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1: Ferdowsi encounters the court poets of Ghazni

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1: Ferdowsi encounters the court poets of Ghazni

No 1: Ferdowsi encounters the court poets of Ghazni Ferdowsi, Shahnameh
Safavid: Shiraz, 10 August 1560
Scribe: Hasan b. Mohammad Ahsan
Opaque watercolour, ink and gold on paper
London, British Library, MS I.O. Islamic 133, fol. 5v

This garden scene illustrates a preface to Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh composed by or for Baysonghor b. Shah Rokh, whose father ruled the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia in the first half of the fifteenth century.

It shows the old poet, garbed in a red coat over a green robe, coming to Ghazni to acquire the patronage of Soltan Mahmud for his Shahnameh. Ferdowsi is confronted by Mahmud’s court poets, ‘Onsori, ‘Asjadi and Farrokhi.

Unwilling to have him join their ranks, they test his skill as a poet. Ferdowsi delivers a brilliant response — the moment captured here — and is introduced to Soltan Mahmud, but does not enjoy his favour for long. This rejection and the court poets’ jealousy may explain why the Shahnameh was nearly forgotten for two centuries after Ferdowsi’s death.

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