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This illustration is from a sixteenth-century manuscript of the Shahnama, (Book of kings), Iran's national epic, completed for the Safavid ruler, Shah Tahmasp (1624–76). Composed by the poet Firdawsi ca. 1010, the text consists of some 35,000 rhymed verses, recounting Iran's myths, legends, and history prior to the Islamic conquest of the mid-seventh century. Shah Tahmasp's Shahnama is acknowledged as the grandest and most luxurious Persian manuscript ever produced and was probably begun around 1522 during the reign of the founder of the dynasty, Shah Ismail (1501–24) and completed in the 1540s. Originally, the text included 258 large-scale illustrations that represent the apogee of Persian aesthetic brilliance and refinement.

The story of Feridun and the treacherous Zahak occurs towards the beginning of the text and deals with one of the reacurring themes of the epic—the battle between good and evil. The painting is attributed to the celebrated painter, Sultan Muhammad, whose artistic skills had earned him the title "the wonder of the age" among his contemporaries.

Feridun Strikes Zahak with an Ox-headed Mace
Illustration from a manuscript of the Shahnama (Book of kings) by Firdawsi
Attributed to Sultan Muhammad (active ca. 1520s— 1540s)
Iran, Tabriz, ca. 1525
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Image 27.0 x 17.3, folio 47.0 x 31.8 cm
Purchase F1996.2 a&b

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