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The hero Rustam converses with a king, from a manuscript of the Shahnama (Book of Kings)

The hero Rustam converses with a king, from a manuscript of the Shahnama (Book of Kings), probably 1450–1500. India; perhaps Mandu, Madhya Pradesh state. Opaque watercolors on paper. Asian Art Museum, Museum purchase, City Arts Trust Fund with additional funding from Stuart Harvey and the Levi Strauss Foundation, 1989.30. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

The hero Rustam converses with a king, from a manuscript of the Shahnama (Book of Kings), probably 1450–1500. India; perhaps Mandu, Madhya Pradesh state. Opaque watercolors on paper. Asian Art Museum, Museum purchase, City Arts Trust Fund with additional funding from Stuart Harvey and the Levi Strauss Foundation, 1989.30. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

The Shahnama (Book of Kings), written by the Persian poet Firdausi in approx. 1010 ce, enjoyed immense popularity in the Persian-speaking world (modern Iran, Afghanistan, India, and even Turkey) for centuries. It continues to be recited, copied, and performed today. Combining myth, legend, and historical fact, the Shahnama relates stories of pre-Islamic Persian kings and heroes. Its engaging tales of good and bad kingship, adventure, heroism, and romance, written in elegant poetic form, have resonated with audiences in many different places and cultures.

This painting, originally from a book with more than 350 pages, is among the earliest Persian-language manuscripts to survive from India. Its artistic elements—the bold color scheme, arrangement of figures in compartments and tiers, their scale, facial features, and costumes—resemble contemporary Hindu and Jain paintings. These distinctive qualities suggest that this Shahnama copy was made by an artist trained in Indian (and not Persian) painting traditions.

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