A Brief Comparison of Art Forms of the Shahnameh

I began this project by investigating the origins of the Shahnameh Manuscript painting tradition. Based on my preliminary understanding of the topic, the production of these paintings seemed to be the primary and most significant art form related to the Shahnameh. However what I have found reflects a contradiction with this early understanding. While the Shahnameh manuscript painting tradition does indeed hold a great deal of significants related to the Shahnameh and history of Iran, this is mostly due to its use as a political tool by various rulers.

After grappling with the fairly limited role of this tradition in ancient Persian culture, I began to research other art forms related to the Shahnameh until I found the performance arts of the Shahnameh-Khani and the Naqqali of Shahnameh. While traditions these respectively involved the practice of singing and narrating the verses of the Shahnameh, it became clear that not only were these art forms among the oldest dedicated to telling these stories, but they were also the most representative of how the Shahnameh entered the lives of common people on a day-to-day basis.

Whereas the third focus of my research was into the writing style of Ferdowsi and its effect on the art of the Shahnameh, this helped me in confirming my developing understanding that many of the visual art forms in fact had less in common with Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh than their performance art counterparts. This was due to several factors including a lack of visual detail in Ferdowsi’s writing that made the process of visually interpreting the Shahnameh rather difficult with much being left open to the imagination of the artist.

To briefly summarize the conclusions that I have drawn from this project, I believe it is necessary to identify the differences in what makes the Shahnameh manuscript paintings an performing arts significant. In the case of manuscript paintings, I believe that much of the significance that is attributed to them is characterized by their existence as physical relics of ancient Persian culture, and their role as political tools. The performing arts relating to the Shahnameh can be seen as the more “organic” iteration of Ferdowsi’s epic and their significance is derived from the action of propagating the stories that have made the Shahnameh so influential and important within Iranian culture.

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