Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Shah 'Abbas Ii And The Mughal Ambassador
Safavid, circa 1663 CE
Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper, pasted on blue cardboard
24.2 x 33.2 cm
Shah ‛Abbas II (r. 1642-66 CE) sits centre stage in this elegant reception which overflows with sumptuously dressed courtiers in striped turbans (some wrapped around a red kula) bearing strings of pearls and turban-ornaments with a tuft of black feathers. Musicians play their instruments and servants bring gold-covered dishes and gold cups on trays. Shah ‛Abbas appears in regal splendour wearing a jewelled dagger and sword at his waist, and on his head an elaborate striped turban adorned with jewels, curling white feathers and a tuft of black feathers. He is identified by a thuluth inscription on the building behind him: “The Lord of the Court, the Lord of the Two Conjunctions, the Victorious, Shah ‛Abbas, may God make his rule eternal.” This painting, with its masterful use of European-style techniques including shading and tonal perspective, has generated much scholarly debate over its attribution (for a summary, see Canby 1998, pp. 80-81). Diba recently published this painting as a historical portrait by the Zand artist Abu’l Hasan Ghaffari Mustawfi Kashani (fl. 1781-94 CE) who had trained as a historian and was known for historical portraits of Safavid and Turkman rulers, in addition to paintings of his own family and that of Karim Khan Zand. She makes a stylistic comparison to his “lively composition, broadshouldered figures, stiff turbans, and placid faces of the youths” which look back to early eighteenth-century style, and supports her attribution by citing similar epigraphic panels in thuluth script found in arched bays in two other paintings by the artist (Diba 1998, pp. 148-49; 1989, p. 156). The painting is called Shah ‛Abbas II (r. 1642-66 CE) and the Mughal Ambassador, although the identity of the “ambassador” - a small bearded man in white wearing a red turban and an Indian qatar at his belt, gesturing with upturned hand toward the shah - remains unresolved. The arguments are summarised by Canby who suggests another alternative for the identity of the ambassador: the Indian rulers of Deccani Bijapur and Golconda, who sought Safavid help against the Mughals in the second half of the seventeenth century (Canby 1998, pp. 80-81).
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