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No. 49 The fire ordeal of Siyavosh

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No. 49 The fire ordeal of Siyavosh

Ferdowsi, Shahnameh
Timurid: Herat, c.1444
Patron: Mohammad Juki b. Shah Rokh
Opaque watercolour, ink and gold on paper
London, Royal Asiatic Society, Persian MS 239, fol. 76r

This dramatic depiction of prince Siyavosh riding between two huge fires marks the culmination of a famous story, elements of which the Shahnameh shares with the Bible and the Qur’an, in the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife or of Yusuf and Zulaika. In the Iranian version Siyavosh, the son of King Key Kavus, returned to his father’s court from Sistan in south-east Iran, where he had been trained by Rostam.

The king’s wife, Sudabeh, fell in love with Siyavosh. When he rejected her advances, she accused him of violating her and ‘borrowed’ her nurse’s stillborn twins as evidence. Here, Key Kavus watches Siyavosh and his black horse emerge unscathed from the ordeal set him, to prove his innocence or guilt. Sudabeh, accompanied by her nurse, sees the prince’s innocence being vindicated and anticipates her own ordeal. But the noble Siyavosh would appeal on her behalf and the king would spare her life.

Together with Nos. 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 53, 54 and 55, this illustration belonged to a copy of the Shahnameh made for Mohammad Juki b. Shah Rokh, brother of Ebrahim Soltan (the patron of Nos. 33, 34, 35, 36, 38 and 39).

Mohammad Juki died before the manuscript was completed. In the early sixteenth century, it came into the possession of a later Timurid ruler, Babur, who took it to India when he founded the Mughal dynasty there.

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