AKM62, Shah Faridun spurning the peace envoys of Salm and Tur

© The Aga Khan Museum
AKM62, Shah Faridun spurning the peace envoys of Salm and Tur, Back

© The Aga Khan Museum

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Shah Faridun spurning the peace envoys of Salm and Tur
Folio detached from a Shahnameh (Book of Kings) by Abu’l-Qasim Firdausi (d. 1010)
  • Accession Number:AKM62
  • Creator:Copied by Salik b. Sa‘id, and dedicated to Sultan 'Ali Mirza, ca.
  • Place:Iran, Lahijan, Gilan
  • Dimensions:34.6 × 24.2 cm
  • Date:1494
  • Materials and Technique:opaque watercolour, gold and ink on paper
  • Recounting the legendary history of Iran’s shahs (kings) up to the Arab conquest in 642 AD and the country’s adoption of Islam, Firdausi’s epic poem the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), completed in 1010, inspired many illustrated copies. The present folio depicting Shah Faridun spurning the peace envoys of Salm and Tur was detached from a copy that is known as the “Big Head” Shahnameh (see AKM495 for another treatment of this scene).  This name refers to the characteristic feature of the majority of its paintings: the large heads of its human figures.

Further Reading 


Shah Faridun’s decision to divide his realm among his three sons Salm, Tur, and Iraj plants the tragic seeds in this early section of Firdausi’s poem. Jealous of their brother’s inheritance, Salm and Tur, Faridun’s eldest sons, threaten war against their younger brother Iraj. Though Iraj offers to visit them without an army to find a peaceful solution, he is killed by his brothers, prompting Faridun to plot revenge. Faridun waits until Minuchihr, Iraj’s grandson, is old enough to lead an army against his great uncles. When Salm and Tur hear of the gathering of Iranian armies, they desperately send their envoys back to Faridun to beg for peace. Their efforts are to no avail.


Firdausi’s verse states that Minuchihr is besides the old Shah during his audience with the envoys. [1] Here, the image following the text indeed shows Faridun with white hair and beard signifying his old age, but Minuchihr is anachronistically depicted as a child seated beside his great grandfather. The figures have personalized features that help the viewer distinguish them. Besides Faridun and Minuchihr, who are instantly recognizable, the envoys are also distinctive since they are identically represented in the illustration for the next episode of the story (see AKM63).


The “Big Head” Shahnameh is today preserved in two separate collections in Istanbul: volume one, in the Türk ve Islam Eserleri Müzesi (TIEM, ms. 1978, formerly Evkaf, Halet Efendi 3079) and volume two, in the Istanbul University Library (F. 1406, formerly Yıldız 7954/310). The first volume bears a dedication to a Sultan ‘Ali Mirza (TIEM 1978, fol. 1a), while the second volume ends with a colophon, which gives the name of the dedicatee as Mirza ‘Ali, as well as the name of the scribe, Salik b. Sa‘id, and the date 899/1494 (IUK F. 1406, fol. 304r).


The patron of the manuscript is identified by common consensus in art historical literature as the Shi’ite governor of Gilan, Mirza ‘Ali, from the Karkiya dynasty (r. 1478–1505), whose patronage is otherwise unknown. According to Charles Melville, he is consistently referred to as Mirza ‘Ali in the contemporary sources, as in the colophon of volume two, even though he is called Sultan ‘Ali Mirza in the dedication of volume one, as well as in the secondary literature. [2]


Mirza ‘Ali’s rule covered the crucially important period of the 1501 Safavid takeover of western Iran from the Aqqoyunlu Turkmans (1467–1501). Furthermore, the grandson of the Aqqoyunlu ruler and the future founder of the Safavid dynasty (1501–1724), Isma‘il Safavi, took refuge at the court at Lahijan around the year 1493-94, either just before the beginning or during the production of the “Big Head” Shahnameh. The manuscript thus seems to have been produced and illustrated at exactly the period when the future Safavid shah was at Mirza ‘Ali’s court, which raises the possibility that its creation may be connected to Isma’il’s sojourn in the area.


The manuscript has many unique features. Besides being the only known example from this center, it is also the only manuscript surviving from the Aqqoyunlu period with more than 300 paintings. In addition, over 40 illustrated folios, which appear to have all been removed from the first volume, are presently found in diverse collections worldwide. Since many of these paintings illustrated subjects that had never been depicted before, it has plenty of newly formulated compositions, which closely follow the text.


The Aga Khan Museum has five “Big Head” Shahnameh folios, see AKM62, AKM63, AKM64, AKM91 and AKM92.


— Lale Uluc

[1] Jules Mohl, ed., Shāhnāma-i Firdausī, 3 vols. (Tabriz: Chapkhāna-i Maharat, 1370/1991), 1: 123, verses 691–700; A.G. Warner and E. Warner, trans., The Shāhnāma of Firdausī, 9 vols. (London: Kegan Paul, 1905–25), 1: 210.
[2] For further reading and all references, see Charles Melville, “The ‘Big Head’ Shāhnāma in Istanbul and elsewhere: Some codicological and iconographical observations,” (forthcoming).


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