Zal Is Sighted by a Caravan

Attributed to Abdul Aziz
Iran, Tabriz, Safavid period, ca. 1525
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Lent by the Art and History Collection LTS1995.2.46

Zal, the father of the hero Rustam, was “born with a body like pure silver … but his hair was that of an old man.” An albino at birth, Zal’s snow-white hair was considered an ill omen, and the newborn was left in the wilderness. Fortunately, the infant was rescued by the simurgh, a fantastic creature that raises Zal in a nest with her own fledglings. Some time later, travelers passing through the region are amazed to find “a noble youth” living in the mountains. In this remarkable composition, Zal perches on top of a surging rock just as the magnificent bird, with her magical tail feathers trailing behind, brings food to the nest.

A palette of purples, blues, and aqua greens, complemented by shimmering gold, creates a sense of vibrancy, while the sinuous lines of the simurgh‘s tail and the swaying foliage further heighten the drama of Zal’s discovery. Even the rocks seem to pulsate with life as finely drawn animals, grotesques, and human faces emerge from the deep crags.