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Work Shah Abbas I and his Page

Department of Islamic Art: The modern empires : Ottoman, Safavid, Mughal (16th-19th centuries)

Portrait of Shah Abbas and his page

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Claire Tabbagh

Islamic Art
The modern empires : Ottoman, Safavid, Mughal (16th-19th centuries)

Author(s):
Richard Francis

Seated under a tree beside a stream, Shah Abbas I is offered wine by a young cup bearer he seems to be rather fond of, as his arm is around his shoulders. The scene takes place at a feast, and may well have been drawn at one of the entertainments this ruler used to give just before the beginning of the Iranian New Year on 21 March. As is common in this period, the painter has included a short poem beside his signature.

One of the last portraits of the Safavid ruler Abbas I

This famous reformer king, who ascended the throne in 1588, won victories over the Ottomans and the Uzbeks, established diplomatic relations with the European powers, and adopted Isfahan as his capital in 1598. He died on January 19, 1629, less than two years after this painting was done. On his head here is the cap he wore as a souvenir of his campaigns in the Caucasus. His sumptuous garments, like those of his cup bearer, remind one of the splendid fabrics that were woven in Persia and exported all over the world by Armenian merchants.
European travellers remarked on the shah's taste for wine and festivities, and also noted his penchant for charming pages and cup bearers. If he were not wearing a turban, the curly hair and ambiguous beauty of the young man here might suggest a woman. The crystal flask holds the wine which the youth has poured into the king's cup from a flask of gold.
The scene is also susceptible of symbolic interpretation: there are a vast number of short Persian poems, in a tradition going back to the Middle Ages, which are addressed to the "saqi," or cup-bearer, the poet calling on the latter to bring about the intoxication of mystical experience by pouring wine into the cup.

The school of the painter Riza Abbasi

On the right, a Persian couplet of unknown authorship echoes the ostensible subject of the painting: "May life bring you all you desire of three lips: the lip of your lover, the lip of the stream, and the lip of the cup." The poem is followed by the date, Friday, February 10, 1627, and the signature of the artist Muhammad Qasim Musavvir. The same couplet is to be found on another of his paintings in the Sadruddin Aga Khan collection. Muhammad Qasim, one of the famous artists of the Isfahan School, appears have been born in Tabriz circa 1575, and died in 1659. Although his style is quite individual, it has something of the manner of Riza Abbasi, head of the painters' workshop of Shah Abbas I, first from 1603 to 1605, and then from 1615 onward. He died in 1635.
Muhammad Qasim was responsible for a number of paintings for albums, portraits of dervishes, young women, cup bearers and princes. He also illustrated a copy of Firdawsi's Book of Kings dated 1648, now at Windsor Castle, and also a copy of Navai's Suz va Gudaz at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. The artist has a particular way of depicting knotty trees that borrows from both Chinese and European models. He also painted a number of female nudes. A skilled portraitist, he attached much importance to expression, sometimes to the point of caricature. Here, as often, the scene is constructed on the diagonal.

Bibliography

Soustiel J., Objets d'art de l'Islam, T. 2, Paris, 1974, n 4, p. 26.
L'Islam dans les collections nationales, Paris, 1977, n 249, p. 133.
Adamova A., "On the Attribution of Persian Paintings and Drawings of the Time of Shah 'Abbas I", Persian Painting from the Mongols to the Qajars, Éditions R. Hillenbrand, Londres, 2000, pp. 22-23 et 37.
Istchoukine I., Les peintures des manuscrits de Shâh 'Abbâs à la fin des Safavîs, Paris, 1964, pp. 53-56, pp. 171-173, etc..
Persian and Mughal Art, Londres, Colnaghi, 1976, n 52 pp. 75-76.
Welch A., "Wordly and Otherwordly Love in Safavi Painting", Persian Painting from the Mongols to the Qajars, Éditions R. Hillenbrand, Londres, 2000, p. 303 et p. 309.

Technical description

  • Portrait of Shah Abbas and his page

    AH 1036 (AD 1627)

    Isfahan, Iran

  • Ink drawing with coloured and gold highlights on paper

  • Acquired in 1975

    Signed "Muhammad Qasim"

    MAO 494

  • Islamic Art

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Additional information about the work

Signature: Muhammad Qasim