Faraydun Strikes Zahhak with the Ox-headed Mace

Attributed to Sultan Muhammad
Iran, Tabriz, Safavid period, ca. 1525
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Purchase, Freer Gallery of Art F1996.2

As predicted in Zahhak‘s dream, Faraydun pursues the tyrant to end his evil reign. When he arrives at Zahhak’s deserted palace, Faraydun releases King Jamshid’s imprisoned sisters (seen in the center section) and places himself on Zahhak’s throne. News of his overthrow reaches Zahhak, and the enraged sorcerer-king rushes back from India to kill Faraydun, but as was foretold, the youthful hero strikes him down. Faraydun is about to deliver a second—and fatal—blow with his ox-headed mace when the angel Surush swoops down (top left) and announces, “His time has not yet come.” Surush tells Faraydun to put Zahhak in chains and take him to a deep cave, where he will perish alone.

Anchored by a heavy, off-centered throne, the interior space is animated with fine geometric tiles and tight, swirling scroll designs that accentuate the dramatic moment of Faraydun’s victory over Zahhak, and by extension, the triumph of justice over tyranny—a central theme in the Shahnama.