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Paradise in miniature, The Court of Kayumars — part 2

The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto showcases a celebrated Iranian painting from the Shahnameh, a large book dedicated to Shah Tahmasp. This painting depicts the harmonious kingdom of the first king, Kayumars, and the diverse court. It's a symbol of Iranian culture and history, reflecting a peaceful civilization. Sultan Muhammad (attributed), The Court of Kayumars (Safavid: Tabiz, Iran), c. 1524–1525, from the Shah Tahmasp Shahnameh, c. 1524–35, opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper, 45 x 30 cm (Aga Khan Museum, Toronto) speakers: Dr. Filiz Çakir Phillip, Curator, Aga Khan Museum and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Steven Zucker and Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(jazzy piano music) - [Narrator] We're in the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, standing in front of a case that holds one of the most celebrated Iranian paintings, but this is not a painting that was meant to be seen in isolation. This was originally a folio, a page in a very large book. - [Filiz] It is from the manuscript of Shahnameh, Book of Kings, which was dedicated for Shah Tahmasp, who was the second ruler of Safavid dynasty in Iran in early 16th century. - [Narrator] And that dynasty was especially important because it had reunited Iran, which had been fragmented immediately before. What's being represented here is this first kingdom that was so harmonious that we might even look at it as a kind of paradise. - [Filiz] We have different physiognomy, so we have Central Asian-looking faces, we have brown faces. It was important for Sultan Mohammed to depict many variety as possible, who are included in the court of Kayumars. - [Narrator] So what we're looking at is the first kingship, one that is described as being a place of harmony, so much so that even the wild animals are tame, and if you look closely, you can see a man holding a lion. - [Filiz] This is the depiction of harmony, but on the other hand, maybe we should go back and ask ourself, who was Kayumars for the Iranian history? And Shahnameh is book which was written by Ferdowsi, and it was important for him to document after the Arabic invasion, with the fears of we are losing our tradition and we are going to be introduced into another culture and then how we can protect and support our own culture, so this was the main idea of Ferdowsi. Kayumars is, in that regard, is very important because Kayumars is immortal, mythological king, but he decides to give up his immortality. He has the same equal quality and importance when we compare with Adam. - [Narrator] The highest figure is Kayumars. He's at the top of a triangle of figures and seems to almost float above the landscape. The composition here is so complicated and there are so many figures that are within it, but our eye always goes back to the king. - [Filiz] He's sitting on the throne, but behind him is the cave, so this is the beginning of human civilization. When I look at Kayumars and this peaceful, harmonious painting, I see his dedication for humans. So he has chosen, and then he dedicates himself for human society, and then, looking at in a painting, which is a part of a manuscript dedicated to educate the next generation rulers, how to behave, how to become a good ruler, and celebrate justice, it is a really fantastic decision that we should be grateful for that, and we have contemporaneous sources, which explain Sultan Mohammed was working on this magnificent painting more than three years, and I think we should celebrate it and take time and look at in depth. (jazzy piano music)