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Illuminated page from Shahnama

Illuminated page from a disbound manuscript of Firdausi, Shahnama 

Leaf from a disbound manuscript of Firdausi, Shahnama (Book of kings), copied c 1430 for Ibrahim Sultan of Shiraz 

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, MS Ouseley Add 176, fol 17v

This superbly illuminated page of text marks the opening of Ibrahim Sultan’s copy of the Shahnama, with the traditional words: 'In the name of God of life and wisdom ... '

The previous page tells us the illuminator’s name is Nasir al-Sultani, and it is believed this artist later became the supervisor of Ibrahim Sultan’s palace workshop, where skilled calligraphers and painters produced manuscripts for their royal patrons.

The text has been written in two columns of elegant nastaʿliq script, framed by beautifully executed flowing arabesques, cartouches and floral borders in the Timurid style. The restrained but saturated colour palette and the gold highlights enhance the manuscript’s courtly appearance.

This, along with all of the other images on the Shahnama web page show folios that have been disbound and preserved between glass plates since 1952. They have been selected from the 468 folios (936 pages) that constitute this beautifully illuminated and illustrated manuscript of Ibrahim Sultan’s Shahnama.

A grandson of the great Central Asian leader Timur, Ibrahim Sultan ruled Shiraz in southern Iran from 1415 until his death in 1435. The manuscript is not dated but was probably commissioned by the prince about 1430. It entered the Bodleian Library in 1858, purchased from the estate of the scholar-collector Sir Gore Ouseley, who had died 14 years previously.