Skip to main content

Heroism and Treachery: Paintings from the Safavid and Mughal Empires

October 1, 2008–June 28, 2009

What makes a king or noble honorable? How does a hero act? The seven illustrations in this exhibition come from manuscripts created in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries under the Safavid rulers of Iran (Persia) and the Mughals of India. Each demonstrates a feat of heroism or an act of justice befitting a good Islamic ruler. Most of the pages come from two great epics of familial strife, the Shahnama (the Persian Book of Kings) and the Razmnama (Book of War, a Persian translation of the Hindu Mahabharata). A final page comes from the Akbarnama, a royal history of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (reigned 1556–1605). All three narratives provided models of behavior for rulers and those who aspired to rule. Sometimes they reflected or recorded royal life—at other times they ventured into the realm of fantasy, as when the celebrated Persian hero Gushtasp proves his worth by slaying a dragon. Although diverse in style and story, these paintings exemplify the acts of heroism and treachery that fascinated Muslim patrons of the book arts.

Main Building


Yael Rice • University of Pennsylvania History of Art Department
Darielle Mason • The Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Check out other exhibitions

View full calendar