Special Exhibition: Shahnama. The Colorful Epic about Iran’s Past

Shahnama CopenhagenThe David Collection presents its most extensive special exhibition since the museum reopened in 2009:

SHAHNAMA. The Colorful Epic about Iran’s Past.

Based on a large selection of beautiful, richly detailed miniature paintings – primarily from Iran, but also from India and Turkey – the exhibition recounts stories from the famous Shahnama (The Book of Kings). This Iranian epic poem is world literature on a par with the Icelandic sagas and Homer’s mythological tales from Antiquity. It was written by Abu’l-Qasem Ferdowsi (940-1020) as an enormous, cohesive poem of 50,000 verses. The epic tells of the life of the Iranian princes – their courage, adventures, and conflicts – from “the beginning of the world” to the 7th century.

In addition to being a historic narrative and poetry, the Shahnama can also be viewed as a national declaration of love to Iran. It was written as a tribute to the country’s past before the advent of the Arabs and Islam: its history, dynasties, heroes, and greatness. Ferdowsi’s aim was to create a magnificent and indelible picture of ancient Persia, a national identity that he himself and the aristocracy of which he was part could be proud of, an identity that contrasted with the culture and history of the invading Muslim rulers.

The monumental poem has always been very popular in the Persian-speaking parts of the world. In town and country, professional storytellers have recounted the most dramatic episodes to a wide audience. With its many tales of kings and military prowess, the epic has also been a favorite of princes, who along with the wealthy elite commissioned finely executed, illustrated Shahnama manuscripts.

It is the paintings in these books that form the core of this exhibition. It is organized as a chronological journey through the epic, following the many rulers from the first mythical kings to the fall of the historical Sasanian dynasty. In the course of this journey, the visitor will discover a fascinating Iran and its neighbors and meet a colorful gallery of characters: heroes and demons, princes and princesses, generals and foot soldiers, and at times also ordinary people – all with their important roles to play in this grand epic.

The miniatures date from c. 1300-1850. Apart from a single painting on loan from the Royal Library, all of the miniatures come from the David Collection’s own holdings.

A fully illustrated catalogue in Danish and English editions with articles on several aspects of the Shahnama has been published in conjunction with the exhibition. The catalogue can be bought in the museum shop for DKR 250, or ordered here.

On April 13th at 7 p.m., David’s Bazaar will feature a lecture in Danish about the exhibition by Peter Wandel entitled “Violent Beauty.”

There will be free guided tours of the special exhibition during the museum’s opening hours. See the spring program for guided tours here.

Admission to the museum and the exhibitions is free.