Royal Luxury

The Material Culture of the Shahnameh

December 2–6, 2019, Meier-Draudt Visual Learning Lab, Gund Gallery

The Shahnameh (Book of Kings) is an epic poem that narrates the history of ancient Persia from its legendary origins to the Arab conquest of the Sasanian Empire in the seventh century. Written by the poet Ferdowsi between 977 and 1010, this masterpiece of 50,000 verses attracted the patronage of rulers in Greater Iran over the last millennium. Hundreds of illuminated manuscripts were commissioned, and they are some of the best visual sources on the material culture of the medieval Islamic world. This exhibition explores these rich illuminations and the art and architecture that they illustrate. Focusing on the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–76), one of the most luxurious manuscripts produced by the royal workshops of Safavid Iran, the curators present episodes from the Shahnameh and identify extant objects that are comparable to those depicted within the manuscript paintings.

The folios presented in this exhibition are printed to scale from high-resolution open-access images provided by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Additional images were acquired from the British Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Harvard Art Museums, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Special thanks to May Chen (’20) and the Visual Resources Center for printing assistance.

Curated by ARHS 115 Introduction to Islamic Art and Architecture: Jimmy Andrews, Nick Becker, Francis Byrne, James Cook, Kevin Crawford, Isak Davis, Alexander Gow, Kieran Khanna, Mason Krahmer, Maddie Ladd, Sean Lema, Kai Long, Issalin Lopez, Paulina Mendez, Gabriella Must, Nadine Richardson, Ally Russell, Nate Saindon, Sarah Townsend, Libby Woodard, Yixiao Zhou, and Professor Brad Hostetler.

Banner image: King Luhrasp Ascends the Throne: a Processon Arrives at Court. Shiraz, Iran. Safavid, ca. 1560–1590. Opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper. 47 x 29.7 cm (18 1/2 x 11 11/16 in.). Cleveland Museum of Art; Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1962.24.