Moʿin Moṣavver | Manuscripts | Shahnama of Ferdowsi

Manuscript F, no. 8-399

The Musician Barbad Plays for Ḵosrow Parviz

Location: Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, New York. #34.6012. Bequest of Frank L. Babbott.
not available.
17.7 x 16.0 cm. (scaled)
Text area: 27.3 x 16.0 cm.
Signature: An inscription in miniscule characters, in the center of the lower margin, follows Moʿin’s traditional formula of humility: raqam zad kamina moʿin-e moṣavver.

Chapter 60 of the reign of Ḵosrow Parviz relates the story of Sarkaš and Barbad, and how the latter superseded the former as court musician. When Sarkaš, then court musician, first heard the music of the younger Barbad, he realized that Barbad was more talented than himself. Subsequently he told the palace gatekeeper to bar Barbad from access to the palace or contact with the shah. In order to gain access Barbad befriended the palace gardener, and prevailed upon the gardener to alert him to whenever Ḵosrow was going to be in the garden. When the proper occasion arose, Barbad was duly alerted; he entered the garden beforehand and climbed to the top of a tree. When Ḵosrow entered the garden, Barbad began to play and sing. Ḵosrow was enchanted. He uttered compliments and repeated called for the musician to show himself. Finally Barbad climbed down, introduced himself to the shah, and revealed his story. Upon hearing it, Ḵosrow dismissed Sarkaš and appointed Barbad as the official court musician.

It would seem that the most dramatic point in this story would be when Barbad was up the tree playing and Ḵosrow below searching in vain for the source of the exquisite music. But the traditional rendering of the scene follows the rather staid court audience format. Moʿin does not deviate from precedent with his composition. The shah, slightly larger than life, dominates the composition in the upper left. Two attendants flank him. In the lower right is Barbad playing his lute alongside two young court types -- one of which is holding a tambourine -- and a collection of decanters and sweets spread between them.

Painting references:
Brooklyn Museum online
Cambridge Shahnameh Project

Text references:

Warner, VIII, p.396-400. Mohl VII, p.257-59.

Photo courtesy of The Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Frank L. Babbott

Robert Eng

Last Updated: December 29,2015 | Originally published: December 29,2015