Iskandar and Nushabeh

Iskandar and Nushabeh
(click image to zoom-in)
Miniatures, Gouache, 23.7x13.7 cm
Origin: Iran, 1431-1431, Timurid Dynasty

This is one of the three miniatures illustrating the poem Iskandar-Nameh 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 Khamsawas copied out in Herat by the calligrapher Mahmud for Sultan Shahrukh , son of the legendary Tamerlaine .

Iskandar-Nameh, or The Book of Alexander, is the last poem in the Khamsa and tells of the campaigns and adventures of Alexander the Great, the 4th-century B.C. military leader. >From the 8th century a keen interest in the ancient world appeared in Muslim society. Oriental philosophers commented upon and developed the ideas of Aristotle, Plato and Pythagorus. The poem Iskandar-Nameh is totally based on ancient material. While Nizami knew that the ancient Greeks had deified Alexander the Great, he could not resist the all-embracing Islamic idea of prophecy and in his text Iskandar/Alexander is not only a conqueror and just ruler, but a prophet and wise man .

A major role is played in the poem by the beautiful and wise princess Nushabeh, for whom a prototype was seen in the ruler of the warlike Amazons of ancient legends.

This illustration shows the first meeting between Queen Nushabeh and Iskandar, who has disguised himself as an envoy. Nushabeh discovers his cunning and shows him a portrait - for the wise ruler had sent artists around the world to take the likeness of all eminent people, and these she kept in her miraculous castle.

The artist depicts the reception of the honoured guest in the manner traditional in Iranian miniatures - to the left on a high throne sits the moon-faced Nushabeh, addressing Iskandar with the words: "I was just thinking of the great Shah, when you entered, shining with your captivating face. You are not a messenger, you have the features of a shahanshah. You were not sent, no! You are the sender."

To the right sits Iskandar, confounded by her words and staring dumbly at his own portrait.

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

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