"The Funeral of Isfandiyar", Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings)

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

Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript

Date: 1330s

Geography: Attributed to Iran, Tabriz

Culture: Islamic

Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

Dimensions: Page: H. 22 13/16 in. (58 cm)
W. 15 3/4 in. (40 cm)
Mat: H. 24 in. (61 cm)
W. 19 1/2 in. (49.5 cm)

Classification: Codices

Credit Line: Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1933

Accession Number: 33.70


With his dying breath, Isfandiyar entrusted Rustam with the guidance of his son, after declaring that his death was caused not by Rustam but by fate and his father's ambitions. Rustam made arrangements to send Isfandiyar's body back to Iran. The text gives a detailed description of the fine iron coffin that Rustam ordered, smeared with pitch on the inside, draped with rich Chinese brocades, and sprinkled with musk and ambergris. He also shrouded the body in brocade and placed on it Isfandiyar's turquoise crown.
The details of the painting follow the text faithfully. Members of the procession, with distinctly Mongol features, are shown wailing and tearing their hair in grief. As a sign of mourning, Isfandiyar's horse has its mane and tail shorn, and the saddle, with Isfandiyar's mace, quiver, and helmet hanging from it, is reversed. This illustration of a royal Mongol funeral procession is rendered with smooth calligraphic lines that derive from Chinese painting, as do the clouds above, with the three geese that, in Buddhist belief, would bear the soul to heaven. This Persian painting is one of the first examples to convey a realistic sense of individual emotion.