The manuscript was purchased by the library in 1938 at the art market. Its inconspicuous, probably later binding gives no idea of its lavish decoration. This includes, apart from the miniatures, two double-page frontispieces (ff. 1v-2r, 7v-8r) and a heading at the beginning of the 'old' preface, all following the Herat/Qazvin tradition of the second half of the 16th century, with its precise geometrical division of decorative elements, minute background ornamentation and restrained colour scheme. The frontispiece of the epic (with triangles on the right and the left side only) particularly reflects Khurasan work of the third quarter of the 16th century. Neither the golden medallions in the central areas of the first frontispiece and the cartouches in its horizontal panels, nor the cartouches belonging to the heading and the horizontal panels of the second frontispiece carry any inscriptions.
Although all of nearly the same impressive quality, the paintings may have been executed by more than one artist, as differences between more conventional harmonious compositions and scenes dominated by large big-headed central figures show. Enderlein suggests that some illustrations may be the joint work of two specialised painters. Often expanding into the margins, the miniatures acquire space also by using the area between the remaining text columns. Volume is created by the arrangement of figures, a detailed, colourful landscape and fauna, and by modelled exterior architecture, including groups of buildings in the background which seem to reflect Indian and European influence. Figures remain without modelling. A wide range of colours and two shades of gold are used to support the impression of preciousness and to make decorative details discernible. Where gold is applied to details, its effect is often enhanced by punching.
The text incorporates the Garshaspnama (ff. 27v-93v) to which 8 of the 67 miniatures belong. Among the Shahnama illustrations less than an eighth is dedicated to the 'historical' part. A large spectrum of subjects is represented, reducing the usually dominant scenes of battles, single combats and enthronements. They are replaced by exotic and romantic adventures as well as by depictions of episodes preceding and following a combat, including several scenes of capture, execution, mourning and repentance. Whereas the first trait could be understood as an interpretation of the Shahnama in the mood of the Garshaspnama, the second one reveals an interest in the emotions of the individual, tragically caught in the fateful conflict between Iran and Turan.
The colophon contains the date (second decade of Safar 1014/end of June-early July 1605) but the place of execution remains open to dispute. The name of the calligrapher, Jalala-yi Jami, indicates a likely production in eastern Iran, and the illumination points to Herat, though the integration of different traditions argues for Isfahan.
I. Stchoukine, B. Flemming, P. Luft & H. Sohrweide, Illuminierte islamische Handschriften, Wiesbaden, 1971, pp. 83-7, no. 30.
Enderlein, V., W. Sundermann (eds.), Schahname – Das persische Königsbuch. Miniaturen und Texte der Berliner Handschrift von 1605, Leipzig, Weimar, 1988.