Moʿin Moṣavver | Manuscripts | Shahnama of Ferdowsi

Manuscript E, no. 7-325

Anuširavān Executes Zurān and the Jew

Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Acc. no. 1974.290.43
36.5 x 22.2 cm.

Text area: 25.2 x 14.3 cm.
Text: four column; deepest column 16 lines on a 30 line per full page matrix.
Illustration number:
The number 85 written in Arabic numerals, presumably of later date, appears in the lower right margin, probably indicating that it was the eighty-fifth painting in the manuscript.

Anuširavān (Kasrā Nušin Ravān) had a vazier by the name of Mahbud that he held in the highest esteem, so much so that he often ate at his house with Mahbud's wife preparing the meals, and his two sons serving. At the same time there was at the court a chamberlain by the name of Zurān (Zurvān), who was extremely envious of Mahbud, and sought a way to overcome Mahbud's dominance. Zurān enlisted the aid of a Jew, a practioner of black magic, who worked at the court, to use his sorcery to rid the world of Mahbud and his sons. The Jew developed a sinister plan: one day he put poison in the Anuširavān's milk, and then went to the shah and advised him not to drink the milk because the cook had poisoned it. The two sons naively drank the milk to prove him wrong, and died on the spot. Anuširavān, convinced of the truth in what the Jew said, ordered Mahmud and his wife executed. As time passed, Anuširavān began to wonder how such a good man as Mahbud could plot to poison him, and he began to ask questions, first questioning Zurān, and then the Jew. After being pressed by the shah for the truth, Zurān finally admitted the plot, but blamed it all on the Jew. After the Jew admitted his involvement as well, Anuširavān ordered both Zurān and the Jew to be executed.

The composition is rather simple and uninspiring, confined completely within the frame and the text on the top and bottom. On the left side are two scaffolds, from which Zurān and the Jew each hang, a rope around their necks, their arms bound behind them, their feet dangling in the air. Four archers on the right fire arrows into the two prisoners just to be sure; the Shahnama tells us that they were also pelted with stones but that is not apparent in the painting. Three other soldiers observe calmly in the left foreground. The clothing provides spots of bright colors, set against the typical mauve colored nondescript hillside. A variegated blue sky is in the far background, and some green vegetation in the foreground.

This page is part of the re-bound rump volume known as the "Gutman Shahnama". There are four columns of text above and below the painting with a rectangular ruled frame enclosing illustration and text. Signed in the center of the lower margin: raqam-e kamina moʿin-e moṣavver. Despte the signature, some of the figures, most notably the archers and the three observers, appear to be the work of a studio assistant.

Painting references:
- search collections for 1974.290.43

Text references:

Warner, VII, p.325. Mohl, VI, p.241.

Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bequest of Monroe C. Gutman, 1974.

Robert Eng

Last Updated: June 26, 2013 | Originally published: June 26, 2013