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Rustam Slays the White Div, from the Shahnama of Firdausi

Iranian

Artwork Details

Rustam Slays the White Div, from the Shahnama of Firdausi
circa 1460
Iranian
ink, opaque watercolor, and gold leaf on paper
10 7/16 in. x 7 1/8 in. ( 26.5 cm x 18.1 cm )
Museum Purchase
1963/1.45

On Display

Not currently on display

Description

In Rustam’s time, Kai Kaus inherited the throne of Iran. Not content with his vast empire and great wealth, he led his army against Mazandaran, the realm of the supernatural divs (demons). Kai Kaus and his warriors were quickly defeated and imprisoned. Word of their plight reached Rustam, who set out alone to rescue his king, fighting lions, dragons, and witches in his path. Rustam’s final battle was with the great White Div, the leader of the div armies. Rustam had been advised by his reluctant guide Ulad that divs are weakest in daylight.
So Rustam paused till noon, then, having bound
Ulad fast with the lasso, mounted [his horse] Rakhsh,
Unsheathed his warlike Crocodile [his mace], and shouted
His name like thunder. …
Thence radiant as the sun he went to seek
The White Div, found a pit like Hell, but saw not
The sorcerer for the murk. …
He rubbed his eyelids, bathed his eyes, and searched
The cave till in the gloom he saw a Mountain
That blotted all within, with sable face
And hair like the lion’s Mane—a world to see! …
They wrestled, tearing out each other’s flesh,
Till all the ground was puddled with their blood. …
He reached out, clutched the div, raised him neck-high,
And dashed the life-breath from him on the ground,
Then with a dagger stabbed him to the heart …
Warner, II, 59–60
Thus Rustam restored the rightful (if overly ambitious) shah to his throne, for which he was richly rewarded. It was the first of many times when Rustam came to the rescue of Kai Kaus.
As usual in this manuscript, the artist strives to be faithful to the text, including Rustam’s horse and guide in the painting. When later critics vandalized the image, they defaced the figure of Rustam.
———
Maribeth Graybill, Senior Curator of Asian Art
Exhibited in "A Medieval Masterpiece from Baghdad: the Ann Arbor Shahnama"
August 14 through December 19, 2004

Subject Matter:

Rustam Slays the White Div 

So Rustam paused till noon, then, having bound 
Ulad fast with the lasso, mounted Rakhsh, 
Unsheathed his warlike Crocodile, and shouted
His name like thunder....

Thence radiant as the sun he went to seek 
The White Div, found a put like Hell, but saw not
The sorcerer for the murk.

He rubbed his eyelids, bathed his eyes, and searched 
The cave till in the gloom he saw a Mountain 
That blotted all within, with sable face 
And hair like lion's mane--a world to see!

They wrestled, tearing out each other's flesh, 
Till all the ground was puddled with their blood....

...He reached out, clutched the div, raised him neck-high, 
And dashed the life-breath from him on the ground, 
Then with a dagger stabbed him to the heart....

Physical Description:

This painted miniature Shahnama page was made by the Shiraz and Timurid schools, ca. 1460 in Baghdad, Iraq. The painting is done in ink, opaque watercolor and gold leaf on paper. The scene depicts Rustam Slays the White Div from the Shahnama of Firdausi, the Persian book of kings. 

Usage Rights:

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