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Princeton’s Great Persian Book of Kings: Book Review

Published on Parsi Khabar

Imagine a 948-page book so large that, open, it stretches 3 feet across. Imagine further that as you read of heroism and intrigue, romance and war, bloody battles and festive celebrations, every so often you turn the page to find not columns of words but a painting in colors as rich as its composition is dense. “Princeton’s Great Persian Book of Kings” can’t offer visitors to the Princeton University Art Museum that tactile experience, but the show helps us better understand the “art of the book,” historically one of the most prized genres in Islamic societies.

Article by Lee Lawrence, wsj.com

The exhibition does this by displaying all 48 paintings of a 1589-90 Shahnama (often spelled Shahnameh) made in Shiraz, a center for the production of luxury books in south central Iran. (A 1983 bequest by book collector Clara S. Peck, the manuscript has been carefully—and temporarily—disassembled by conservators to preserve its pages.) The paintings work in concert, sharing conventions of composition and a palette of golds, blues, lavenders, greens and oranges. With some 50,000 couplets of mythical, legendary and historical exploits from which to choose, the illustrations include dancers and musicians entertaining courtiers, men on horseback playing polo, and celebrations unfolding in beautiful indoor-outdoor settings. Warriors take prisoners, slay enemies, mourn their dead. Horsemen charge, arrows fly, swords bisect heads, and in some hunting scenes, man is but one among many animals pursuing prey.

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