For Students

Past Exhibitions: 2004

A Medieval Masterpiece from Baghdad: The Ann Arbor Shahnama

August 14–December 19, 2004

Asfandiyar Slays a Dragon
from an illustrated Shahnama of Firdausi
Iraq, Baghdad, Persian School, ca. 1460-66
Manuscript leaf, ink, opaque watercolor, and gold leaf on paper
UMMA, Museum purchase, 1963/1.61

One of the great classics of world literature, the Shahnama is a dramatic and entertaining telling of the legendary exploits of Persian kings and heroes from the beginnings of civilization down to the Islamic conquest in the mid-seventh century. Its pages are filled with vivid human and supernatural figures, from selfless heroes and virtuous women to cruel, greedy kings and evil wizards. Underlying this dazzling surface pattern are Persia’s most enduring beliefs about virtue, honor, and kingship.

Shahnama image 2
Rustam Slays Suhrab (detail)
UMMA 1963/1.47

Composed by the court poet Firdausi in the first decade of the 11th century, the Shahnama has inspired countless generations of Persian rulers to commission deluxe manuscripts, drawing on the talents of the best calligraphers and painters of the day. This exhibition, curated by Senior Curator of Asian Art Maribeth Graybill, features one of the great treasures in UMMA’s collection, an illustrated Shahnama produced in Baghdad in the 1460s. All of the paintings from the manuscript will be on view for the first time in 40 years.

Shahnama image 3
Siyavush Displays His Prowess at Polo (detail)
UMMA 1963/1.49

This exhibition is made possible by the University of Michigan Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies.