"Nushirvan Eating Food Brought by the Sons of Mahbud", Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings), Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020), Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

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

Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020)
Object Name:
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Attributed to Iran, Tabriz
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
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)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1952
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 455
This page once formed part of a now-dispersed manuscript known as the Great Mongol Shahnama, believed to have been produced in the 1330s at Tabriz. A large-scale work, it would have once contained nearly 300 folios with almost 200 paintings. The subject of this beautifully painted folio is unclear as its imagery does not relate directly to its surrounding text, but it likely represents the king Nushirvan dining.
After Bahram Gur's peaceful death, the Shahnama continues with the history of his descendants, dwelling at length on episodes in the reign of Nushirvan the Just. Mahbud, one of Nushirvan's paladins, was entrusted with the daily duty of preparing the royal meals, which were cooked by Mahbud's wife and brought to the palace by his two sons. Mahbud's privileged position was the cause of much envy, and for none more than Zuran, an evil chamberlain, who conspired with a sorcerer to remove him. His sons were tricked into uncovering the tray of food on the pretext of checking it for freshness, at which point the sorcerer rendered the food poisonous 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' 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. Sometime later, however, Nushirvan uncovered the plot and had Zuran hanged.

The painting is unusual in that its subject is not easily identifiable.[1] As Grabar and Blair have observed, the surrounding text deals with the construction of the gallows for Zuran, which is not depicted. The composition is divided into two architectural settings. On the right, behind two armed guards, is a palace facade; a young woman looks down from an upper 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, though the latter does not figure in the story.

[Komaroff and Carboni 2002]


1. Grabar, Oleg and Sheila Blair. Epic Images and Contemporary History: The Illustrations of the Great Mongol Shahnama. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980, pp. 168–69, no. 56.
[ Demotte, Inc., New York (by 1926); Dikran G. Kelekian, New York (until d. 1951; his estate, New York, 1951–52; soldto MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia 1256-1353," October 28, 2002–February 16, 2003, no. 59.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia 1256-1353," April 13, 2003–July 27, 2003, no. 59.

Grube, Ernst J. "The Early School of Herat and its Impact on Islamic Painting of the Later 15th, the 16th and 17th Centuries." In The Classical Style in Islamic Painting. Venice: Edizioni Oriens, 1968. ill. pl. 6 (b/w).

Swietochowski, Marie, and Richard Ettinghausen. "Islamic Painting." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 36, no. 2 (Autumn 1978). pp. 6-7, ill. p. 7 (color).

Swietochowski, Marie, Stefano Carboni, Tomoko Masuya, and Alexander H. Morton. Illustrated Poetry and Epic Images:Persian Painting of the 1330s and 1340s. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994. p. 78, ill. fig. 24 (b/w).

Rossabi, Morris, Charles Melville, James C.Y. Watt, Tomoko Masuya, Sheila Blair, Robert Hillenbrand, Linda Komaroff, Stefano Carboni, Sarah Bertelan, and John Hirx. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353, edited by Stefano Carboni, and Linda Komaroff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. no. 59, pp. 226-28, 258, ill. fig. 274 (color).

Jayhani, Hamidreza. "Bāgh-i Samanzār-i nūshāb: Tracing a Landscape." Muqarnas vol. 31 (2014). p. 105, ill. fig. 4 (color).