Shahnameh - Zulaiha trying to seduce Yusuf in a magnificent palace

Size: 174 mm x 150 mm to turret top 
Origin and time: Tabriz, around 1530/40
Austrian National Library, Vienna
Inv. No. E 5262 (Tafel IV)

In the corresponding verses of the Bostan, Zulaiha casts a veil over her graven marble image so that it would not see her arts of seduction she will use on Yusuf. Yusuf rejects her, asking how he should not fear the Almighty when she is even frightened by a mere image made of stone. However, the artist of this painting did not adhere to the scene as described in the Bostan but used his own imagination or a different oeuvre as the basis for his composition instead.

The magnificent palace, richly decorated with manifold, colourful faience tiles, ornamental and figural wall paintings and devotional inscriptions, precisely matches the descriptions of the building Zulaiha has put up for her beloved in the romantic epos titled “Yusuf u Zulaiha”, written by Gami, a poet from the city of Heart who died in 898 H/1492. The story tells us how she decorates all the walls with paintings showing the two of them together so that once inside the palace, he would have no choice but to see her, no matter where he looked. Hence, this miniature painting of the inviting, throne-like resting place in the centre, the wall paintings and the gatekeeper and servant in the dainty front garden might actually present Gami’s entire oeuvre. The picture is extended on one side; the top of the cyprus as well as the turret on the flat palace roof protrude into the margin. Yusuf, trying to wrench himself from Zulaiha’s hands, is wearing soft-green garments and a high turban surrounded by a flaming aureole as a symbol of his holiness. As Ivan Stchoukine once stated, the opulent architectural ornamentation is reminiscent of the traditional architecture of the city of Tabriz since the Ilkhanid dynasty, thus a further proof of this painting’s place of origin.