"Nushirvan Eating Food Brought by the Sons of Mahbud", Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings)

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

Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript

Date: 1330s

Geography: Iran, Tabriz

Culture: Islamic

Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

Dimensions: Page: H. 20 3/4 in. (52.7 cm)
W. 15 1/8 in. (38.4 cm)
Painting: H. 8 1/8 in. (20.6 cm)
W. 9 1/8 in. (23.2 cm)
Mat: H. 22 in. (55.9 cm)
W. 16 in. (40.6 cm)

Classification: Codices

Credit Line: Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1952

Accession Number: 52.20.2


After Bahram Gur's peaceful death, the Shahnama continues with the history of his descendant Nushirvan the Just. Mahbud, one of Nushirvan's paladins, was entrusted with the daily duty of preparing the royal meals, which were brought to the palace by his two sons. Mahbud's privileged position was the cause of much envy, especially for Zuran, an evil chamberlain who conspired with a sorcerer to remove him. His sons were tricked into uncovering the tray of food which had been poisoned by the sorcerer by means of the evil eye. As Nushirvan sat to eat his meal, Zuran warned him that it might be poisoned and suggested that Mahbud's sons taste it first. The two youths immediately succumbed. Angered by this apparent treachery, Nushirvan ordered Mahbud and his wife to be executed, and Zuran and the sorcerer became the king's most trusted advisers. Later, however, Nushirvan uncovered the plot and had Zuran hanged.
The painting's subject is not easily identifiable, although the text indicates that it deals with this particular story. On the left, a crowned couple is seated in an interior. The man, who raises a goblet, must represent Nushirvan and the woman his queen, although the latter does not figure in the story.