verso Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Praise for Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna (text, recto and verso), folio from a manuscript of the Shahnama by Firdawsi
Work Type
manuscript folio
1561 - 1562
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran, Shiraz
Safavid period
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
37 x 23.5 cm (14 9/16 x 9 1/4 in.)
[Christies, London, 17 October 1995, lot no. 79]. [Mansour Gallery, London, before 1998, sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (by 1998-2002), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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The first narrative in the Shahnama, the story of Gayumars represents the beginning of civilization. Gayumars, the figure seated on a tiger skin, was anointed the first shah when the sun shed its luster on him. As depicted in this painting, his reign was a golden age, with the sun smiling down on the mountaintop kingdom. Evil soon appeared in the form of the demon Ahriman and his wolf-like son (upper left), enemies of everything in the world that was fine and noble.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
76 A-B

Double page: The Court of Gayumars
A. Verso: text, with title “Words in praise of Sultan Mahmud [of Ghazni]”
Folio: 37 × 23.5 cm (14 9/16 × 9 1/4 in.)
B. Recto: text and illustration, with title “King Gayumars”
Folio: 37.2 × 23.4 cm (14 5/8 × 9 3/16 in.)

Gayumars was the legendary first king of Iran, associated with the beginning of civilization and an organized social order. He and his people lived in the mountains and wore clothes made of leopard skins. The court was prosperous and his subjects content: animals and humans alike obeyed the king, who was blessed with divine power (farr). Gayumars had a son, Siyamak, whom he adored and who was loved by all save a jealous creature called Ahriman.

The large and densely detailed illustration shows the king, seated on a tiger skin, attended by his court; like him, they are dressed in leopard pelts. Siyamak sits to the left of Gayumars, and the two are encircled by courtiers and animals. The rocks of their mountain home have human faces, as does a sun that shines from behind a crag in the upper left corner. Near the sun, a demonic figure peers at a bear hurling a rock. Such playful vignettes are characteristic of Persianate painting of the time and can also be found in the illustrations of the Shāhnāma made for the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp.[1] The red demon may represent Ahriman, the enemy of humankind.

Mika M. Natif

[1] See, for example, a bear throwing a rock on fol. 22v, The Feast of Sada, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1970.301.2), illustrated in Dickson and S. C. Welch 1981a, vol. 2, no. 9; Canby 2011, 29.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013)

Exhibition History

Closely Focused, Intensely Felt: Selections from the Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/07/2004 - 01/02/2005

In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2013 - 06/01/2013

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at