'Ispahan, capitale du Royaume de Perse', by Pieter van der Aa, from 'La galerie agreable du monde (...). Tome premier des d'Afrique.', published by P. van der Aa, Leyden, c. 1725.

Source: ebay, Feb. 2012

Meanwhile, for comparison and contrast: Muhammad Shah Qajar (r.1834-48)

Source: http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/search/LotDetail.asp?sid=&intObjectID=4580053&SE=CMWCAT03+120606+%2D1384603341+&QR=M+1+289+Aqc0000900+104955++Aqc0000900+&entry=india&SU=1&RQ=True&AN=290
(downloaded Sept. 2005)

Oil on canvas, the Shah seated on a chair in an interior wearing a red coat copiously embellished with pearls and diamonds, in a blue sash, jewelled epaulettes, bazubands, tassels and cuffs, with a thick beard and wearing a tall black cap encrusted with gems incorporating an inscription, holding a sceptre completely covered in diamonds and rubies, in his lap a sword encrusted with diamonds, on a carpet decorated with pearls, identificary inscription in cusped cartouche reading Al-Sultan b. al-Sultan Muhammad Shah Qajar, the painting signed faintly in the lower leftt raqam kamtarim Ahmad 1260, within a border of panels of nastal'liq verses divided by cusped roundels containing a hymn in his praise, the calligraphy signed in a green cartouche in the lower right corner Muhammad Isma'il ..., small repaired tear, re-lined, framed. 87½ x 50in. (222.5 x 127cm.)

Lot Notes:  An outstanding painting of Muhammad Shah in his imperial regalia, this is one of the finest known portraits of the third Qajar ruler. His face is carefully characterised and the attention to detail is exquisite. Bejewelled surfaces gleam with a crystalline clarity, some catching the light, some in the shade. Areas of fabric are enlivened by subtle modulations of tone and an undergarment of fine Kashmir cloth is just visible beneath his coat.


Inscribed in the cartouches around the image of the Shah is a eulogy in his honour. This qasida reads:

darin pardeh naqsh-e farrokh shahriyar
siah kardeh ruz-o behesht-o bahar
del-e shir darrad ze tasvir-e u
falak tarsad az tarkesh-o tir-e u
jahanash nahadeh ast gardan be-band
sar-e asmanash bovad dar kamand
par-e marg bar basteh bar chub-e tir
ze pestan-e tir ajdaha-o madeh shir
nagardad nahang az dam-e u raha
be-bazi be-girad dum-e ajdaha
sepehr-o setareh hameh khak-e ust
haman kahkashan band-e fatrak-e ust
jahan tazeh kardast shah-e javan
keh shah-e javan tazeh darad jahan
jahan ju muhammad shah-e namdar
jahan ra yaki pak-del shahriyar
be-razm asman-o be-bazm aftab
godazandeh atash govarandeh ab
boland asman guy-e chogan-e ust
hameh sharq ta gharb meydan-e ust
tak-e bad payash be-navard gah
zadeh mah be-mahi-o mahi be-mah
sar-e mahi az gav-sar kufteh
del-e mah ze neyzeh bar ashufteh
kaf-e u kalid-e dar-e ruzi ast
darash ruy dar ruy-e behruzi ast
sepehr-o sahabash be-dar bandeh bad
zamin-o zamanash parastandeh bad
sepehr-e kohan chon sepehr-e sokhan
be-rahash nahadast jan-o tan
"In this curtain is the portrait of the fortunate monarch
Which has blackened days, Heaven and Spring
His picture would rent the heart of lions
His quiver and his arrows would frighten the firmament
The world has tied the rope of submission round its neck
The summit of heaven is in his lasso
Feathers of death are tied to his arrows
From the breast of his arrows to dragons and lionesses
A whale would not escape him
He would play with dragon's tail
The heavens and stars are all his soil
That very milky-way his saddle-straps
The young king has refreshed the World
The World has a new young king
The World-seeker Muhammad, the illustrious king
The World has a pure-hearted monarch
In combat he is like heavens, in entertainment like the Sun
He destroys like fire and is pleasant like water
The high heaven is a ball for his polo
From East to West is his field of play
His horse's pace in battle-field
Has caused the Moon to touch the fish and fish the Moon
Fish's head vexed with his mace
Moon's heart bewildered by his spear
His palm is the key to the door of sustenance
His door facing good-fortune
May Sepehr and Sahab be servants at his door
May the universe worship him
The old Sepehr like the world of speech
Has put his soul and body at his path"

The qasida was written by Mirza Muhammad Taqi Lisan al-Mulk, pen-named Sepehr (AH 1207-97/1792-1879 AD. In the preface of Nasikh al-Tawarikh, quoted by the poet, his birth date is AH 1216/1801 AD). After his initial education in his hometown Kashan, he moved to Tehran and under the protection and encouragement of the poet laureate Saba he started writing books. On Saba's death, he returned to Kashan and was appointed deputy to Prince Mahmud son of Fath 'Ali Shah and was given the pen name "Sepehr" by the Prince. He was called to Teheran by Fath 'Ali Shah and entered government offices.

During Muhammad Shah's reign, he was the Royal eulogist and the secretary to the Finance Department. He was commissioned by Muhammad Shah's royal decree in AH 1258/1842-83 AD to write a history book called Nasikh al-Tawarikh which covers the world history up AH 1272/1855 AD when he was given the title Lisan al-Mulk by Nasir al-Din Shah (M. Bamdad, Dictionary of National Biography of Iran, 1700-1900, vol. 3, Teheran, 1966, pp. 319-21. Muhammad Taqi Lisan al-Mulk Sepehr, nasikh al-tawarikh, Tehran, 1337, pp.4-10)

In the crown is written:
ma sha' allah/"What God Wills" and al-mulk li'-llah,  "Sovereignty to God"

In the small green cartouches around the border: ya allah ya muhammad ya 'ali / "O God ! O Muhammad ! O 'Ali !"

In the identificary inscrption in a cusped cartouche reads Al-Sultan ibn al-Sultan Muhammad Shah

On the green half-cartouche at the lower right-hand corner, traces of the scribe's name, possibly: harrarahu muhammad isma'il …bi,  "Muhammad Isma'il wrote it." No Muhammad Isma'il of note is recorded with the attribute finishing with bi.

The eulogy, inscribed as it is around the royal image, follows a pattern established by Fath 'Ali Shah in his monumental rock reliefs at Rayy (Layla Diba and Maryam Ekhtiar, Royal Persian Paintings: The Qajar Epoch, New York, 1998, figs.11a,b, p.41).

The artist known only as Ahmad (active 1819-44) was among the foremost painters during the second and third decade of the reign of Fath 'Ali Shah and that of Muhammad Shah. He is known to have painted three other signed portraits of Muhammad Shah: an equestrian portrait dated AH 1260/1844 AD in the Gulistan Palace, Tehran (B.W. Robinson, "Persian Royal Portraiture", in Edmond Bosworth and Carole Hillenbrand eds., Qajar Iran: Political, Social and Cultural Change, Costa Mesa, 1983, pl.5, p.307), a fine bust portrait dated AH1260/1844 AD (Julian Raby, Qajar Portraits, London and New York, 1999, pl.117, p.55) and a seated portrait in the Ethnographisches Museum in Berlin, dated AH [12]64/1847 AD (Jens Kröger and Desiree Heiden, Islamische Kunst in Berliner Sammlungen, Berlin, 2004, pp.200-1).

This last painting is exceedingly similar to the present example, both about life-size and showing Muhammad Shah seated in a European-style throne with a jewel-encrusted sceptre topped by a bird, and with a similarly decorated sword, surrounded by the same nasta'liq verses. In each painting the ruler wears a red coat trimmed with diamonds and pearls, and both are surrounded by a border of cartouches containing the same hymn in praise of the ruler. The most immediate difference between the two is the placement of the sword, which in the Berlin painting stands between his legs, whereas here it rests on his lap. On closer inspection, however, there are many subtle differences, one being that the jewelled aigrette in our painting is rather more elaborate, incorporating the phrases al-mulk li'-llah "Sovereignty to God"and Ima sha' allah/"What God Wills", surely one of this painting's most splendid conceits; whilst one can also detect slight variations in his posture, features of the jewellery and in the setting.

The present piece is signed raqam kamtarin Ahmad/Painted by the humble Ahmad 1260 (1844 AD) in the lower left hand corner of the painting. The surrounding verses in praise of Muhammad Shah are signed in the lower right hand corner of the border, which although damaged can be seen to read Muhammad Isma'il: here it seems that calligrapher and artist were two different individuals. In the Berlin example, however, the signature is in the lower left hand border, and written kataba Ahmad/Written by Ahmad. Kröger suggests the Berlin version might be a copy rather than a court piece, and this could explain why the Berlin version, produced four years later, is so close and yet has these differences.

The painter Ahmad has been described in The Cambridge History of Iran, which says of him "Among the second generation of court painters active towards the end of Fath 'Ali Shah's reign and during that of his grandson and successor Muhammad Shah, the best was probably Ahmad, who, to judge from his early style, may well have been a pupil of Mihr 'Ali" Cambridge, 1991, Vol. 7, p.879. Karimzadeh-Tabrizi mentions two painters called Ahmad, both active at the same time, but they are possibly the same individual (M. A. Karimzadeh-Tabrizi, The Lives and Art of the Old Painters of Iran, London, 1990). In the first instance (Vol. I, no.83, pp.52-3) this is Ahmad the watercolourist, said to be a portraitist who amongst other things had painted portraits of both Fath 'Ali Shah and Muhammad Shah. The second entry, appearing immediately after in Karimzadeh-Tabrizi's book, mentions Ahmad the painter in oils, also said to be active over the same period (op cit., no.84).

The development of his style can be traced by a comparison of paintings from different stages in his career. An early signed painting of his of a seated Fath 'Ali Shah, dated AH 1230/1815 AD, sold at Sotheby's, 3 May 2001, lot 69, demonstrates a profound interest in the detail of jewelled surfaces and patterning, but little modelling or shading. A slightly later pair of paintings of acrobats, attributed to him, thought to be from the second or third decade of the 19th century, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, (Lalya Diba (op cit.), pl.60-1, p.210). Painted with a warmer palate closer to that of his later works, and with very slight shading in parts, they still give the impression of a flat patterned surface.

The bust portrait of Muhammad Shah mentioned earlier is strikingly European in its approach to detail and modelling. It seems likely to have been copied from a full length painting dated AH 1255/1839-40 AD by the other prominent oil painter of the time, Muhammad Hasan Afshar, who was active 1818-78 (Jean Soustiel, Objets d'art de l'Islam 2, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1974, pl.53, p.43). In the earlier painting the ruler, dressed in his characteristic red coat and blue sash, poses by a cannon, with his troops in the distance- a strikingly Westernised composition. Perhaps the influence of the other artist prompted alterations in Ahmad's style.

MUHAMMAD SHAH QAJAR (R..AH 1250-1264/1834-1848 AD)
Great changes took place during the fourteen year reign of Muhammad Shah, including a gradual adoption of Western style costume and the introduction of European weaponry in the military. Early portraits show him in long Persian robes, tied at the waist with thickly rolled shawls (Diba and Ekhtiar, 1998, pl. 66, p.223 for a painting of him whilst still a prince, and pl.67, p.224 for one by Muhammad Hasan Afshar, dated AH 1253/1835-36 AD, when recently crowned). By the 1840s he had adopted European-style military dress of frock coat, epaulettes and blue sash, but retaining the jewels (now almost all white diamonds and pearls) and the astrakhan cap. He wears this in the other paintings mentioned so far. Further examples include a watercolour by Muhammad Hasan Afshar (Julian Raby, Qajar Portraits, London and New York, 1999, pl.118) and two paintings of him sold in these rooms, 20 October 1992, lot 296 and 25 April 1995, lot 89. The latter is unusual in that the Shah is shown in a dark coat, rather than his usual red, and without a diamond aigrette in his cap. The more characteristic dress is also seen on a polychrome lacquer book cover in the Nasser D. Khalili Collection, which bears an image of Muhammad Shah in a pose that seems almost directly lifted from the present painting, dated AH 1262/1845-6 AD (Nasser D. Khalili, B.W. Robinson and Tim Stanley, Lacquer of the Islamic Lands Part I, Oxford, 1996, no.128, p.173). By contrast, a seated oil painting of Muhammad Shah by Najaf 'Ali, dated AH 1261/1845 AD, sold at Sotheby's, 13 October 2004, lot 25, seems somewhat archaising, the sitter dressed in robes and crown not unlike those of his predecessor.

In both the present painting and the Berlin version Muhammad Shah holds a sceptre that recalls the iconography of the Fath 'Ali Shah portraits by Mihr 'Ali, seen in his two most famous full-length paintings of that ruler: the St Petersburg one, signed and dated AH 1224/AD 1809-10, and the other, formerly in the Amery Collection and now in Iran, signed and dated AH 1229/1813-14 AD (S. Falk, Qajar Paintings: Persian Oil Paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries, London, 1972, fig.14, p.37 and pl.15). In both those paintings he is shown holding a bejewelled staff topped by a bird, his arm slightly crooked. Julian Raby suggests this is a borrowing from the slightly earlier imperial portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte in his coronation robes. Napoleon, crowned Emperor in 1804, commissioned a series of paintings to record that event, that were amongst the greatest images of imperial propaganda at that time (Julian Raby, Qajar Portraits, London and New York, 1999, pp.11-13). Raby mentions that three of the four artists commissioned- Jacques-Louis David, Francois Gerard and Robert Levefre- chose to portray the Emperor standing with the sceptre of Charles V, a staff that bears a striking resemblance to that held by Fath 'Ali Shah in these paintings. David's version was rejected by Napoleon when he saw it in 1806, both Levefre and Gerard produced a number of copies.

The sceptre held by Fath 'Ali Shah is covered in emeralds, rubies and diamonds in what appears to be yellow gold settings. In the present painting, however, the sceptre is subtly changed to suit the tastes prevalent at the time- the majority of the coloured gems, bar a few rubies, are stripped out. Moreover, in the Fath 'Ali Shah portraits its height is appropriate to the tall man standing, whilst here it is rather reduced in size, more comfortably held by the seated ruler. It is not clear that such a sceptre ever existed; it certainly is not present in the current collection of crown jewels in Tehran.

Another conspicuous demonstration of power is the pair of huge diamonds incorporated into his bazubands, which also appear in many portraits of Fath 'Ali Shah- the rectangular Darya-i Nur (Sea of Light), the world's sixth largest cut diamond, and the irregular ovoid Mughal-cut Taj-i Mah (Crown of the Moon). These diamonds, both probably mined in Golconda, were part of the booty of Nadir Shah's sacking of Delhi in 1739. They are said to have been paired in 1791, and set in the bazubands of Luft 'Ali Khan Zand. Seized by the first Qajar ruler, Aqa Muhammad Khan, they were then worn by Fath 'Ali Shah, Muhammad Shah, and finally Nasr al-Din Shah, who then had the Darya-i Nur mounted, as it remains today (see V.B. Meen and A. D. Tushingham, The Crown Jewels of Iran, Toronto, 1969, pp.53 and 68).

The sword resting on his lap, seen so regularly in paintings of him, must be none other than that of Nadir Shah, traditionally believed to be that carried by him during his Indian campaign and later encrusted on one side with hundreds of diamonds of different sizes. The other side was enamelled under the orders of Fath 'Ali Shah (illustrated in Meen and Tushingham, 1969, pp.60-1). Certain liberties were taken in the depiction of this sword. In the present painting, the reverse (that in reality enamelled not bejewelled) is shown as if it too were gem-set. In this and other portraits, the size and number of the large stones is actually increased.

The aigrette that adorns the cap of Muhammad Shah in the Berlin version must surely be that also worn often by Fath 'Ali Shah, with four distinctive stones in the middle and an fifth, off-centre at the top (op cit, p.78). In that painting these brightly coloured gemstones become white diamonds, but the present painting takes the distortion one stage further- here it is addorned with a jewelled inscription.
The taste for diamonds does not end there: even his epaulettes are covered with them. These can certainly be said to exist: they are in the collection in Tehran (op cit., p.120-1), but are are set with large emeralds rather than red stones."

Nasir ud-Din Shah Qajar (r.1850-95), by a European painter, later 1800's

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(downloaded Sept. 2005)

"NASIR AL-DIN SHAH QAJAR. EUROPEAN ARTIST, SECOND HALF 19TH CENTURY. Oil on board, he stands in an interior beside a chair dressed in blue coat with embroidered jacket over it, a tall black cap with jewelled and feathered ornament, a sword in one hand, inscription possibly reading "Mayer", framed and glazed. 8½ x 7in. (21.6 x 17.6cm.).

Lot Notes:  This painting is worked from an official photograph of Nasir al-Din Shah posing by a chair, published in Layla Diba and Maryam Ekhtiar, Royal Persian Paintings: The Qajar Epoch 1785-1925, New York, 1998, no.87, p.262."

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