“When Paintings Speak: The Shahnama of Shah
Tahmasp and Its Inscriptions”
Since the late thirteenth century, illustrations in Persian manuscripts have played a critical role in adding layers of meaning to the text. Intricately linked to the written words, images serve as visual accents that fix the reader’s attention on a particular moment in the narrative and pictorially elaborate on a scene or a concept. A close examination of some illustrated manuscripts, however, suggest that the relationship of word and image is far more complex. One of the most celebrated such works is the spectacular copy of the Shahnama (Book of kings) completed for the second Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasb (1524-76). Many of its remarkable 258 illustrations are inscribed with autonomous phrases, verses, panegyrics, and religious invocations that imbue the images, and, by extension, the text, with further meaning and importance. This lecture will offer a closer look at the inscribed paintings of the Tahmasb Shahnama to form a better understanding of their significance and that of this remarkable royal manuscript.
About the Speaker
Massumeh Farhad received her Ph.D. in Islamic Art History from Harvard University in 1987 and has written extensively on seventeenth-century Persian painting, co-authored Slaves of the Shah: New Elites in Safavid Iran (2004) and Falnama: The Book of Omens (2009), and is a frequent contributor to the Encyclopaedia Iranica. She joined the Freer Gallery of Art|Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in 1995 and was appointed Chief Curator and Curator of Islamic Art in 2004. She is a specialist in the arts of the book from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Iran and has curated over thirty exhibitions including Art of the Persian Courts (1996), Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey (2005-6), Falnama: The Book of Omens (2009), and The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (2016).
The Taleghani Lecture Series is sponsored by Prof. Simin Karimi and presented by the UA Department of Linguistics. Each year a prominent scholar in Iranian studies will be invited to present a public lecture and hold a seminar for graduate students. The goal of the lecture series is to create awareness about various aspects of Iran and the Iranian culture among Americans and young Iranians, an issue that was very close to Dr. Taleghani’s heart.