of the fighters' weapons and their pained cries can almost be heard thanks to the artists' extraordinary ability to depict the moment with intensity. To increase the veracity of the scene, they also devoted great attention to gruesome details, such as spurts of blood and severed limbs and bodies. Although the eye of the viewer is disoriented by the overlapping planes of actions and characters, the painting displays the remarkable skill of its makers in translating the tension and ambivalence of the action in a very complex composition.