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The Heroic Rustam

First half of the 8th century

Wall painting on plaster H 100 cm

Once part of a 12-metre long painted frieze, showing a series of exploits performed by a hero dressed in a leopard skin caftan, this fragment depicts our hero seated on a red horse with a white blaze and socks. On the basis of the man's attire, the breed of his horse and the exploits he is performing, scholars have identified him as Rustam, a character found in medieval Persian epics and in part of a later poem by the great Firdausi, the Shahnama.

The frieze formed part of the decoration of a palace reception room (the Blue Hall), which contained paintings relating to other literary works. The background is the colour of lapis lazuli, creating the impression of endless space, and contrasts with the predominantly earth colours of the figures. Typical features of Pendjikent 7th- and 8th-century figurative painting - which had much in common stylistically with Soghdian metalwork of the period - are the powerfully drawn forms, the lightness and elegance of the movements, the combination of strong shoulders with a wasp waist, and of delicate hands with long supple fingers.

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