Sultan Muhammad (attributed to), Rustam sleeps while Rakhsh fights off a lion, a painting in gouache on paper

From Tabriz, north-west Iran; AD 1515-22

Page from a manuscript of the Shahnama

The Shahnama, or Book of Kings, is the national epic of Persia. The great warrior Rustam and his faithful red horse Rakhsh were on a long journey to rescue a king held captive by a demon in a distant country. They stopped to rest in a dangerous forest (originally a meadow in the story, but Sultan Muhammad chose to depict it as a forest), not realizing that they had camped at a lion's lair. Later, after Rustam had fallen asleep, the lion returned and attacked Rakhsh. The horse and the lion struggled fiercely together, until Rakhsh managed to trample his attacker to death.

The artist has depicted the forest very effectively. Many dangers lurk among the dense landscape of trees, rocks and streams - such as the marauding snake raiding a nest of birds. An assortment of strange faces loom out of the rock formations, including the faces of a lion and a horse, echoing Rakhsh and his adversary.

This painting has been attributed to the Persian painter Sultan Muhammad, a skilled master at the atelier of the Aqqoyunlu Turklmans in Tabriz. This is an excellent example of his work before he adapted his painting to the new Safavid style.

The Safavid Shah Isma`il I conquered Tabriz in 1501. The Safavids subsequently took the city of Herat in 1510 and brought the craftsmen and artists of the fallen city back to Tabriz, their new capital. This was a customary practice of invaders, which here meant a fusion of two traditions of painting and composition into an identifiable Safavid style.

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More information


S. Canby, Persian painting (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)

S. Cary Welch, Wonders of the age: masterpiec (Harvard, 1979)


Height: 408.000 mm
Width: 293.000 mm

Museum number

ME OA 1948.12-11.023


Bequeathed by Sir Bernard Eckstein, Bt.


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