India (?): 1830 (ca.). Extremely large illuminated leaf, in Persian. Atlas folio (545 x 305 mm) written on paper and illuminated in gold and color, verso blank. Preserved in a mylar L-sleeve supported by lig-free board. Provenance: Dorothy Sloan Rare Books (purchased in 2020). Item #3330
A gigantic and prestigious illuminated calligraphic leaf from "The Book of Kings." In size, our imposing leaf surpasses the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (48 x 32 cm) and is almost comparable to the now dispersed "Great Mongol" Shahnameh (59 x 38 cm).
Dr. Kelly Tuttle has very kindly identified the text of our leaf, which opens the second section/set of stories of the Shahnameh, specifically the first 18 couplets from the first section of that story. It is thus appropriate that the verso of the present leaf is blank. Tuttle draws attention to a copy of the Shahnameh with similar decoration in the Free Library of Philadelphia, namely: Lewis O 59 (fol. 178v) which is dated 1828/9; it is a remarkable fact that our leaf has almost the exact same portion of the text on it. Another example with similar decoration style is Lewis O 65 (fol. 1v) which is dated 1832. The Free Library examples may be Indian; if this localization is correct, it is likely that our leaf is Indian as well.
The Shahnameh is of incomparable significance in the history of Persian literature and history. The poem by Abul-Qasem Ferdowsi (ca. 935-1019) extends some 50,000 rhyming couplets, and recounts the history of the ancient Iranian kingdoms up to the Arab conquest in 651 A.D. Besides the Quran, this text remains the principle vehicle for calligraphic Persian illumination. Our leaf comes from a monumental, as-yet unidentified volume; locating other leaves from the manuscript would be a worthy scholarly undertaking.
MUST BE SEEN TO BE FULLY APPRECIATED.