Connections: Shahnama Centre for Persian Studies – Pembroke College (University of Cambridge), Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Sir Isaac Newton Trust, Iran Heritage Foundation, British Academy.

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Shahnama or The Book of Kings by Abu’l-Qasim Hasan Firdausi and its crucial role in the formation of the Iranian cultural identity throughout the ages to present day. The text of the Shahnama, based on the ancient Iranian mythology, was completed in 1010 and is the longest poem ever written by a single author in the whole history of humankind.

"The enthronement of Hurmuzd,” folio from an early 14th century “CAMA” Shahnama manuscript. On temporary loan to the Shahnama Centre from the collection of the late Dr. Mehdi Gharavi. Image courtesy Ameneh Gharavi and Dean Entekabi “The enthronement of Hurmuzd,” folio from an early 14th century “CAMA” Shahnama manuscript. On temporary loan to the Shahnama Centre from the collection of the late Dr. Mehdi Gharavi. Image courtesy Ameneh Gharavi and Dean Entekabi

Global philanthropist Bita Daryabari and speakers from around the globe gathered to celebrate the official opening of the Shahnama Centre for Persian Studies at Pembroke College in Cambridge, England. (Pembroke College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.) The $2 million (US) endowment by Daryabari ensured the creation of the Centre…

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The Aga Khan Museum’s collection includes a folio from the epic Persian poem, Shahnama

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Folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (ca. 1532).Image: Archnet Folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (ca. 1532).
Image: Archnet

The Shahnama was composed by the Persian poet Firdausi (d. 1020) around the year 1000. It tells the story of ancient Iran (Persia) from the time of Creation to the conquest of Islam in the seventh century. The history of Iran is divided into three successive dynasties: the Pishdadiyan (the early legendary shahs, who established civilization and fought against the forces of evil),  the Kayanids, and the Sassanians (the last glorious dynasty to rule Iran before the advent of Islam).*

Partly legend, partly historic, it is also a manual on kingship, a collection of heroic tales, and a long essay on wisdom, love, warfare, and magic. The epic poem helped preserve Persian traditions, folklore, and oral literature — becoming the Persian literary standard — and it retains considerable influence in the storytelling tradition of Iran, even today.It was customary for every king…

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Metalwork revealed the creativity of the medieval Islamic artisans

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Copper inlaid incense burner dated 11th century, eastern Iran. Aga Khan Museum Copper inlaid incense burner dated 11th century, eastern Iran. Aga Khan Museum (AKM602)

Metalwork has enjoyed great prestige in the Islamic world. Although most metalwork objects had utilitarian purposes and served the everyday requirements of their owners, many were regarded as status symbols. As in ancient times, household items made from bronze were valued for their durability and natural beauty. The early vessels used in Muslim societies were based on ancient models and were mostly cast, and their forms embellished with simple grooves; the shiny surfaces and colour nuances of the metals depended on the alloys used.

A variety of bronze alloys based largely on copper, but also using large proportions of tin, lead or zinc were widely used. Subsequently, these items particularly those regarded as status symbols, were inlaid with silver and gold rendering them significantly more valuable.

Pen box, dated  1300, Northwester Iran. Aga Khan Museum (AKM609) Pen box, dated 1300, Northwestern Iran
Aga Khan Museum (AKM609)

Metalwork…

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