Robert HillenbrandJul 20, 2023
The Great Mongol Shahnameh
Hali Publications Limited and the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery 2022
It’s amazing that art historians like Robert Hillenbrand got to study the “Great Mongol Shahnama” at all.
500 pages of Firahdosi’s epic poem, with 300 illustrations, in a manuscript whose leaves are as wide as an ordinary person’s arms. Never completed, never bound, smuggled out of Iran by corrupt dignitaries, and separated and padded out by an unsavory Belgian art dealer.
Robert Hillenbrand’s work collects all these disparate illustrations and puts them together in one book, which puts “The Great Mongol Shahnama” back at the center of a sprawling 14th-century Mongol empire.
Robert Hillenbrand is an honorary professorial fellow in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
In this interview, Robert and I talk about the Shahnama—and what makes the “Great Mongol Shahnama” unique—and how the Mongol empire gave this masterpiece’s illustrations recognizable Western and Chinese influences.
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.