The Aga Khan Museum’s collection includes a folio from the epic Persian poem, Shahnama

Folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (ca. 1532).Image: Archnet
Folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (ca. 1532).
Image: Archnet

The Shahnama was composed by the Persian poet Firdausi (d. 1020) around the year 1000. It tells the story of ancient Iran (Persia) from the time of Creation to the conquest of Islam in the seventh century. The history of Iran is divided into three successive dynasties: the Pishdadiyan (the early legendary shahs, who established civilization and fought against the forces of evil),  the Kayanids, and the Sassanians (the last glorious dynasty to rule Iran before the advent of Islam).*

Partly legend, partly historic, it is also a manual on kingship, a collection of heroic tales, and a long essay on wisdom, love, warfare, and magic. The epic poem helped preserve Persian traditions, folklore, and oral literature — becoming the Persian literary standard — and it retains considerable influence in the storytelling tradition of Iran, even today.It was customary for every king to have a personal illustrated copy of the Shahnama done by the most prestigious artists of the time. Its many stories lent themselves to illustrations, of which hundreds have survived from the thirteenth century onward.

The Shahnama has also been an important source of influence on many works of art produced in greater Iran, as well as the eastern Islamic regions. Specific stories and characters were used as motifs to decorate ceramics, tile panels, inlaid metalwork, lacquer work, and textiles. Many rulers patronized lavishly illustrated copies of the Shahnama, and today their pages can be found in museums and private art collections around the world.

Folio (c. 1482) depicts the story of Bizhan.
Image: Aga Khan Museum

The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (r.1524–76) is the most luxuriously illustrated copy of Firdausi’s epic ever produced in the history of Persian painting. The folio shown on the side, is one of the most famous episodes, depicting the story of Bizhan, a young and brave nobleman.

Read the story of Bizhan at

Aga Khan Museum Online Gallery
*The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Research by Nimira Dewji

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One thought

  1. Hello dear all! I’m from Tajikistan, Dushanbe. Origionally from Badakhshan. I’m completing my PhD about Shahname. I’m very found of Shahname. Also I want to see the collections at the Our Jamaat Museum, They are very interesting. Thank you.


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