Moʿin Moṣavver | Manuscripts | Shahnama of Ferdowsi
Manuscript E, no. 6-149
Eskandar Reaches the Land of the Habash, Fights and is Victorious
Location: Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, Acc. No. 34.6010
Page: 37.8 x 24.0 cm. (scaled)
Painting: 25 x 15 cm. (after Brooklyn Museum; these dimensions seem about 1 cm too large in each direction,with the result that the scaled dimensions of the page and text area are also a little oversized)
Text area: 26.5 x 15 cm. (scaled)
Text: four column; deepest column 14 lines on a 30 line per full page matrix.
Illustration number: The number 74 written in Arabic numeral, presumably of later date, appears in the lower right margin, probably indicating that it was the seventy-fourth painting in the manuscript.
After Eskandar conquered Egypt, he continued onward to Ethiopia and then North Africa. On the horn of Africa he was confronted by a tribe named the Habash from Eastern Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia).) The Habash, according to the Shahnama, were black Africans, of large and powerful stature, who fought naked with bones instead of bows and arrows. This is Moʿin's earliest depiction of a black African, and chances are that he had never encounter one in real life. They are portrayed like caricatures. The composition is simple enough: the Ethiopians arrayed down the left side on foot fighting with bones and shields; Eskandar and his forces arrayed on the right side, mounted, armed with helmets, bows and arrows and a mace. A simple white backdrop is evident between the two forces, which rises to a rocky crest near the top, and beyond a variegated sky and some small shrubs. Although the composition is very simple and direct, it is animated; the combatants are all unique in action and pose.
There are four columns of text above and below the painting. A ruled frame encloses text and painting. On the reverse is four columns of text 30 lines deep. Painting is signed in the center of the lower margin: raqam-e kamina moʿin-e moṣavver. It is not dated.
For other Moʿin paintings depicting black Africans in combat, see ms.L, f.242, ms.M, f.114v, ms.N, JK-483
Brooklyn Museum, online catalog
Cambridge Shahnama Project
Warner, VI, p.149; Mohl, V, pp.161-62.
Photo: ©Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Frank L.Babbott
Last Updated: May 4, 2013 | Originally published: May 4, 2013