Peck Shahnamah Goes Online

The Peck Shahnamah (Islamic MSS, 3rd series, no. 310), which is the finest Persian illuminated manuscript among nearly 10,000 Islamic manuscripts in the Princeton University Library, is the most recent addition to the Princeton Digital Library of Islamic Manuscripts. This sumptuous manuscript of the Persian national epic Shahnamah, or “Book of Kings,” was written and illuminated in Safavid Persia. From the 16th to 18th centuries, the Safavid dynastry ruled a far-flung empire that extended from Turkey to the Indian subcontinent. The Peck Shahnamah is one of the most extraordinary Safavid illuminated manuscripts of Firdawsī’s epic and has been compared to better-known examples such as the Houghton Shahnamah and Windsor Castle Shahnamah. The Persian poet Hakīm Abu’l-Qāsim Firdawsī Tūsī commonly known as Firdawsī (933/4–1025 CE) completed the epic in 1009/10. The text begins with the first legendary Persian king and ends with the fall of the Sassanian empire to the Arabs in the middle of the 7th century. Prof. Charles Melville, Pembroke College, Cambridge, who has studied the proliferation of illuminated Shahnamah manuscripts since the end of the 13th century, sees in Firdawsī’s work not just a masterpiece of Persian epic poetry, but a text that “has come to encapsulate Iran’s pride in her past and to serve as a source for understanding her political culture.”

The scribe Qiwām ibn Muḥammad of Shīrāz prepared the manuscript. The date 998 H, which he provides, corresponds to 1589/90 CE. On stylistic grounds, the paintings are also localizable to Shīrāz, an important center of manuscript production in southwestern Iran. The Peck Shahnamah has 475 paper folios and a full painting cycle of 45 full-page miniatures spread throughout the text, as well as double-page miniatures at the beginning, middle, and end of the manuscript. The miniatures are of high quality and substantial size, measuring 47.0 × 32.5 cm. The manuscript has had a distinguished provenance. From an inscription in the manuscript, we know that Khayrāt Khan, an envoy from ‘Abd Allāh Quṭbshāh to Iṣfahān, acquired it from a woman who was the daughter of the Safavid provincial ruler Khān Aḥmad Khān of Gīlān and widow of Emperor Shāh Abbās I of Persia (1571–1629), in Rajab (1040 H/1631 CE). By the 18th century, the manuscript was in England, where around 1780 it was elaborately rebound by a London bookbinder in a western-style red morocco binding. Later the manuscript was later in the collection of Sir George Holford (1860–1926). The American antiquarian bookseller and collector A.S.W. Rosenbach (1876–1952) sold the manuscript in 1946 to Clara S. Peck, an American collector and horse breeder, who lived at Whigancek Farm in Shrewsbury, Monmouth County, New Jersey. The manuscript was Peck’s 1983 bequest to the Princeton University Library, in memory of her brother Fremont C. Peck, Class of 1920.

The miniatures in the Peck Shahnamah were initially digitized so that they could be added to the Shahnama Project website, which was created by Jerome W. Clinton (1937–2003), a professor of Persian in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton. In cooperation with the Library, digital images and descriptions of 277 miniatures from five Princeton manuscripts were added to the website. In addition to Peck, the Shahnama Project includes miniatures in four Shahnamah manuscripts (1544–1674) that were the 1942 gift of Robert Garrett (1875–1961), Class of 1897. With grant support from the J. Paul Getty Trust, Professor Clinton and the art historian Marianna Shreve Simpson began a collaborative study on the interrelationship of text and image in manuscripts of the Shahnamah. Their research paid special attention to the Peck Shahnamah. Clinton and Simpson provided some of the Getty grant funds to the Library in 2002 in order to digitize the entire manuscript, including all text folios and miniatures. Initially, the digital images were used for the research project, which was completed by Simpson after Clinton’s untimely death. However, once the Princeton Digital Library of Islamic Manuscripts was created, with the generous support of the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project, it became the perfect vehicle for disseminating the fully digitized manuscript. Recently uploaded, the Peck Shahnamah joins more than 200 other digitized Islamic manuscripts from the Manuscripts Division. View the Peck Shahnamah here.

For further reading on the Peck Shahnamah, see the following: (1) Louise Marlow, “A Persian Book of Kings: The Peck Shahnameh,” Princeton University Library Chronicle 46 (1985), pp. 192–214; (2) Louise Marlow, “The Peck Shahnameh: Manuscript Production in Late Sixteenth-Century Shiraz,” in Michel M. Mazzaoui and Vera B. Moreen, eds., Intellectual Studies on Islam: Essays Written in Honor of Martin B. Dickson (Salt Lake City, 1990), pp. 229–243; and (3) Jerome W. Clinton and Marianna S. Simpson, “How Rustam Killed White Div: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry,” Iranian Studies 26:2 (2006), pp. 171–197.

“Royal Hunt,” Peck Shanamah, folio 473. Not to be reproduced without permission of the Princeton University Library.