"Isfandiyar's Third Course: He Slays a Dragon", Folio 434v from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp

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

Artist: Painting attributed to Qasim ibn 'Ali (active ca. 1525–60)

Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript

Date: ca. 1530

Geography: Made in Iran, Tabriz

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

Dimensions: Painting: H. 11 in. (27.9 cm)
W. 10 5/16 in. (26.2 cm)
Page: H. 18 5/8 in. (47.3 cm)
W. 12 1/2 in. (31.8 cm)
Mat: H. 22 in. (55.9 cm)
W. 16 in. (40.6 cm)
Mat: H. 22 in. (55.9 cm)
W. 16 in. (40.6 cm)

Classification: Codices

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

Accession Number: 1970.301.51


This dramatic image illustrates the third of seven challenges, or courses, that Prince Isfandiyar underwent en route to freeing his sisters from captivity in Turan. Learning that he would encounter a dragon on his perilous path, Isfandiyar ordered a horse-drawn cart with a box in which he could hide and from which spears projected. Here, the dragon has appeared and is sucking the horses into its maw, soon to be impaled on the spears and slashed by Isfandiyar’s sword. The tightly coiled dragon slithering through the rocks and breathing fire lends drama and menace to the scene, which otherwise contains many elements associated with Turkmen painting, such as the writhing bare bushes and squat figures, competently rendered by Qasim ibn 'Ali, an artist from Shiraz who was active at the Safavid court in the second quarter of the sixteenth century.