Storytelling in the Great Mongol Shahnama

with Professor Robert Hilllenbrand

July 13, 2021
Tuesday 12 noon EDT
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This lecture will explore the art of storytelling in the magnificent 14-century Great Mongol Shahnama (‘Book of Kings’). Completed in the year 1010 by the poet Ferdawsi, this sweeping epic retells the story of Iran from the beginning of time to the Arab conquest in the mid-17 century. In the fifty-eight surviving illustrations of the Great Mongol Shahnama—one of the earliest and most impressive surviving copies—familiar tales take on fresh life as much more of the story is told. Renouncing a simple one-to-one equivalence between slimmed-down story and slimmed-down illustration, the painters of the Great Mongol Shahnama had a sense of the book’s grand design and how the illustrations might interact with each other and with Ferdawsi’s sweeping narrative. Thus, the images become personal commentaries on a familiar text. Artists make free use of subplots, developing meanings well beyond the text itself, transfixing the emotional core of a scene, and evoking the instantaneous thrill of action. The result is a series of highly dynamic and original compositions, unsurpassed in the history of Persian painting.

The talk is linked to a new title published by Hali Publications Ltd. and The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Great Mongol Shahnama, by Professor Robert Hillenbrand, which is the culmination of twenty-five years of research and explores the many facets of this mesmerising work of art. The book can be pre-ordered online from the HALI Bookshop.

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