Shahnama Project : Shahnama

Firdausi

Shahnama Project

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>The manuscript is a very generous gift donated to the Centre for its inauguration on 24 May 2014 by Ali Akbar Javad, a private collector who migrated to the USA in 1975 and resides in Washington DC. On his suggestion the manuscript is called the ‘Shahriar Shahnama’ in memory of his late brother Dr. Shahriar Javad, who was a pioneer in the field of Operation Research in US Logistics. Shahriar Javad passed away on 2 March 2014.</p><p>The manuscript comes through the Nadeau auctioneers from the estate of a lady called Elizabeth, née Robertson, also known under several other surnames (Miller, Weicker and Fondaras) as a result of her three marriages. She died on 29 August 2012 at the age of 96. In honour of all three husbands she established scholarships which are in great demand.</p><p>She was born as Elizabeth Temple Robertson in Boston on 18 March 1916. After the death of her first husband, Charles E. Miller, she moved to Paris, where she stayed for 10 years. In France, she married Theodore Weicker Jr., of the Squibb pharmaceutical family, and the father and the grandfather of two Connecticut Governors, Lowell M. Palmer Weicker Sr. and Lowell Palmer Weicker Jr. (b. 1931), who also served as Senator and Republican candidate for the presidency in 1980.</p><p>When Elizabeth and her second husband returned to the United States she became a well-known socialite, organising generous parties in their house in the East End of Long Island. The most famous was her annual Bastille Ball. As a great propagandist of French culture in America, she was appointed chevalier of the French Legion d’Honneur in 1989, officier in 2002 and commandeur of the Legion d’Honneur in 2009.</p><p>The manuscript clearly arrived in the family library collection through Lowell M. Palmer Weicker Sr. (1903-1978) as seen from his ex libris on its flyleaf, although the circumstances of its acquisition are not clear.</p><p>It is known that before 1901 it was in London as the manuscript featured in the Quaritch catalogue for 1901 and possibly left England after that.</p><p>This manuscript, lacking its colophon, was dated c. 1620 in the sale catalogue, but it seems to have earlier characteristics of both calligraphy and paintings, which show more similarities to Timurid than Safavid-era work. There are several passages of replacement pages in a later hand and the binding is clearly 19th century. The folios have been very largely remargined, and the catchwords re-written on the verso pages. Rubrics are written in blue, gold and red nasta'liq on a plain background.</p><p>The manuscript ends abruptly in the middle of the story of Rustam's impending death at the hands of Shaghad at Mohl verse 4187 (not illustrated); the rate of illustration decreases considerably in the last part of the manuscript, which also contains a lengthy version of the Barzunama (ff. 217v-260v), consisting of ca. 4300 baits. The text shows a great number of variations compared with the standard editions, lines added or omitted, misra's reversed, rhyme-words altered, etc. A first reading suggests that the folios have become disturbed at some points, and there may be passages of text (and associated miniatures) missing, as noted below.</p><p>It contains 32 miniature paintings, generally in reasonable condition, though often quite abraded and revealing some later retouching. The paintings regularly break out of the text and picture frame, and employ a variety of different stepped formats.</p><p>The illustration programme of the manuscript has quite a regular list of episodes, including Firdausi presenting his Shahnama to Sultan Mahmud in the garden of his palace in Ghazna. With such a standard selection of the stories illustrated, one would expect also to see the scene that is the most popular and frequently illustrated subjects, i.e. the episode, narrating Rustam’s seventh and most important labour – when he, having found the White Demon (div) in his cave, fights and kills him.</p><p>Perhaps this mystery can be solved by suggesting that this painting was originally in the manuscript but disappeared before or during the time when it was rebound; the order of the folia was seriously disturbed and the pages were trimmed to fit the new lacquer binding produced in typical Qajar fashion. Both the outside and inside covers of the papier maché binding are decorated with floral designs and two important scenes from the Shahnama: Rustam kills Suhrab (front) and Rustam kills Isfandiyar (back). Similarly, the Qajar binding decorated with the battle scenes depicting Rustam killing Isfandiyar and Rustam killing Ashkabus replaced the original one belonging to the manuscript produced in 1651 for Shah ‘Abbas II (Dorn 333), now in the National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg.</p><p>There is, however, another mystery: in the Quaritch sale catalogue of 1901 in the entry dedicated to this manuscript, it is mentioned that it had 30 miniature paintings. The copy in its current state has 32 pictures and some of them are either missing or misplaced: a few pages bear the offset traces of pigments from the paintings that were on the opposite pages, which are not there anymore. A more precise conclusion will be made when a further more thorough study of the text of the whole manuscript is completed.</p></p>


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