The way the manuscript entered the library is not known. Its cover of reddish brown leather with inserted stamped and gilded leather ornaments was probably repaired and reused. The central area has a familiar structure (medallion with pendants and corner pieces), while the size and distribution of cartouches at the border would be very unusual for the middle of the 15th century.
The corpus inside, however, is a typical product of the commercial ateliers of Shiraz during the period following the death of Ibrahim Sultan b. Shah Rukh in 1435, apart from the selection of subjects. Its illumination consists of two elegant headpieces (ff. 1v = p. 1, 5v = 1v) dominated by blue and gold and filled with flowering tendrils; both in excellent condition. The pages of the ‘old’ preface, dated 6 Rabi‘ I, 849 [20 June 1445] at p. 7, are numbered one to seven. Thus, the text of the epic itself starts on f. 1v (= 5v). Its colophon on f. 511r includes the date 9 Sha‘ban 848 [29 November 1444], but no further information. The preface was thus written a few months after the text was completed.
The 20 illustrations are all placed between f. 191v and 211r (f. 203 - including depiction[s] of the third joust – is missing) and depict the single combats of the 12 jousts. While a chronologically and stylistically related manuscript that includes illustrations of all jousts exists (see ms. suppl. pers. 493 of the BNF), there is no parallel to the deliberate confinement of illustration to one chapter of the epic. The choice of the ‘Davazdah Rukh’ is most probably connected to its importance as a ‘turning point’ in Kay Khusrau’s wars against Afrasiyab in the Shahnama. At the same time, the concentration of the miniatures at the middle of the manuscript opened a way for the commercial workshop to create an aesthetic focus while limiting expenses.
The style of the illustrations perfectly fits the dates given in the ms. although they may have been executed by two different hands. The last two miniatures (f. 210v and 211r) are more carefully drawn, with slightly smaller figures, more decorative details and deviating elements (compare the hills and horse tails, for instance). They do not, however, foreshadow the Turkman style. Both artists used simple compositions placing the combatants either in the very centre or on both sides, their horses cut by the border. The heavy armour of warriors and horses is summarily depicted. Several times the triple-dot is used to decorate banners, saddles etc. The two large miniatures may underline the pretensions of the workshop to impress in certain points, at least.
Ch. Melville, “Serial killers: the mise-en-page of Firdausi's 'Davazdah rukh'", Persica 23, 2010 (forthcoming).
K. Ruhrdanz, “Islamische Miniaturhandschriften aus den Bestanden der DDR – VI: Shahnameh-Illustrationen aus der Mitte des 15. Jahrhunderts”, Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Martin-Luther-Universitat Halle-Wittenberg, G, 22 (1983), 77-82.