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Rustam Slays the White Elephant, from the Shahnama of Firdausi

Accession Number
1963/1.44

Title
Rustam Slays the White Elephant, from the Shahnama of Firdausi

Artist(s)
Iranian

Artist Nationality
Iranian

Object Creation Date
circa 1460

Medium & Support
ink, opaque watercolor, and gold leaf on paper

Dimensions
10 1/2 in. x 6 15/16 in. ( 26.7 cm x 17.7 cm )

Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Label copy
Rustam performed his first feat of extraordinary courage when still a youth. After a day of revelry at the palace, both he and his father Zal had gone to bed dazed by wine. Suddenly,
Shouts rose outside his door: “The chief’s white elephant
Hath broken loose, and folk are in its danger!”
He [Rustam] heard, and urged by hardihood ran forth,
Snatched up [his father] Sam’s mace and made toward the street.
The keepers of the gate opposed him, saying:
“We fear the chieftain, ‘tis a darksome night,
The elephant is loose! Who can approve
Thy going forth?”
Wroth at the speaker’s words
The matchless Rustam smote him on the nape:
His head rolled from him. Rustam turned toward …
The mighty beast and roared out like the sea.
He looked and saw a Mountain bellowing. …
And went courageously against the beast,
Which seeing him charged at him like a mountain
And reared its trunk to strike, but Rustam dealt it
A mace-blow on the head. …
Warner, I, 328
In this case, the artist’s toolbox did not prepare him to capture the drama and sense of danger found in Firdausi’s text: instead of a white, mountain-sized elephant rearing to strike, he has drawn what appears to be an ordinary and very young elephant, shyly cowering before Rustam. It is the witnesses to the scene—men in the doorway and ladies in the window above—who clue us how to respond to the event by their gestures of astonishment.
———
Maribeth Graybill, Senior Curator of Asian Art
Exhibited in "A Medieval Masterpiece from Baghdad: the Ann Arbor Shahnama"
August 14 through December 19, 2004

Subject matter
Rustam Slays the White Elephant

Shouts rose outside his door: "The chief's white elephant
Hath broken loose, and folk are in its danger!"
He heard, and urged by hardihood ran forth, 
Snatched up Sam's mace and made toward the street. 
The keepers of the gate opposed him, saying: 
"We fear the chieftain, 'tis a darksome night, 
The elephant is loose! Who can approve
Thy going forth?"

Wroth at the speaker's words 
The matchless Rustam smote him on the nape:
His head rolled from him. Rustam turned toward...

...The mighty beast and roared out like the sea. 
He looked and saw a Mountain bellowing,....

...And went courageously against the beast, 
Which seeing him charged at him like a mountain 
And reared its trunk to strike, but Rustam dealt it 
A mace-blow on the head...
 

Physical Description
This painted miniature Shahnama page was made by the Shiraz and Timurid schools, ca. 1460 in Baghdad, Iraq. The painting is done in ink, opaque watercolor and gold leaf on paper. The scene depicts Rustam Slays the White Elephant from the Shahnama of Firdausi, the Persian book of kings. 

Primary Object Classification
Painting

Collection Area
Western

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
Arabic alphabet
Birds
Iranian Islamic painting styles after the Mongols
Iranian Islamic styles after the Mongols
Persian-Farsi (language)
Shahnama
Timurid
Timurid painting styles
elephants
gold leaf
gouache (paint)
maces (weapons)
miniatures (paintings)
shahs

11 Related Resources

Arts from Persia and Iran
(Part of: Ancient and Classical Civilizations)
Before 1492
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)
Death and Dying
(Part of 8 Learning Collections)
Visual Adaptations of Literature
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
Shahnama, the Persian Book of Kings
(Part of: Shahnama, The Persian Book of Kings     )
The Age of Heroes 
(Part of: Shahnama, The Persian Book of Kings     )
Visual Cultures of Islam- Manuscripts 
(Part of: Visual Cultures of Islam )

& Author Notes

All Rights Reserved