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Art Through Time: A Global View

History and Memory Compare: Can Images Lend Authority to Mythic History?

“Alexander Fights the Monster of Habash” from the Shahnama

“Alexander Fights the Monster of Habash” from the Shahnama
Artist / Origin: Unknown artist, Tabriz, Iran
Region: West Asia
Date: Before 1335
Period: 1000 CE – 1400 CE
Material: Opaque watercolor, gold, and ink on paper
Medium: Calligraphy, Illumination, and Illustrated Books
Dimensions: H: 23 ¼ in. (59.05 cm.), W: 15 5/8 in. (39.69 cm.)
Location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Credit: Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library

“Battle of Lanka, between Rama and Ravana, King of the Rakshasas” from the Ramayana

“Battle of Lanka, between Rama and Ravana, King of the Rakshasas” from the Ramayana
Artist / Origin: Rajasthani School, India
Region: South and Southeast Asia
Date: Early 19th century
Period: 1800 CE – 1900 CE
Material: Watercolor on paper
Medium: Calligraphy, Illumination, and Illustrated Books
Dimensions: H: 8 5/8 in. (22 cm.), W: 13 ¾ in. (35 cm.)
Location: Private Collection
Credit: Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library

Can images lend authority to mythic history?

The line between fact and fiction is often very blurry, especially when it comes to history and even more so when it comes to myth and legend. Mythic history is central to both the Shahnama and the Ramayana. Though the former is a secular work and the latter sacred, both served at various times as political histories validating rulership and moral and ethical mirrors encouraging certain behavior. The illustrations that accompany these two works, like the texts themselves, allow historical narrative to function on many levels at once.

Questions to Consider

  • What is the relationship between text and image in each of these works? In general, how do you think text and image might work together to record and communicate history?
  • Each of these scenes deals at least in part with mythic history. Is this evident from the images alone? How do you think mythic or legendary history relates to history based on factual evidence? Do they serve the same purpose or different purposes?
  • Both of these images come from manuscripts that were produced in many versions over hundreds of years. As a result, a range of different kinds of images—representing different scenes and in different styles—exist related to each book. What do you think this might have meant for the meaning and significance of the text over time?

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Art Through Time: A Global View

Credits

Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2

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