Kay-Kavus Chained in a Cave

Ascribed to Siyavush
Iran, Qazvin, Safavid period, 1576-77
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Purchase in appreciation of Mary Wilkie Ebrahimi and her exemplary service to the Galleries as vice chair of the Board of Trustees (2003–2007)
Freer Gallery of Art F2006.7

Reckless pride leads the arrogant king Kay-Kavus into a hopeless and unnecessary military campaign against the demons of Mazandaran. After Kay-Kavus is swiftly defeated, the White Demon (div-i sifid) blinds and enchains the king and his advisors in a dark, bottomless cave. Mighty Rustam arrives and engages in hand-to-hand combat with the White Demon. He then frees Kay-Kavus, who miraculously regains his sight when his eyes are brushed with the White Demon’s blood.

This folio is from a Shahnama once owned by Ismail II, the son and successor of Shah Tahmasp. The rarely depicted scene is ascribed to the court painter Siyavush, who excelled in portraiture. His sensitive rendering of the blinded and now remorseful Kay-Kavus and the gleeful White Demon perched smugly on the rock suggests the artist’s keen power of observation. Even the snarling bear and growling leopard are treated with personality and humor as they witness the boastful king’s predicament.