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The hero Rustam and the sorceress, from a manuscript of the Shahnama (Book of Kings)
Place of Origin: India
Date: approx. 1610
Materials: Opaque watercolors on paper
Style or Ware: Mughal
Dimensions: H. 13 1/2 in x W. 8 5/8 in, H. 34.3 cm x W. 21.9 cm (image)
Credit Line: Museum purchase with exchange funds from the gifts of Avery Brundage, Ed Nagel, Mr. and Mrs. John Bunker, Elizabeth Fullerton Crocker and various other donors
Department: South Asian Art
Collection: Painting
Object Number: 2004.24
On Display: No

Description

Label: The Shahnama—an ancient epic that weaves together the mythical and actual history of Persia—contains tales of the hero Rustam, who met many challenges and fought a variety of demons and monsters. Rustam's fourth labor, or trial, entailed a confrontation with a sorceress who had lured him with a wondrous banquet spread out in an idyllic setting. There he dismounted his horse, and ate and drank; finding a lute, he improvised a song. Upon hearing his music the old sorceress changed herself into a beautiful young woman, "her form a paradise of tints and scents." When Rustam greeted her in this lovely aspect he praised God, but this invocation made the sorceress turn back into her ugly self. As she tried to flee, Rustam caught her with his lariat and killed her.

This painting—ascribed at the bottom margins to the artist Bishandas—shows the sorceress as a lovely creature made up of a variety of animal forms. Composite figures of this type were quite popular throughout the history of Indian painting, but this format was an innovation in portrayals of the sorceress. It allowed Bishandas to capture the essence of her magical powers, among them her ability to reconfigure herself as a thing of beauty. Although the sorceress is made up of animal forms she appears quite naturalistic. Bishandas, noted for his sensitive and subtle detailing, probably executed the core elements of this painting. Because such paintings were often collaborative efforts, however, it is likely that another artist added the Chinese-style sky, the foreground, and the group of delightful colorful demons who peek out from the landscape and witness Bishandas's central scene.
Label: The Shahnama—an ancient epic that weaves together the mythical and actual history of Persia—contains tales of the hero Rustam, who met many challenges and fought a variety of demons and monsters. Rustam's fourth labor, or trial, entailed a confrontation with a sorceress who had lured him with a wondrous banquet spread out in an idyllic setting. There he dismounted his horse, and ate and drank; finding a lute, he improvised a song. Upon hearing his music the old sorceress changed herself into a beautiful young woman, "her form a paradise of tints and scents." When Rustam greeted her in this lovely aspect he praised God, but this invocation made the sorceress turn back into her ugly self. As she tried to flee, Rustam caught her with his lariat and killed her.

This painting—ascribed at the bottom margins to the artist Bishandas—shows the sorceress as a lovely creature made up of a variety of animal forms. Composite figures of this type were quite popular throughout the history of Indian painting, but this format was an innovation in portrayals of the sorceress. It allowed Bishandas to capture the essence of her magical powers, among them her ability to reconfigure herself as a thing of beauty. Although the sorceress is made up of animal forms she appears quite naturalistic. Bishandas, noted for his sensitive and subtle detailing, probably executed the core elements of this painting. Because such paintings were often collaborative efforts, however, it is likely that another artist added the Chinese-style sky, the foreground, and the group of delightful colorful demons who peek out from the landscape and witness Bishandas's central scene.
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