Rustam Lassos Rakhsh

Attributed to Mir Musavvir
Iran, Tabriz, Safavid period, ca. 1525
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Lent by the Art and History Collection LTS1995.2.47

Rustam stands out as the most celebrated and complex character in the Shahnama. He is the son of Zal, an albino nobleman, and Sudaba, a descendant of the villainous Zahhak, which in part accounts for the darker side of his personality. Known for his extraordinary strength, bravery, and loyalty, Rustam is a negahban, a protector of the country’s monarchy. He steadfastly assists less courageous kings against their enemies, especially the Turanians to the east. To this day, Rustam is considered Iran’s greatest folk hero.

As the ultimate champion, Rustam was determined to find a horse to match his own strength and stamina. After several days of searching, he spots a young colt “strong as an elephant…his hoofs of steel, his skin bright and dappled as though flecked with petals of red roses on saffron.” This finely conceived illustration from Shah Tahmasp’s copy of the Shahnama depicts the moment when Rustam subdues the colt Rakhsh (Thunder), a name as well known in Persian literature as that of Rustam himself.