Paintings of Tamerlane’s Battles are Gorgeous

Fifteenth century Islamic paintings depicting the victories of Timur are far more amazing than the battles probably were. They have this confusion of forms and vivid color. Also, the subject matter is completely deranged. The image below shows Tamerlane ordering his army to hunt down the remnants of a Georgian force he has just scattered and sent into retreat. In the painting, they appear to be hiding in the crags and caves of a canyon and Tamerlane’s soldiers can be seen lowering archers over the cliffs on suspended platforms so as to be able to shoot arrows into the their enemies’ hiding spots.

The neglect of depth and the jumble of figures make the picture look like a collision of activity with only the king clearly discernable, sitting peacefully on his horse and directing the event. According to the University of Minnesota who owns the piece, the artist was Tamerlanes’s own great grandson.

The work pictured below was done more than a century after Tamerlane’s death, but it is savage and chaotic like a medieval painting. It depicts Tamerlane’s defeat of the Sultan of Delhi in 1398. You can see the Sultan’s elephants running away from the Tater force while Indian soldiers throw rocks from the cliffs overhead. The elephants’ trunks have been cut off. Bodies litter the ground.

According to legend, the Sultan outfitted 170 elephants in chainmail and poisoned the tips of their tusks. The charging column of war elephants would have surely broken the Tatar line, but Timur turned them by loading all of his camels with straw, setting them ablaze and then just letting them frantically run around the battlefield. The fire and the bellowing camels put the Sultan’s elephants into a panic, causing them to turn and trample the Indian infantry marching in the rear.

This last painting looks like some kind of war carnival. The colors are all pastel and the lines seem to undulate. It would look jubilant were it not for the two or three people getting lanced in the eye socket and the dozen so corpses strewn around.

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