recto Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Text page with title “Letter of Kay Khusraw to Fariburz” (text, recto and verso), folio from a manuscript of the Shahnama by Firdawsi
Work Type
manuscript folio
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran, Shiraz
Safavid period
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
37 x 24 cm (14 9/16 x 9 7/16 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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Once Kay Khusraw assumed the throne of Iran, he launched his first military campaign against Turan to avenge the death of his father, Siyavush. With its dark sky spangled by silver stars, this painting illustrates one of the campaign's setbacks. Addled by days and nights of carousing as they celebrated initial success, the Iranian soldiers were unprepared for battle when the Turanians, led by Afrasiyab's commander-in-chief, Piran, swept down upon their camp at night. In the ensuing struggle, the Turanians destroyed two-thirds of the Iranian army.

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

Double page: Piran Attacks the Iranians at Night
A. Verso: text and illustration
Folio: 37 × 24 cm (14 9/16 × 9 7/16 in.)
B. Recto: text, with title “Letter of Kay Khusraw to Fariburz”
Folio: 37 × 24 cm (14 9/16 × 9 7/16 in.)

Following successful attacks on Turan by the Iranians, Afrasiyab appointed Piran to lead the Turanian army and defeat the invaders. Learning that the Iranians had let down their guard and were carousing drunkenly, Piran rallied thirty thousand soldiers and attacked their encampment in the hours of darkness, soundly defeating them. Although this painting shows the attack, its scenes of slaughter are subordinated to the beauty of the floral landscape and embellished tents and the rhythmic placement of the figures with their swinging scimitars. Sharing the restraint and delicacy of many Safavid paintings, it does not fully convey the bloody tumult and chaos that Firdawsi describes.

Mika M. Natif

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), p. 230, cat. 84 A-B, ill.

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