Bahram Gur was King of Persia between 420 and 438; he is a popular figure in local folklore as well as a character celebrated by great poets such as Nizami and Omar Khayyam. These miniatures were painted around 1524-25 and represent Bahram Gur in two of his palaces. Apparently Bahram Gur had seven palaces, one for each day of the week, each a different colour, and seven beautiful mistresses, one in each palace. The miniatures are stunning for their strong sense of composition, mixture of perspective with axonometric view, and rich textures.
A funny detail is the way in which the artist breaks the 'fourth wall' inserting an element that bleeds beyond the frame of the miniature, sometimes centered, and sometimes (see images below) asymmetrical, peeking into the white margin studded with flakes of gold. Both Bahram's story, and the visual imaginary of Shaikh Zada, are miles away from the Prince of Persia videogame we used to play - and all the better for it. Beyond the beauty of Shaikh Zada's illustrations, there is also a certain mathematical beauty in Bahram Gur's life model - seven days, seven colours, seven palaces, seven women.
Interestingly, the seven colours, as portrayed in Nizam's and Zada's work here, don't necessarily sound familiar: next to the Blue, White, Green and Yellow palaces, we find a generic Dark palace (looks like a dirty, somber blue in the miniature), again a Turquoise (again a variation on the blue theme) and a mysterious Sandal palace (sandalwood-coloured, orangey). Once again, the perception of colours is, here, very culturally constructed - after all, if we had to pick seven colours today, we'd choose a different list, and surely ancient Romans and Greek would not have had a single blue, never mind three.
Incredibly, these are not images that gain by tweaking 'brightness-contrast' on Photoshop as the level of contrast is very even across the image due to the nature of the patterns. It is this lack of chiaroscuro, rather than their 'non-realistic' geometry, that confers the miniature their extreme flatness.
There are more Shaikh Zada goodies to show, so stay tuned, we'll have another Bahram Gur post very soon.
See the yellow palace below.