Back to Inquiry Set

Bahram Gur Slays a Dragon

Bahram Gur Slays a Dragon (verso), from a Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Firdausi (940 – 1019 or 1025), known as the Great Mongol Shahnama.The Shahnama is an epic poem that traces the fortunes of heroes and kings, of lovers and enemies

1330 – 1335

“Bahram Gur Slays a Dragon,” from a Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Firdausi (940-1019 or 1025), known as the Great Mongol Shahnama, 1330-35, Iran (Persia), Cleveland Museum of Art,

A Persian artist painted this illustration for a Shahnama (Book of Kings) sometime between 1330 and 1335. The visual represents the Persian King Bahram Gur who had ruled Persia in the fifth century. Bahram Gur was a great hunter. Here he is plunging his sword into the chest of a dragon. In this painting, the artist used Persian artistic styles for the king and his horse. But they used a Chinese artistic style for the rocks, the trees, and the dragon. This is evidence of interconnection and exchange between Persia and China, because the artist used foreign elements and motifs in their art. We do not know exactly how the Persian artist learned to paint in the Chinese style. But consider how the Mongols encouraged travel and trade. How might the artist have seen or learned about Chinese art? How does this evidence help answer the investigative question, How did the Mongol Empire destroy states and increase the interconnection of Afroeurasia?

While the Mongol conquests initially brought devastation and disorder, the security, peace and pro-trade policy of the Pax Mongolica facilitated remarkable cultural and artistic exchange. The popular Persian epic Shahnama (Book of Kings) had been written in approximately 1000 CE. Bahram Gur was a king from the Sassanian dynasty. Under the Mongols, the Islamic art and culture in the southern area controlled by the Mongols was enriched by elements of Chinese and East Asian origin. The Ilkhanid dynasty of Persia or Greater Iran (1256 – 1353) was established by Chinggis Khan’s grandson Hulagu Khan. Ilkhanid rulers converted to Islam in 1295 and patronized Islamic culture and artistic production. The artist may have learned Chinese artistic styles from a Chinese traveler or an artist who had traveled to China. They may have seen Chinese paintings or texts with illustrations. Evidence of foreign artistic styles in this illustration shows that there were exchanges of people and art and that artists and their patrons were influenced by art from multiple cultures.