Later Iranian art of the Afsharid (1736–96), Zand (1750–94) and Qajar (1779–1924) periods is distinguished by the depiction of life-size figures, whether in stone relief, tilework or painting on canvas. In the latter category, Qajar rulers like Fath ‘Ali Shah (r. 1797–1834) perpetuated a widespread interest in large-scale portraiture (even sending portraits to political rivals). The life-size royal portrait on canvas was complemented by similarly sized depictions of notable administrators and royal entertainers, including female dancers and musicians. This category of painting on canvas is well represented in the DDFIA collection. One fine example is a late Zand painting of a woman raising a wine glass (34.8). The painting’s arched top suggests an original context within a similarly arched recess of a wall, presumably in a palace.
The ceilings of such palaces may have also been decorated with canvas paintings, such as the example in the DDFIA collection (34.9), which measures over 19 feet across. The center of this painting features the standard Persian motif of a female sun and additional cartouches and arabesques decorated with floral patterns, birds and landscapes. At the opposite ends of the painting is a repeated Qur’anic inscription in blue: “Help from God and a speedy victory” (61:13). Only a handful of comparable ceiling paintings are preserved in museum collections.
A second example of large-scale wall painting in the DDFIA collection (34.10) exemplifies revivalist visual trends during the eighteenth century, particularly those looking back at the Safavid period. In this instance, the Qajar artist, like several of his contemporaries, chose to replicate one of the most canonical and politically charged images of the mid-seventeenth century: a wall painting in the Chehel Sutun depicting Shah ‘Abbas meeting with the feeble Uzbek ruler Vali Muhammad Khan. Save for some notable changes—including leveling the top edge and adding a signed and dated (1203/1789) inscription along it—the artist closely copied the Safavid prototype. Doris Duke (1912–93) acquired this painting in 1989, during the final years of her collecting, and it likely resonated with her on multiple levels. Most obviously, it replicated a wall painting in a Safavid palace that she herself had recreated in reduced form in 1937–38 (see Playhouse). Secondly, it complemented a number of other examples of Safavid revival and replication in Duke’s collection, including lacquered doors and her tile commissions of 1938–39.
The theme of revivalism persists in the DDFIA’s small collection of Qajar manuscripts. A manuscript combining Sa‘di’s Gulistan and Bustan (10.4) features sixteen paintings and three paintings, respectively. An owner’s note (Bustan) provides a terminus ante quem of 1819, and the colophon confirms production by an Isfahani calligrapher and painter (Thackston 2010). Both sides of the lacquer binding depict hunting scenes, and the detailed style of painting is similar to that of lacquer doors 64.60a-b. Produced probably a century later is a Bustan of Sa‘di with four paintings (10.7), one of which is signed ‘amal-i (work of) Turabasi(?) Bek Khurasani. Recent research has revealed that this “modern master of classical Persian painting” was likely active during the final decades of the Qajar period (Simpson 2008).
Shah ‘Abbas and Vali Muhammad Khan, mid-seventeenth-century wall painting in the Chehel Sutun, Isfahan, Iran. (Photo: Keelan Overton, 2009.)
A Greedy Man Falls from a Date Palm, painting from a Bustan of Sa‘di (10.7). Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2005.)
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, “Qajar Iran: Painting,” Collection Highlights, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, November 2012, www.shangrilahawaii.org.
Marianna Shreve Simpson, “Mostly Modern Miniatures: Classical Persian Painting in the Early Twentieth Century,” Muqarnas 25 (2008), 359–396.
Wheeler Thackston, Scholar-in-Residence report, 2012, internal DDFIA document.
Wheeler Thackston, “Shangri La Highlights in Translation,” Shangri La Working Papers in Islamic Art, no. 1 (February 2012), 1-22.
Maryam Ekhtiar and Marika Sardar, “Nineteenth-Century Iran: Art and the Advent of Modernity,” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011.
Maryam Ekhtiar and Marika Sardar, “Nineteenth-Century Iran: Continuity and Revivalism,” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–),The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011.
Marika Sardar, “The Arts of Iran: 1600–1800,” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011.
Layla S. Diba, “Clothing x. In the Safavid and Qajar periods,” December 15, 1992,Encyclopaedia Iranica.
Jennifer Scarce, “Art in Iran x. Qajar 1. General,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, December 15, 1986.
“Exhibitions: Royal Persian Paintings, The Qajar Epoch, 1785–1925,” Brooklyn Museum of Art.
“Search the Collections: Qajar,” Victoria and Albert Museum.
“Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran,” Harvard University.
Linda Komaroff, et al., eds. Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2011).
Béla Kelényi and Iván Szántó, Artisans at the Crossroads: Persian Arts of the Qajar Period (1796–1925) (Budapest: Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts, 2010).
Julian Raby, Qajar Portraits (London: Azimuth Editions in association with the Iran Heritage Foundation, 1999).
Layla S. Diba, Maryam Ekhtiar, and B. W. Robinson, Royal Persian Paintings: The Qajar Epoch, 1785–1925 (Brooklyn: Brooklyn Museum of Art in association with I. B. Tauris Publishers, 1998).
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