Amidst the current political and religious turmoil in the Arab World, it is hard to remember that Iran was once the pinnacle of civilization, art, and literature. Following its tradition of displaying Eastern art, the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery presents one of the most celebrated pieces of literature that has inspired lavish works of arts. Shahnama: 1000 Years of the Persian Book of Kings is on view from October 23, 2010-April 17, 2011 and celebrates the millennium of the poet Firdawsi’s Shahnama (Book of Kings).
The epic poem is composed of more than 100,000 lines and recounts the history of Iran from the beginning of time to the conquest of Islam in the seventh century. But don’t worry, you don’t have to speak Persian to understand what Firdawsi was trying to convey. The Shahnama‘s sweeping narrative and colorful mix of myth and history have inspired the remarkable manuscript paintings on view. Also on display are folios, created in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, that convey the visual power of Firdawsi’s words.
The exhibit isn’t just for art connoisseurs. The Sackler Gallery will provide programming for history buffs as well. On Dec. 4 from 2-5 p.m., the gallery will offer a two-part program: the renowned scholar and professor of Persian literature Dick Davis will speak on the role of women in the Shahnama, and Azar Nafisi, the best-selling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, will discuss the lasting significance of Iran’s national epic.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about Freer and Sackler exhibitions, programs and events, the public may visit www.asia.si.edu.