Sample Art Coursework Paper on Bahram Gur in a Peasant’s House, Ilkhanid Dynasty

Illustrated books were an important part of Iranian art during the 14th and 16th Centuries. After Ilkhanids took over the Iranian rule, he embarked on a program to revive the cultural practices in order to identify themselves with the previous kings in the land. Hülegü was Ilkhanids’ grandfather who had conquered Iran in 1258 C.E. During Ilkhanids’ rule, he employed the use of illustrated books in order to influence the Iranians to support his right of leadership from the locals. He knew the power of words and images in influencing people’s perceptions. Ilkhanids commissioned such scripts that were targeted towards identifying with the previous Iranian heroes and Kings.

Shahnama or Book of Kings

Shahnama or Book of Kings was the illustrated text containing a collection of poems written by Abu al-Qasim Firdausi. It was written in 1010 C.E. and it contains some of the Iranian myths, legends, and historical information. Reading of the Shahnama or Book of Kings gives an idea that poet Abu al-Qasim Firdausi seeks to convey some of the adventure and romance stories, while at the same time passing down the information on the Iranian ethics and royal conduct. The surviving Shahnama or Book of Kings are ten in number and date from 1300 C.E. to 1350 C.E. According to scholars, most of these manuscripts were written in the early 14th Century. This could only mean that Ilkhanids, during his rule worked tirelessly to use Shahnama or Book of Kings as a tool towards winning people’s support. At the same time, he may have used the illustrated text as a propaganda tool. 

Bahram Gur in a Peasant’s House

“Bahram Gur in a Peasant’s House,” Folio from the so-called “Second Small Shahnama,” early 14th Century.

“Bahram Gur in a Peasant’s House” is an early 14th Century illustrated manuscript page with a painting of ruler Bahram Gur who decides to visit a peasant farmer within his territory in disguise (Komaroff & Stefano 1256). In the manuscript, the poet seems to suggest the change of heart of the previous rulers from the tyrannous rulership to those leaders who are concerned with the people. Bahram Gur was a foreigner whose family had conquered Iran in order to rule with authority. It seems that people suffered in various ways as depicted by the peasant couple whose cow refuses to produce milk. The change of heart seems intentional in order to allow the readers to see the change of heart from bad to good leadership.

Women in Ilkhanid Iran

The stance illustration of the painting shows both the king and the husband looking at the woman. The woman is the center of attraction at the moment and what she says seems to matter to both men. This may illustrate the elevated status of the women in Ilkhanid Iran. The women seem to understand the problems that ail the society and they know the cause: bad leadership (Komaroff & Stefano 1256). Therefore, her words have influenced a change of heart of a tyrant ruler into a good leader. At the same time, the attention of the ruler and husband towards the woman signifies an Iranian society that recognizes women and their contributions in the society.

Seljuk painting style

“Bahram Gur in a Peasant’s House” seems to have similarities with the 12th Century paintings which also had delicate, subdued tones against a plain gold background. The adoption of this Seljuk painting style may have been done in order for the rulers to integrate their systems with the Iranian cultural traditions.

The influence of the ruling court in painting styles

            The influence of the Shahnama manuscripts spread beyond the Iranian regions. Cities of Shiraz and Fars had independent rulers; however, they eventually took hold of the illustrated manuscript technique in their regions. Other rulers like Qawam al-Dawlah wa-al-Din Hasan his own manuscripts in order to preserve and legitimize their rule in the 15th century. However, “Bahram Gur in a Peasant’s House” stands out as an illustration of the way of life and associated changes by the royal class. However, the style changed as different artists and rulers sought to reserve their rule and traditions.

Dürer, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Albrecht Dürer, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1498, woodcut, 15-1/4 x 11-7/16 inches (38.8 x 29.1 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Horsemen

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse heavily draws from the biblical book of revelation that illustrates the end of the world. The four horsemen in the woodcut look furious and are ready to their Conquest, War, Pestilence (or Famine) and Death itself. However, the biblical account does not give a picture of such destruction by weapons as shown by Albrecht Dürer. However, Revelation chapter six to give the colors of each horse and their significance during the end times. For example, the white horse represented conquest; the red horse represented war; black for the famine; and the pale for death. Therefore, the biblical account helps in giving meaning to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Albrecht Dürer, a highly skilled woodcut artist uses the black and white medium in order to bring out the reality of the destruction (Bartrum 124). In this art, he does not use the colors as indicated in the biblical revelation. Despite the use of colors, his skill allows him to give an understandable illustration to the audience. For instance, he ensures that the horses and the weapons overlap from the background to the foreground. By this, the audience is able to differentiate the functions of each of the horsemen. He arranges the horses in a manner that agrees with the biblical text. The fourth horse represented death in the book of revelation. In this artwork, the foreground has a skeletal house and a skeletal horseman trampling over people. This seems to be a perfect depiction of the fourth horse that represents death in the bible.

The skeletal horse tramples over a person who looks like a bishop. He seems already dead as the Death moves towards other ordinary humans. Such an image could show the end of an era when the Catholic Church dominated the world through the excess rule. The death could mean the sweeping changes that would come from other denominational entrants or secularism against the Roman Catholic rule (Bartrum 125). During the creation of this artwork, the papacy was highly esteemed and all people within northern Europe lived by the church rules. In most cases, the papal rule was marked by tyranny. For this reason, the trampling by the horse of death could mean some of the religious reforms that would sweep the region. 

Works Cited

Bartrum, Giulia, Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy, 106, 124-125, British Museum Press, 2002

Komaroff, Linda & Stefano Carboni, Eds., The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and

Culture in Western Asia, 1256-1353, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Distributed by Yale University Press, 2002.