Zahhak Is Told His Fate: From the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp, ca. 1523–24
Attributed to Sultan Muhammad (Iranian, active first half of 16th century)
Colors, ink, silver, and gold on paper; 18 1/2 x 12 9/16 in. (47 x 31.9 cm)
Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.4)
One night, the Arab usurper Zahhak had a nightmare. He dreamt that a valorous youth, with a cypress-like stature and a bull-headed mace, would fight against him, bringing down his tyrannical reign. Waking up terrified, Zahhak summoned his priests and wise men to interpret the meaning of the dream. None of them dared to reveal that an Iranian prince by the name of Faridun would indeed come to dethrone him and restore the authority of Iranian kings. It was only when he threatened them with death that the evil omen was revealed. Hearing these words, "the world turned black" for Zahhak, and he lost his senses. The painting illustrates exactly the moment in which some of the courtiers try to assist the old snake-shouldered ruler.