verso Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Story of Iraj's Journey to Meet with His Brothers and His Death at Their Hands (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
37.2 x 23.6 cm (14 5/8 x 9 5/16 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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A great part of the Shahnama is devoted to wars between the Iranians and the Turanians. The latter were descendants of Tur, son of the emperor Faridun. The conflict began when the Faridun divided his kingdom among his three sons, Salm, Tur, and Iraj. The lands of Iran and Arabia were given to the youngest son, Iraj; Salm received the western kingdom of Rum (Anatolia); and to Tur was dealt the eastern kingdom (Central Asia), named after him as Turan. In later years, Salm and Tur became jealous of Iraj, and murdered him, setting into motion the conflicts between Iran and its neighbors that drive much of the action in the Shahnama. A splendid tented enclosure provides the setting for the princely fratricide. Having knocked the crown from Iraj's head, Tur here dispatches his brother on a medallion carpet before an audience of dismayed courtiers.

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

Double page: The Murder of Iraj
A. Verso: text, with titles “Iraj visits his brothers” (above) and “Iraj is killed by his brothers” (below)
Folio: 37.2 × 23.6 cm (14 5/8 × 9 5/16 in.)
B. Recto: text and illustration
Folio: 37.2 × 23.6 cm (14 5/8 × 9 5/16 in.)

Published: McWilliams 2004, 8, fig. 11.

The painting depicts a decisive moment in the Shāhnāma and provides the explanation for the bitter enmity between the Iranians and the Turanians (Turks) that pervades the subsequent narrative of the epic. Firdawsi tells us that the conflict between the two groups began after King Faridun divided his empire among his three sons. Rum (Byzantine territory) and the western lands were assigned to Salm, China and Central Asia to Tur, and Iran and Arabia to Iraj. Over the years, Salm and Tur grew jealous of Iraj and plotted to murder him.

The tragic episode took place in Iraj’s encampment. Having learned of his brothers’ intent, Iraj vainly begged Tur to spare his life, but Tur, with Salm looking on, stabbed Iraj with a poisoned dagger, cut off his head, and sent it to their father, Faridun.

The illustration shows a marvelous tent complex crowded with high officials and noblemen, looking on as Tur severs Iraj’s head. Whereas in the text Firdawsi details the youngest brother’s wounds and spilled blood, the artist of this illustration focuses on his final, vain attempt to fend off the knife at his throat. His crown has fallen to the ground, likely knocked off during Tur’s attack. Salm stands on the right, seemingly taken aback by the violent action unfolding before his eyes.

By the sixteenth century, the iconography and composition of this scene were well established and appear in numerous illustrated Shāhnāma manuscripts.[1]

Mika M. Natif

[1] See, for example, Dickson and S. C. Welch 1981a, vol. 2, no. 36; Canby 2011, 55.

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

32Q: 2550 Islamic, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/05/2022 - 10/31/2022

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