Thursday, August 6, 2015

Considering 16th Century Shiraz Painting

I like Shiraz painting of the 16th century. I guess that makes me a Barbarian. It is like admitting that I would rather have a Diet Coke with dinner then  a glass of great wine. But I don’t care and I decided to share my little attribution guidelines that let me attribute these types of paintings at a glance.

I used to discuss this stuff with Cary Welch who knew a bit about these. We disagreed on much he had endless love for uninteresting Indian art but Shiraz painting seemed to be lost on him. But he is dead and it has been years since I spoke with anyone who gave a damn either way. Cary was a teacher at Harvard and as he liked to remind me in Islamic art we were both Autodidacts. 

Drop Down Flowers

In the lower right we see an arm holding a bow and above to the left of the bow we see a rock with flowers. This is one of my key ID points for Shiraz painting. From other cities in 16th century Persia flowers only go up from a rock. Only in Shiraz the flowers can grow up and down from the rock. so when I see drop down flowers I know it is Shiraz.

The Crowd Behind The Hill

One of the other things that stands out when I look at a Shiraz Paintingg is The Crowd Behind The Hill. It is a convention in Shiraz art to hide men and horses behind a hill to save on brushstrokes. We see this in Turkmen painting as well. Tthe key is that we do not see it commonly in the paintings of other major Persian cities of the 16th century. 

The Shiraz Line

 I think of this tile design delineated in white as the as the Shiraz Line. It is unusual to see it this way. Normally we see it as the border around a tile floor in Shiraz painting. It is common in Shiraz painting and rare in paintings from anywhere else so it is a big attribution clue for me.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Two Lovers by Reza-i Abbasi

Reza-i Abbasi also Aqa Reza is considered by many to be Iran's greatest artist
This painting is small as we would expect on a muraqqa illustration but this was painted as a single piece. It is just over 7 by 4 inches. The work is done in ink, gold gilt and tempera which is a technique of pigment solids suspended in egg white or similar substance. This piece is signed and dated A.H. 1039 A.H./1630 A.D. 

Two Lovers by Reza-i Abassi

Aqa Reza led a shift from paintings as a lesser part of a book and he moved into a genre of paintings as a separate and stand alone entity unto itself.  Part of it is his incredible talent as a painter but there was also an economic component. Shah Abbas had solidified Persia's foreign policy and there was not the need for tribute that was a major impetus for manuscript production for other Shahs in the sixteenth century.

A major shift in style occurred under the leadership of Aqa Reza. With the decrease in demand for major projects Aqa Reza  innovated by decreasing the emphasis on backgrounds and focusing on figures and a few minor details. he also brought to bear far great emphasis on single major work rather then a massively expensive manuscripts using a variety of artists of varying degrees of talent. In the detail above we see a simple brown background over painted with a simple gold gilt design. 

The quality and detail of the background is about what we would expect in unremarkable margin decorations of earlier work. Compare the gold gilt in the field to the margin decorations in Reza 'Abbasi Figure with Animals in Margin. The gold may well be an after thought perhaps in response to a buyer who resisted the new simplicity. The flower in the woman's hand is a nice touch to keep the painting from looking so empty. 

Keep in mind this image above is magnified so we can see painstaking detail in each strand of hair on her forehead. It is commonly said of Aqa Reza that his style included "pursed lips" but note that under magnification the mouth is wider and the "pursed lips" appear top be applied.

When I was first learning to understand Aqa Reza the defining identification marker for me was his sashes and fabric folds. We see this in the image above the quintessential Aqa Reza style sash.

One of the hallmarks to Aqa Reza's style is his attention to detail as seen here in this highly magnified detail of the bottle,

Artist: Painting by Riza-yi `Abbasi (ca. 1565–1635)
Object Name: Illustrated single work
Date: dated A.H. 1039/ A.D. 1630
Geography: Iran, Isfahan
Culture: Islamic
Medium: Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Dimensions: Painting: H. 6 7/8 in. (17.5 cm) W. 4 3/8 in. (11.1 cm) Page: H. 7 1/2 in. (19.1 cm) W. 4 15/16 in. (12.5 cm) Mat: H. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm) W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
Classification: Codices
Credit Line: Purchase, Francis M. Weld Gift, 1950
Accession Number: 50.164

The catalog entry at the Met reads Opaque watercolor but it is displayed as tempera. I suspect that tempera is correct.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Art of the Kara Koyunlu Turkmen

The Kara Koyunlu Turkmen moved from Herat to the area from Baghdad to Tabriz about 1375 where they were vassals of Jalayirids one of the last Chingisid dynasties. ^They renounced their vassalage in the late 1300 and ruled Tabriz until they were overthrown by Timur in 1400. The Khan Qara Yusuf fled to Egypt where he became a vassal of the Mamluk Sultanate. The Mamluk  were willing to fund and arm the Kara Koyunlu to create a defensive border state as a barrier against their enemies. The Kara Koyunlu were the eastern most component of the Turkmen Border States. The Mamluk strategy was that before the Timurid could invade Egypt the semi independent vassal Turkmen states would at least slow them down.

Art was a way to gather and consolidate wealth to something transportable. Books and book paintings played an important role. they were tangible wealth, trade items and could be used as tribute to greater powers.

Here is an example of the Art of the Kara Koyunlu Turkmen :
Wine Drinking in a Spring Garden Kara Koyunlu Tabriz circa 1430
The Metropolitan Museum of Art  catalog entry below makes some assumptions that leave me feeling uncomfortable. They write:

" it was common practice for Timurid artists to turn to Chinese models for pictorial inspiration. In this case, Chinese influence can be seen in the arrangement of figures on a horizontal groundline set against a neutral, undefined background; in the identity and sinuous style of the flowering prunus tree that braces the princess; and in the material used for the painting surface."

First of all reference to "Timurid artists" seems inappropriate. This piece shows every indication of a Tabriz provenance which points to the Kara Koyunlu Turkmen. If it were Shiraz then Ak Koyunlu Turkmen but to call the artist Timurid then Herat. But neither the Met nor I suggest Herat. Additionally when the Met suggests that a "Chinese influence can be seen in the arrangement of figures on a horizontal groundline" are we to take that to mean that a Turkmen artist copied from a Timurid artist or a Jalayirid artist who copied from a IL Khanid artist who was influenced by a Chinese artist. Or perhaps they feel the Tabriz school had direct access to Chinese paintings. 

The clothes are fascinating. Note the Turkmen turban on the man and elegance of his gold embroidery. Add to that the very muted ermine collar on the woman's coat.  It becomes clear that these two are royalty and they are flanked by their retainers.
By the way a Prunus is a family of trees and shrubs that includes the almond,apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach and plum trees.

Please note the tiny holes in the painting as if pricked repeatedly by a pin. This is because the painting is on silk cloth. I am intrigued by the hands of the women which show what I suspect may be Henna Tattoos. Note as well the writing in the tablet. later on we see messages or petitions in a painting. Perhaps we have that here.

Here we have the boots of the male attendant. Note the heels. This is a sign that the man was a Turkmen. This is a convention common in the 16th century that I believe holds true in the 15th as well. Compare to the boot heel in Farrukh Beg's The Turkmen Prisoner .

The Prince's clothing show wonderful attention to detail and sophistication of technique. As does the female retainer's outfit below.

The simurgh and dragon square on the male retainer's garb strikes me as reminiscent of a Chinese Rank badge. Perhaps this is a vestige of the IL-Khanid court dress. As Kara Koyunlu Turkmen were earlier in their history vassals of the Jalayirids a late Mongol dynasty it is very possible. 
Enlarged in image below. 

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Wine Drinking in a Spring Garden
Illustrated album leaf
circa 1430 Iran, possibly Tabriz
Opaque watercolor and gold on undyed silk
8.5 in. high 30.20 in. wide (21.6 cm high 11.87 cm wide)
From the Cora Timken Burnett Collection of Persian Miniatures and Other Persian Art Objects, Bequest of Cora Timken Burnett, 1956.
Accession Number: 57.51.24

The youth offering a cup of wine to a maiden reflects a Persian courtly ideal expressed in poetry as well as painting. But it was common practice for Timurid artists to turn to Chinese models for pictorial inspiration. In this case, Chinese influence can be seen in the arrangement of figures on a horizontal groundline set against a neutral, undefined background; in the identity and sinuous style of the flowering prunus tree that braces the princess; and in the material used for the painting surface.

N.B. Cora Timken Burnett was heir to the Timken Ball Bearing fortune and a noted artist in her own right.

Monday, March 23, 2015



Ink drawing on paper, partially coloured and illuminated, laid down onto an album page with borders filled with flowerheads, and later panels of nasta'liq calligraphy within cloud bands against gold grounds filled with flowers, margins ruled in colours and gold
drawing: 6.7 by 10.8cm.
leaf: 38.6 by 26cm.

Ex-Collection Claude Anet
Formerly in the collection of Hagop Kevorkian, sold in these rooms, 12 April 1976, lot 41

Muhammad Qasim was one of the leading artists of the first generation after Reza-i Abbasi alongside Muhammad Yusuf, Muhammad Ali and Muhammad Muhsin. He flourished in the first half of the seventeenthth century, and in recent years it has been suggested that he worked in both Mashhad and Isfahan (see Canby 2009, p.251).

This miniature can be compared to a number of others by the artist in terms of both exection and composition. A miniature entitled 'Chastisement of a Pupil' is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (published in New York 2011, pp.226-7, no.153) which shares with the present image the charateristic tree, often seen in drawings by Muhammad Qasim, in which the trunk is drawn with more or less horizontal rings following the contours of the trunk, with "stylized foliage like paper cut-outs..." (M.L. Swietochowski and S. Babaie, Persian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1989, pp.78-79, no.34). These features can also be witnessed on a drawing of a bird perched on the trunk of a tree by the same artist, sold in these rooms 29 April 1998, lot 64, as well as a portrait of 'Shah 'Abbas and a Pageboy' signed by Muhamad Qasim in the Musée du Louvre (see Canby, op.cit., pp.250-1, no.123).

Other traits of the artist can also be perceived in the present drawing, including the roundness of the lady's face, a style Muhammad Qasim often used when depicting the more youthful, and the comparatively more square jaw of the artist's typical mature figure. This distinctive style can again be seen in the 'Chastisement of a Pupil' where indeed the bearded elderly teacher is almost the same figure leaning against the tree as in the present work (New York 2011, op.cit.).

Further drawings and paintings by Muhammad Qasim are in the Art and History Trust Collection (see Soudavar 1992, p.293, nos.120-1); The British Museum (see Canby 1999, p.138, no.128), and sold in these rooms 1 April 2009, lot 28; 12 October 2000, lot 62, 22 April 1999, lot 49 and 3 April 1978, lot 40.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Young boys as Sexual Objects in Persian Art

Shah Abbas with Bacha bazi - young boys as sexual objects in Islamic art

In Islamic culture for over 1000 years we see a fascinating acceptance of Homosexual Child Molestation while at the same time condemning Homosexuality.

We see this dichotomy in the acceptance of Amradhā (young, beardless boys ) as sexual objects and sexual partners for mature men. Amradhā or Bacha bazi as they are also called are considered appropriate sexual partners up until they grow a beard with certain limitations.
Two key distinctions are drawn. Liwāṭ i.e pederasty is acceptable as long as the man uses the boy for anal or oral sex. What is forbidden and seen as shameful is for men is Ubna that is to receive a man in ones anus or mouth. The line of demarcation is the onset of the beard. The ubna male or mokhannas is condemned as a passive homosexual worthy of death.

We see this in the great Persian poem Gulistan (The Rose Garden). Sa’di of Shiraz (1213
-1295 AD) wrote:

Tatari ke koshad mokhannas rā
Tatari ra degar nabāyad kosht

A Mongol who kills a mokhannas
Is a Tatar who should not be killed.

To put a point on it Sa’di was writing during the onslaught and early occupation of the Mongols who ravaged Persia. Yet he sees a submissive homosexual as of so little consequence as to be worthy of death by the hated oppressors.

Then of course we see some who take a somewhat softer line such as we see in Jalāl ad-Din Rumi (Mawlana) (1207-1273 AD)  who wrote in his great poem Masnavi-e ma’navi

Keng raft kudaki rāyāft khord 
Zard shod kudak ze bim-e qasd-e mard
 Goft: iman bāsh, ey zibā-ye man
Ke to khāhi bovad dar bālā-ye man!
Man agar houlam mokhannas dān marā
Hamchu oshtor barneshin mirān marā

A man had found a little boy.
The boy paled with fear, afraid of his intentions.
The man said: Don’t be afraid, my beautiful boy!
If you want, you can be also on the top!
If you are afraid of me, you should know that I am a
mokhannas [a passivehomosexual],
So sit on me and ride me as if I was a camel!

Floor, Willem, A Social History of Sexual Relations in Iran, Mage Publishers, Washington 2008
Foucault, M.,History of Sexuality , Vintage Books, New York 1990
Piotr Bachtin, Department of Iranian StudiesFaculty of Oriental StudiesUniversity of Warsaw
Male Homosexuality in Medieval Iran (Persia):Between Perversionand Ideal Love

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mohammadi is a favorite Persian Miniature Artist of mine.

Mohammadi is a favorite Persian Miniature Artist of mine. He has a sophistication by way of talent but a simplicity in that he did not follow every other court artist of his time.
See also Persian Miniature Painting: The Lovers by Mirza Ali circa 1565 - 1570

Persian Miniature Painting: Seated Princess Mohammadi, Herat, circa 1565

Monday, November 21, 2011

Antique Cairene Rugs: Nazmiyal Research Spotlight

Antique Cairene Rugs: Nazmiyal Research Spotlight

Published by at 3:26 pm under Uncategorized
Antique 16th Century Cairene Rug 44374
Cairene Rugs
Among the lesser known antique rug centers of the world is Egypt, but lesser known does not equate to lesser in terms of quality, color, design, and historical robustness. Perhaps Egyptian rugs remain inconspicuous in the world of antique rugs because Egypt lies in the shadow of some of the world’s rug producing giants of yesterday and today (Persia and Turkey for two). Regardless, Egyptian rugs, particularly those woven in Cairo during the 16th and 17th centuries, are some of the most beautiful rugs ever woven given their unique and lively color palette and ancient design motifs. Read more about antique Cairene rugs and the history of Egyptian carpet production.