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Peek Into The Court: Stunning Qajar Portraits

Eastern world

Peek Into The Court: Stunning Qajar Portraits

I’m sure you’re well acquainted with European royal portraiture. But have you ever seen portraits of rulers from beyond Europe? I want to show you a stunning example from Persia, contemporary Iran. Time for Qajar portraits of Fath Ali Shah.

Qajar Dynasty

Mihr 'Ali, Portrait of Fath Ali Shah Qajar, 1815, Brooklyn Museum, qajar portraits

Mihr ‘Ali, Portrait of Fath Ali Shah Qajar, 1815, Brooklyn Museum

Qajar dynasty ruled the Persian Empire from 1781 to 1925. Art, architecture and other art forms produced during their reign are referred to as Qajar art, and the country truly experienced an artistic boom thanks to the long period of relative peace. Fath Ali Shah was the second ruler who ruled in Teheran from 1796. He was a powerful art sponsor and a commissioner of stunning royal portraits which were meant to serve as propaganda which immortalized him and presented him as an exquisite monarch.

The Court Painter

Attributed to Mihr Ali', Portrait of Shah Fath Ali, private collection

Attributed to Mihr Ali’, Portrait of Shah Fath Ali, c. 1815, private collection


Mihr ‘Ali was one of the major Persian court painters from the beginning of Fath ‘Ali Shah’s reign. He was a brilliant painter. For example, on the portrait below a rectangular cartouche istells a poem which claims that Allah himself depicted the monarch (although the painting also bears the date and signature of Mihr Ali). On the portrait above the shah is smoking a water pipe and the boy is most probably his grandson.

Lavish Detail

Mihr 'Ali, Portrait of Fath Ali Shah Standing,1810, Hermitage, qajar portraits

Mihr ‘Ali, Portrait of Fath Ali Shah Standing,1810, Hermitage

The Qajar portraits were a hybrid between Europeans trends and the Persian tradition: Shah is shown full length, standing, like in European royal portraits. Yet at the same time, the portrait contained a lot of hidden symbols, which was typical for Islamic art. The shah holds a scepter with a figure of a hoopoe on top. It was the prophetic bird of King Solomon (Suleiman) mentioned in the Koran, as well as a bird representing God in Sufi art. The three plumes of black crane feathers on top of his crown represented royal worth, which was emphasized by the richness of ornament of his silk dress.

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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