Kayumars Enthroned

Iran, Shiraz, Safavid period, 1518.
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Purchase—Smithsonian Unrestricted Trust Funds, Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program, and Dr. Arthur M. Sackler
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery S1986.58.1

According to Firdawsi, Kayumars was the first ruler of Iran. His thirty-year reign was a period of peace and civility, when man and beast coexisted in blissful harmony. One distinguishing trait of Kayumars’ rule was the leopard-skin garments worn by the king and his men.

In this early sixteenth-century illustration, the king is proudly surrounded by his subjects and several tamed animals, humorously epitomized by the docile boar kneeling in the lower left corner. This tranquility is shattered when evil enters the world and the Black Demon (div-i siyah) kills Kayumars’ son Siamak. Such a horrific event initiates a series of confrontations between valiant kings and the forces of evil, which tested the loyalty, resolve, and strength of epic heroes.