Zafar-Nameh (The Book of Victory) is a eulogistic prose text about life, battles and victories of Timur or Tamerlane – as he is styled in the west. The first Zafar-Nameh compiled by Nizam al-din Shami by the order of Timur himself and the second one, which was written by Sharaf al-din Ali Yazdi owes its existence to grandson of Timur, Abul-Fath Ibrahim-Sultan ibn Shahrukh. Sharaf al-din Ali Yazdi, a noted prose stylist of the day, had been employed to turn the facts of the Persian and Chaghatay Turkish chronicles, kept daily during Timur’s life, into fine and laudatory Persian prose laced with exalted Arabic poetry. Sharaf al-din Ali Yazdi’s Zafar-Nameh is a revised and expanded edition of Nizam al-din Shami’s biography of Timur.

One of the copies of Sharaf al-din’s text, enhanced with 24 fine and lavish pictures is the 935H/15 September 1528- 4 September 1529 Zafar-Nameh in the Golestan Palace Library, Tehran, Iran, No 708. It has 750 pages (not folios), each page 37x23 centimeter and 19 lines of naste’aliq. The terse colophon on the last folio does not mention the place of calligraphy but does indicates the date of its completion 935, calligraphy by Sultan Muhammad Nur, illumination by Mir Azod and paintings by Kamal al-din Bihzad. In this article, I discuss about the attribution of these 24 paintings to Bihzad and the possibility of his involvement in this exquisite manuscript from three different points of views.

First of all, all 24 illustrations appear to be different in composition, color palette and fineness. They are of vastly differing quality which is reflected in the stylistic differences between them. One group consists of vigorous active composition and some represent unimaginative styles. This proves more than one painter must have been involved in illustrating of the Zafar-nameh manuscript. Therefore, even if we accept Bihzad’s participation in this project, he wouldn’t be the only painter. Secondly, Bihzad was quite possibly already dead in 935/1528-29, and if not, would have been at least seventy-five years of age. He is not likely to have begun, let alone finished, illustrative program of possibly 24 paintings at such a late date. Thirdly, there is evidence that at much earlier age Bihzad entrusted much of his work to assistance and pupils. It may also be questioned whether the head of the royal Kitab-Khaneh in Tabriz, occupied for more than a decade with the production of the Shah-Nameh of Shah Tahmasp, would have taken time out to paint a fine but comparatively unambitious manuscript like the Zafar-Nameh.

In conclusion, I suggest that Bihzad’s name on the colophon of Zafar-Nameh 935H/1528-29AD prove his involvement only as a director of different projects in the Royal Library of Tabriz. The scribe, Sultan Muhammad Nur who copied this manuscript in Heart mentioned just the director’s name and not all the painters who might have worked on this manuscript. For all the reasons mentioned, Bihzad’s direct participation is not only improbable but also impossible.




  • KEYWORDS: Zafar-Nameh 935H, Kamal al-din Bihzad, Sharaf al-din Ali Yazdi, Tabriz School, Shiraz School.




* This article is based on the writer’s dissertation named “ A Study of Timurid Illustrated Manuscript of the 935H Zafar-Nameh” under the supervision of Dr. Jacob Ajand and advised by Dr. Eleanor Sims whom their assistance, support and encouragements are deeply appreciated. This dissertation was defended in January 2007 in the Department of Advanced Art Studies, University College of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran.