Moʿin Moṣavver | Manuscripts | Shahnama of Ferdowsi

Manuscript E, no. 8-013

Buzorjmehr Divines the Contents of the Locked Chest

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 90 written in Arabic numerals, presumably of later date, appears in the lower right margin, probably indicating that it was the ninetieth painting in the manuscript.

The story goes, that one day during the reign of Anuširavān, the Qaysār of Rum sent an envoy to the shah with a message and a small locked box. The emissary repeated the message, a challenge, from the Qaysār exactly as he had heard it: if your holy men and advisors can determine the contents of this locked box without opening it, then we will send you tribute and gifts, but if your wise men fail in this endeavor, then you should not ask us for tribute, nor should you invade any of our lands. Anuširavān quickly took up the challenge, but soon found that all of the wise men around him could not determine the contents within. At that point Anuširavān recalled that his former advisor and close companion, Buzorjmehr, was the only one capable of such a feat. But the shah, mistakenly believing that Buzorjmehr was stealing from him, had earlier banished him to prison. Anuširavān released Buzorjmehr, glibly apologized for confining him, and little by little introduced Buzorjmehr to the challenge presented by the Qaysār. At first Buzorjmehr had misgivings, but eventually agreed to divine the contents of the box, which he revealed in fine detail to Anuširavān. The shah summoned the envoy from Rum, repeated to him the contents of the locked box, whereupon the envoy opened the padlocked box and allowed the shah to view the contents. It was exactly as Buzorjmehr had described. The envoy agreed that Anuširavān had won the challenge and returned to Rum to confirm this with the Qaysār. And Anuširavān covered Buzorjmehr with jewels and gifts of appreciation.

The Shahnama makes no distinction between the caesar in Rome, and the emperor in Byzantium -- they are all just Rumi's. Moʿin, not knowing how either of these historical Qaysārs might have been dressed, portrays the envoy from Rum (Byzantium) in the contemporary dress of the 17th century occupants of Byzantium, then known as Istanbul. Thus the envoy's mode of dress is that of an Ottoman. The envoy is kneeling on the right facing Anuširavān, who sits on an elevated throne to the left, enumerating to the envoy the various contents of the box revealed to him by Buzorjmehr. But Buzorjmehr and the box are nowhere in sight. An attendant stands on the far left behind the shah, and another is seated on the far right behind the envoy. The head and shoulders of two others appear in the lower left corner of the painting.

This page is part of the re-bound rump volume known as the "Gutman Shahnama". All of the four column text is above the painting, except for two single lines in the bottom corners. A rectangular ruled frame encloses illustration and text. Two of the faces, those of the shah and the envoy, have been severly damaged. Signed in the center of the lower margin: raqam-e kamina moʿin-e moṣavver. Not dated.

Painting references:
- search collections for 1974.290.43

Text references:

Warner, VIII, pp.12-13.

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

Robert Eng

Last Updated: July 10, 2013 | Originally published: July 10, 2013