Illustration from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp I

The Story Of Haftvad And The Worm.

The figures wear early 16th century Persian dress.

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In this tale, the daughter of Haftvad is spinning cotton with her female friends one day outside the village and discovers a worm in her apple. She decides to keep the worm, regarding it as a lucky charm, and places it in her spindlecase for safekeeping. She asserts that the worm will help her to spin greater quantities of cotton than she ever has before, and to her friends’ amazement her boast is realized. With each day, she spins greater quantities of cotton and nurtures the worm by feeding it pieces of apple. When her father, Haftvad, learns of this, he takes the worm to be a good omen and over time it grows to fill a custom-made chest, and then a stone cistern; after five years, it is as large as an elephant and has to be housed in a fortress. As the worm grows, so do Haftvad’s fortunes. When King Ardashir learns of this, he becomes jealous and suspicious and plots to kill the worm. Eventually Ardashir succeeds in penetrating the fortress and kills the worm by pouring molten lead down its throat. The tale ends with the deaths of Haftvad and his sons, vanquished by Ardashir’s army. This painting, one of a few signed works in the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, is among the last added to the book. A signature, reading “Dust Muhammad painted it” (savvarahu Dust Muhammad), combined with written sources identifies the artist as Dust Muhammad Musavvir or Dust-i Divana. Though the implications of the signature remain unclear - did he design the composition and/or execute the painting in whole or in part? - the painting is one of the strongest in Shah Tahmasp’s Shahnama. The vignette of Haftvad’s daughter spinning cotton at the lower left activates the pictorial narrative, but the remainder of the painting is conceived as evidence of Haftvad’s good fortune. The village, an aggregate of many finely made buildings, bustles with the activities of daily life. A muezzin makes the call to prayer as two figures sit atop a building consulting books with the tools of a scribe set down beside them. Elsewhere in the village, figures transport bundles of wood gathered from the countryside and carry sacks of goods, while a butcher serves a customer. The painting is replete with many other details of the everyday and depicts the elements of its extra-urban landscape with equal depth and complexity.

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