Farhad Carries Shirin and her Horse on his Shoulders

Farhad Carries Shirin and her Horse on his Shoulders
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Miniatures, Gouache, 23.7x13.7 cm
Origin: Iran, 1431-1431, Timurid Dynasty

This is one of the 12 miniatures illustrating the poem Khusraw and Shirin in the Hermitage's famous Persian manuscript of the Khamsa, an anthology of five poems by the 12th-century poet Nizami, who lived on the territory of present-day Azerbaijan. In 1431 this manuscript of the Khamsa was copied out in Herat by the calligrapher Mahmud for Sultan Shahrukh , son of the legendary Tamerlaine .

Khusraw and Shirin is the first poem in the literature of the Near and Middle East in which man's personality is shown in all its rich variety. The subject for this poem came from the chronicles of ancient Iran. Nizami was drawn by the image of Shirin, "beauteous of face and morals", who remained faithful to her beloved husband, the last Shah of pre-Islamic Iran, Khusraw II . By the 9th century there was a whole cycle of legends about Shirin and Khusraw.

The third hero of the poem, the mason Farhad, a man of gigantic height and superhuman strength, is central to the story. Nizami contrasts the egoistic love of the changeable Khusraw, who bitterly disappoints Shirin, with the selfless love of Farhad, who is ready to give his life without demanding any return.

Farhad was a great craftsman and was ordered to lay a road between inaccessible hills. Inspired by his great love for Shirin, he carved into the face of the hill of Bisutun reliefs of Shirin and Shah Khusraw. Shirin came to see his work but she was tired after her long journey, almost fainting with weakness. Farhad carried her back to the castle: "The tired horse, on the spur of the moment, he raised from the ground, taking him by the mane."

Against a background of high multicoloured hills the artist shows the broad-shouldered giant Farhad stepping lightly with both the horse and rider on his shoulders. His swift movement is emphasized by the composition, which projects strongly out into the borders, a device used repeatedly in this particular manuscript of the Khamsa.


Album: The Khamsa by Nizami
Personage: Shirin
Source of entry: First Branch of the State Hermitage Museum, 1924
School: Herat
Theme: Literature

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