Sunday, March 6, 2011

Shahnama: 1000 Years of the Persian Book of Kings

Where: Sackler Gallery of Art

When: through April 17, 2011

The Shahnama is, according to the information presented in this exhibit, one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature. To my embarrassment, I had never heard of it before. Oh well, I know about it now! It is a dramatized account of Persian history; some parts are more fanciful, and others strive for greater historical accuracy

What is on display are illustrations from various editions of the work. Fighting and feasting, a sort of ancient "work hard, play hard," is the theme here. One keeps the kingship of the country as long as one is viewed as having divine glory. King Jamshid lost his divine glory due to his hubris, and one cannot but applaud this. Certain rulers in North Africa might have taken this message to heart...

King Zahhak is depicted as a Voldemort-like character who is obsessed with a rival who will one day defeat him.

My favorite of the illustrations on display is the one pictured above, Zal is Sighted by a Caravan. The blues and purples are gorgeous; once again, I'm amazed by how well some colors maintain their vibrancy over the course of hundreds of years.

At the end of the exhibit is an illustration of Iskander's funeral, with the following quotation: "But one must act well, with valor and chivalry, and one must eat well and rejoice..." Not a bad way to live one's life.

Verdict: Take time to see this show. It's well worth a stroll over to the Sackler. This was one of those exhibits about which I was a bit dubious when I entered, but by the time I left, I was wondering if I could buy the Shahnama from Amazon.

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