An exhibition of works from UK collections dedicated to the Shahnameh: manuscripts and single detached folios, ceramics, metalwork and textiles.
Organised by The Fitzwilliam Museum in association with the Iran heritage Foundation.
In Partnership with - The Cambridge Shahnama Project
Curated by : Dr. Barbara Brend, Independent scholar supported by Prof. Charles Melville, University of Cambridge and Director of the Shahnama Project.
The Shahnameh as a Persian cultural icon
The year 2010 marks the millennium of the completion of the Persian ‘Book of Kings’ (Shahnameh), by the poet Abu’l-Qasim Firdausi of Tus, in Northeast Iran. To celebrate this great monument of world literature, The Fitzwilliam Museum will bring together works from UK collections in an exhibition dedicated to the Shahnameh: manuscripts and single detached folios, ceramics, metalwork and textiles.
This great epic poem in around 55,000 couplets captures the history and living legends of Iran, from the earliest times to the fall of the Persian Empire in the 7th century AD. In preserving the memory and the spirit of an heroic past, Firdausi's epic has continued to inspire his countrymen in all areas of life and art, in various forms of social organisation and popular entertainment, as well as influencing generations of poets, historians and the ruling élites. Copies of his poem were among the earliest Persian manuscripts to be illustrated; since the first such copies known, dating from around 1300, these manuscripts offer a unique showcase for the development of Persian miniature painting over the centuries.
Some 120 works will be displayed in the Mellon Gallery of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Images of battles, rescues and dragons will record history with romance, wit, and much more. Britain is fortunate to hold most of the richest Shahnameh material in the world. There are 15 manuscripts in Cambridge alone. The exhibits will however be supplemented from other UK and European lenders; from the holdings of public or semi-public collections such as the British Library to the rarely seen materials from private collections such as that of Her Majesty the Queen. Taken together, these will provide examples of the rich range of styles in the art of Persian book painting, together with number of related artefacts. The arrangement will be broadly chronological: the Mongol period, with the bright buoyancy of early 14th-century leaves and the solemn majesty that follows them in the 1340s; the Timurid 15th century in which a school of spare, fighting vigour runs in parallel with another of exquisite palette and fine observation, but its own share of drama; the opulent sophistication of the Safavid centuries, with several manuscripts in pristine conditions and their pictures accompanied by rich decorative illuminations; and the sensuous naturalism of Mughal painting .
Details to follow - A rich programme of events and educational activities for adults, children and family groups, including public lectures by leading academics, curators and conservators; demonstrations and workshops on Islamic calligraphy and pottery led by practicing artists; literary readings and dramatisations; concerts of medieval Islamic music. Exhibition Catalogue - Detail to follow - A fully illustrated academic catalogue which will become a major Shahnameh reference work will be edited by Dr Barbara Brend, with introductory essays by several leading specialists on Firdausi and the Shahnameh will be published by I.B. Tauris and available in the Museum shop.