The meeting of Zal and Rudaba from a Shahnama (Book of kings) by Firdawsi

Historical period(s)
Il-Khanid dynasty, Mongol period, early 14th century
Ink, opaque watercolor, gold and silver on paper
H x W: 8.5 x 11.1 cm (3 3/8 x 4 3/8 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Manuscript folio

epic, Il-Khanid dynasty (1256 - 1353), Iran, lovers, Mongol period (1220 - 1380), naskh script, Rudaba, Shahnama, Zal

To 1929
Hagop Kevorkian (1872-1962), New York to 1929 [1]

From 1929
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Hagop Kevorkian, New York in 1929 [2]


[1] Object file (F1929.25a-b), undated folder sheet note. See also Freer Gallery of Art Purchase List file, Collections Management Office.

[2] See note 1.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Hagop Kevorkian 1872-1962


Some of the earliest surviving manuscript paintings from Iran are found in a number of relatively small copies of the Shahnama (Book of kings), Iran's national epic. Composed by the poet Firdawsi by circa 1010, the text comprises some thirty thousand  rhymed verses recounting the history of Iran from its mythical beginnings to the fall of the historical Sasanian dynasty in 651. Its mixture of fact and fantasy has provided painters with ample opportunities to express their artistic imagination, and as a result, the Shahnama is the most frequently illustrated text in the Islamic world.

This folio depicts one of the most intimate moments in the epic-the meeting of the mythical Persian hero Zal and the beautiful Rudaba, the daughter of Mihran, king of Kabul. As is typical of these early illustrations, the composition is inserted into the text like a window and focuses on the key moment in the narrative.

According to Firdawsi, when the princess hears about Zal's visit to her father's kingdom, she invites him to her castle at night. With the gates locked, Rudaba lets down her dark hair to serve as a ladder for her visitor. Zal is astonished by her resourcefulness but uses a lasso instead to hoist himself up to her. The lovers' union results in the birth of Rustam, whose name is synonymous with heroism, loyalty, and courage in the Shahnama.

Published References
  • Yale University Press. God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth: Light in Islamic Art and Culture. Virginia. .
  • Marianna Shreve Simpson. The Illustration of an Epic: The Earliest Shahnama Manuscripts. Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts New York and London. pp. 72, 147, 294, fig. 7.
Collection Area(s)
Arts of the Islamic World
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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