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Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in Motion: 13th–15th Century Processes of Transmission, Re- Interpretation, and Re-Affiliation of Pictorial and Textual Motifs in Oriental Manuscripts
Depictions of the enthronement of Solomon and Queen of Sheba amid animals, birds, winged figures, and fantastic creatures are often encountered in manuscript paintings that were produced in Persianate realms. In late 15th century Shiraz, they became widely applied as frontispieces preceding a variety of literary works. Afterwards, the image wandered out over a large geographical area ranging from contemporary Turkey to India.
It is quite astonishing that the manuscripts in which the iconography of the enthronement of both monarchs initially occurred do not, as a core theme, narrate about the enthroned couple and their courtiers depicted. Scholars have explained this phenomenon by means of identification of the people of Shiraz with Solomon, who is, besides in the Qurʾan, narrated about in various legends and stories. Although this identification might explain the popularity of the depiction, the ways in which this particular iconography was developed and transmitted still remain largely unknown.
This paper seeks to unveil the developments that took place prior to the end of the fifteenth century. Illustrations to legends and stories about Solomon and the Queen of Sheba will be investigated. Processes of detachment of the painted motifs from a close textual relationship will be identified, and new meanings engendered by the combination of pictorial and textual imagery will be explained. In the end, the ways in which motifs from various sources resulted in the well known enthronement scene will be elucidated.