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  • Description: from Smithsonian
Iskandar (Alexander the Great) at the Talking Tree from a manuscript of the Shahnama (Book of Kings) by Firdawsi
circa 1330-1340
Il-Khanid dynasty
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
H: 40.8 W: 30.1 cm
Iran
Purchase, F1935.23

The Shahnama (Book of Kings) was composed in the year 1010 by the poet Firdawsi, and its lively narrative and masterful combination of fact and fantasy provide ample opportunity for visual representation, and the Shahnama remains the most frequently illustrated Persian text. In addition, it also served as an ideal vehicle for the expression of royal authority and legitimacy, and patronage of the epic became almost a royal duty.

Among the most remarkable, now dispersed, illustrated copies of the Shahnama is one commissioned by the Mongol Ilkhanid rulers of Iran (reigned 1256–1335), which included numerous illustrations of the story of Iskandar, also known as Alexander the Great (died 323). Iskandar and the Talking Tree, one of the finest paintings from the Ilkhanid Shahnama, depicts the king's arrival at the end of the world, where he encounters a tree with male and female heads. The talking tree, shown here with both human and animal heads, warns the king of his imminent death in a foreign land. Like much of Ilkhanid art, the painting draws on Chinese pictorial elements, such as the surging rocks and vegetation, to create an unusual and evocative composition.

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