The Sacred King in the Shah Tahmasp Shahnama

The Tree as a Generative Idea of the “Idea of Kingship”

Keywords: Farr, Shah Tahmasp Shahnama, Zoroastrianism, Natural Elements, Plane Tree, Cypress


This paper aims to trace the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian concept of “royal divine glory” (farr) through its visual translations within the Iranian manuscript cultures in the Safavid period, specifically in the illustrations of the Shahnama-yi Shahi in the 16th century. Reviewing the longue durée idea of Iranian kingship perceived within the Safavid royal ideology in the reigns of the first two monarchs, we delve into the Shahnama paintings to see the artists’ assets for showing the divinity and dignity of Iranian kings and how they managed to mark a difference between the profane and Shiite iconographies. We took as case studies nine illustrations of Zahhak’s story, the most tyrannical legendary King in Shah Tahmasp’s Shahnama. Indeed, to analyse the artistic manifestations of the Royal farr, we examined the scenes where the “true” king is literally absent.

Author Biographies

Negar Habibi, University of Geneva

Negar Habibi is an art historian and lecturer of the arts of Islam at the University of Geneva. She is the author of ʿAli Qoli Jebādār et l’occidentalisme safavide: une étude sur les peintures dites farangi sāzi, leurs milieux et commanditaires sous Shāh Soleimān (Brill 2018) and several articles on painting productions, women patronage, and Iranian society in 17th-century Isfahan. Habibi's current project, financed by the Soudavar Memorial Foundation (SMF) and the subject of her second monograph, consists of studying the Jean Pozzi Islamic and Persian collections shared between several European museums. Habibi is also an SMF alumnus for a lectureship on the art and architecture of the Three Gunpowder Empires at the University of Geneva in 2019-2021.

Shervin Farridnejad, University of Hamburg

Shervin Farridnejad is a professor of Iranian studies at the University of Hamburg and head of the MA “Manuscript Cultures” at the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC). His research focuses on the Zoroastrian art, literature, and rituals from antiquity to the modern period as well as the manuscript cultures and intellectual history of Jewish and Zoroastrian communities in Iran and India. Among his recent publications: The Banquet for the Gods: Sacrificial Meat and Bread as the Main Ritual Foods in Zoroastrian Liturgies (2022); and “Under the Banner of the Mane.” Pahlavi Letters and the Sasanian Art of Epistolography (Sasanian Studies Vol. I, 2022).

How to Cite
Habibi, N., & Farridnejad, S. (2023). The Sacred King in the Shah Tahmasp Shahnama: The Tree as a Generative Idea of the “Idea of Kingship”. Manazir Journal, 5, 100–124.