The Court of Jamshid

Iran, Tabriz, Safavid period, 1520s
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Lent by the Ebrahimi Family Collection

King Jamshid, who ruled for three hundred years, ushers in the first golden age in Iran’s history. He introduces to his people the sciences, medicine, and the arts and crafts, and he establishes Now-ruz (New Day) on the first of Farvardin (21 March), when he finally rests from his endeavors. Soon, however, Jamshid becomes increasingly arrogant about his achievements and considers himself better than everyone, even God. His hubris eventually causes him to lose his divine glory (farr), an essential attribute of Persian kingship, and he is killed by the evil Zahhak.

In this composition, Jamshid, dressed in sumptuous sixteenth-century attire, is flanked by two demons as he presides over a bustling court, where men weave silk, cut cloth, saw wood, and forge iron with huge bellows. The richly detailed surfaces and exuberant vegetation seem to reverberate with the excitement of Jamshid’s accomplishments.

The painting belongs to the most celebrated copy of the Shahnama, completed for the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp (reigned 1524-76). The manuscript’s 258 illustrated folios embody the ideals of Persian manuscript painting, as seen here in the emphasis on a meticulously balanced composition, jewel-like surfaces, and superb draftsmanship.