AN ILLUSTRATION FROM A SHAHNAMA SERIES: ARDASHIR RECOGNISES HIS SON SHAPUR AT A POLO GAME SHIRAZ, CIRCA 1560

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Lot 3235
AN ILLUSTRATION FROM A SHAHNAMA SERIES:
ARDASHIR RECOGNISES HIS SON SHAPUR AT A POLO GAME
SHIRAZ, CIRCA 1560

Sold for US$ 100,000 inc. premium
AN ILLUSTRATION FROM A SHAHNAMA SERIES:
ARDASHIR RECOGNISES HIS SON SHAPUR AT A POLO GAME
SHIRAZ, CIRCA 1560
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold and silver on paper.
Image: 12 x 7 5/8 in. (30.5 x 19.8 cm);
Folio: 16 3/4 x 10 3/8 in. (42.5 x 26.5 cm);
Verso Text Area: 10 x 5 7/8 in. (25.5 x 15 cm)

Footnotes

  • King Ardashir, founder of the Sassanian Empire (r.224-242), observes a polo game flanked by his court officials. He sits on a gold saddle, wearing teal trousers and an orange tunic, and his horse protrudes ahead of the crowd. Musicians support the festivities from the other side. The artist captures the moment Ardashir, impressed by a youth's ability and prowess, questions his identity and discovers him to be his own son Shapur, born and raised in secrecy.

    This folio belongs to a copy of the Shahnama of Firdausi produced at for the Safavid court at the peak of Shiraz tradition of manuscript illumination. The artist exhibits his dexterity through the treatment of the architecture and garden: a juxtaposition of various geometric and figurative forms each rendered with meticulous articulation. He offers a peek into the landscape beyond the walls through the door ajar on the center-left of the composition, highlighting his effort to create a perspectival image. The pink blooming flowers and trees in the green garden beyond the wall showcase an attention to detail expected at the Safavid court. The text is written among the trees in fine nasta'liq against a gold background, separated in columns by blue bands decorated with gold flowers on tendrils. The marginalia of the illustrated recto show flower motifs and mythical animals, like a simurgh above, rendered in gold on the cream-colored surface. On the leaf's reverse side, the text of the Shahnama is written in four columns in nasta'liq script. The twenty-five lines in the inter-columnar illumination are framed by gold bands, blue and orange lines, and black rules.

    The Harvard Art Museum holds five illustrated leaves from this important Shahnama manuscript, including half of the frontispiece (acc.#2002.50.34-38). The Los Angeles County Museum of Art holds an additional six leaves (acc.#M.73.5.413, M.75.24, M.85.237.71, M.89.55, M.2006.114 & M.2009.44.4). The British Museum has one (acc.#2006,0420,0.1). Two further leaves were sold by Simon Ray, Indian & Islamic Works of Art, London, 2007, no.13 and Carlton Rochell, Classical Indian Paintings, New York, p.11, no.1

    The background to this scene is not without some intrigue. After defeating the last Parthian king Ardawan, and laying the foundations of his own dynasty, Ardashir marries Ardawan's daughter, Sura. She plots to poison him before her plan is foiled and she is sentenced to death along with her unborn child. Ardashir's vizier, however, takes kindness on her, concealing her in safety. Seven years later, Ardashir keeps lamenting about the continuance of his line, and the vizier deems enough time has elapsed that he can now mention the son the king has had by Sura all the while. After a brief bout of skepticism, where Ardashir accuses his vizier of being the father instead, prompting the latter to reveal his testicles – cut, salted, dated, and preserved in the royal treasury precisely for the occasion – Ardashir announces cause for celebration with a polo game. There, with bated breath he hopes to correctly identify his progeny, who naturally displays prowess for the game. Ardashir is overjoyed, he pardons Sura, he rewards his vizier richly, and he founds the city of Jondeshapur in his son's name.

    Published
    Simon Ray Ltd, Indian & Islamic Art, London, 2009, no.13.

    Provenance
    Spink & Son Ltd, London
    Private Japanese Collection
    Simon Ray Ltd, London, 10 February 2009
Contacts
AN ILLUSTRATION FROM A SHAHNAMA SERIES: ARDASHIR RECOGNISES HIS SON SHAPUR AT A POLO GAME SHIRAZ, CIRCA 1560
AN ILLUSTRATION FROM A SHAHNAMA SERIES: ARDASHIR RECOGNISES HIS SON SHAPUR AT A POLO GAME SHIRAZ, CIRCA 1560
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