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Illustrated Lecture

Techniques and Themes in the Tilework of Tehran During the Reign of Nasiruddin Shah (1848-1896)

Dec 08, 2012

Location: Shangri La

Presenter: Jennifer Scarce, Scholar-in-Residence

The Qajar Shahs extended and transformed the modest town of Tehran, their power base since 1786, into a capital city. Nasiruddin Shah's ambitious program of construction from 1867 to 1892 created a virtually new city enlarged to four times its original size. Within this area were the Gulestan Palace, royal residence and administrative center, private mansions, major religious buildings and a thriving bazaar and craft quarter. Among the many skilled craftsmen who worked in Tehran, tilemakers were resourceful in their use of traditional techniques to create a repertoire which included both flower and foliage designs and pictorial themes such as scenes of the ruler and his court, stories from Persian literature, contemporary subjects such as a Persian Cossack military band, and portraits of Persians and Europeans.

Major General Sir Robert Murdoch Smith, a Scottish engineer who directed the Persian Telegraph Department from 1865 to 1888 understood that it was important to record the craft techniques used by the tilemakers of Tehran. He followed the career of Ali Muhammad Isfahani commissioning signed and dated tiles from him in the 1880s and publishing in 1888 a valuable description of his materials and methods. Scarce's presentation will survey glazed tilework in rebuilt Tehran and the career of Ali Muhammad Isfahani.

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