A Thousand Years of the Persian Book of Kings at the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin

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UNESCO has designated the year 2010 as Millennium year of the Shahname. The Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin and the Berlin National Library are seizing the opportunity to introduce this literary masterpiece to the public with their world-renowned collections of Shahname manuscripts and miniature paintings. The exhibition, on view from March 19 through July 3, 2011, communicates the history of the epic and its literary highlights, as well as the important role the Shahname for Persian national identity. 

A Shahnameh manuscript is on display at the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin, Germany. The manuscript is part of an exhibition, entitled A Thousand Years of the Persian Book of Kings, held to commemorate the tenth centenary of the completion of the Shahnameh, the Book of Kings, by Persian poet Ferdowsi (935-1020). EPA/STEPHANIE PILICK

The National Epic Shahnameh by the poet Ferdausi is one of the great works of world literature. In nearly 50,000 verses, it recounts a partly mythical, partly historical past of the Iranian people right up to the Islamic conquest of Persia. 

Legendary are the stories of its famous kings and heroes, especially of Rustam who so fearlessly defended the Persian kingdom in many spectacular battles against the hostile Turanians from the North. The epic also relates the important features of ideal kingship. It narrates the battle between Good and Evil, and is a constant reminder that Life is just a transitory memento. Ancient Kings of Persia figure in prominently, like Shah Ardashir I, the founder of the Sasanian Dynasty (224-239/40) or Shah Bahram V Gur, the fourteenth Sassanid King (421-438): Historical figures transformed by poetic imagination into quasi-mystical figures transformed by poetic imagination into quasi-mystical heroes. The exhibition thus confronts archaeology of these periods with the stories of those figures both historical and heroic, and sometimes mythical in the Shahnameh. 

Beside a thematic show of the Shahnameh ‘through the ages’ with masterpieces of Persian painting, the exhibition presents the rich and extremely rare Sasanian collection of the Museum of Islamic Art thus illuminating the important historical past of the mythical legend. 

The exhibition includes around 50 manuscripts and folios from the Keir Collection, the National Library, and the Museum of Islamic Art (amongst others the world famous folios from the yet far too little known Diez-Albums, the Great Mongol Shahnameh and the Shah Tahmasp Shahnameh) as well as medieval ceramics, textiles, metalwork and weapons plus artifacts from the Sasanian collection. These artworks are supplemented by important loans from the Berlin Museum of Asian Arts, the Berlin Museum of Ethnology and the Deutsche Historische Museum (DHM) and loans from two German private collections.  

Source: Art Daily [March 22, 2011]