Shah Kay Kavus Attempts To Fly To Heaven.
from the 1341 Injuid Shahnama, Shiraz
158 Shah Kay Kavus attempts to fly to heaven
Folio from one of the three Inju-Shāhnāmas
Shiraz, Iran, 741 H / 1341 CE
Opaque water colour, gold and ink on paper
Published: Welch 1972a, p. 72
Never a paragon of the perfect ruler, the gullible Shah Kay Kavus was tempted by a demon to pursue a preposterous and dangerous plan - to fly to heaven, and conquer the secrets of the celestial spheres. Having considered his options, the king proceeded as follows: he ordered his servants to collect live eagle chicks, and hand-rear them in the palace on fresh meat. Once fully grown, the tame eagles were formidable, "as strong as lions", and Kavus then ordered his servants to harness four of the birds to a specially-constructed throne, with slabs of raw meat suspended just above the eagles. Next, the foolish king sat into his contraption, and the straining eagles soon had him airborne, as they struggled to reach the dangling food. This is the moment depicted here: hoisted away by the giant birds, Kay Kavus points up in excitement towards the approaching heavens - where the first sphere of the fixed stars or constellations may be seen, with the sun beyond. Eventually of course the birds grew tired, and the king's upward trajectory came to an end. The plummeting throne crashed to the ground, tipping out the royal passenger in a remote region. He survived the failed adventure, but was greatly humiliated by the contemptuous reproaches of his noblemen when they came to rescue him (Davis 2006, 184-186).
This painting belongs to a dispersed manuscript that was produced in 741 H / 1341 CE, and is one of three well-known and densely-illustrated Shāhnāma manuscripts made for the court environment of Inju Shiraz, a governorship in the Iranian province of Fars (the other two are dated 1330 [Istanbul, Topkapi Palace Library, H.1479] and 1333 [St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, Dorn329]). Like many a valuable manuscript handled by Western art dealers in the early twentieth century, this Shāhnāma codex was taken apart and sold page by page on the art market, thus scattering the folios to public and private collections around the world. After thorough study, the original pagination of 180 extant folios was reconstructed and 36 collections were identified which currently own folios (Simpson in: Hillenbrand 2000, pp. 217-247). Remarkably, among these farflung fragments, there survive not only the dedication pages from the front of the book (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, S1986.110v and S1986.111r), but also the final folio containing the colophon statement (AKTC IRM06Iv). This is how it was discovered that the manuscript was made for the Inju wazīr (minister) Hajji Qawam al-Dawla wa-l-Din Hasan, and the calligrapher was Hasan b. Muhammad b. ʿAli b. Husayni al-Mawsili.
Source: pp.206-207, Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum, Masterpieces of Islamic Art
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