Technologies of the Image: Art in 19th-Century Iran

, University Research Gallery, Harvard Art Museums
  • The Persian Family, Switzerland, Zurich, 1904–12. Chromolithograph (photochrome). Collection of Azita Bina and Elmar W. Seibel, TL41579.9. Photo: Courtesy Elmar Seibel.

  • Pen Box with Nasir al-Din Shah and His Court; and Rulers from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) by Firdawsi

    Pen Box with Nasir al-Din Shah and His Court; and Rulers from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) by Firdawsi

    Cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top is decorated in horizontal format. The pen box is covered inside and out with small scale figural scenes in panels, accompanied by Persian inscriptions in cartouches. On the exterior, elaborate gold scrolls separate images of temporal rulers. On the top in the central panel is Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96) with his sons Mas`ud Mirza (Zill al-Sultan) and Kamran Mirza (Na’ib al-Saltana and the future Muzaffar al-Din Shah). Other courtiers are depicted to the right of the king, including the prime minister and the comptroller general. The exterior also depicts legendary and historical rulers and their courts, including Faridun, Manuchihr, Anushirvan, Iskandar, Ardashir, and Dara. Painted on the interior (on the outer walls of the sliding compartment) in slightly recessed panels are scenes with leaders of the spiritual world. These scenes are drawn from Farid al-Din `Attar’s Tadkhkirat al-Awlia (Memoirs of the Saints) and Haji Bektas Veli's Maqalat (Conversations) and include: Mir Findiriski, Shaykh Baha’i, and the escaped lion; Shams Tabrizi casting Mawlana’s book into the water; Shaykh Bayazid Bistami praying by the Tigris; Shaykh Bayazid being struck by disciples; Shaykh Abu’l-Hasan Kharraqani riding a lion with snakes; Ibrahim ibn Adham returning to his mother’s embrace; and the fish returning his mother’s pins to Ibrahim ibn Adham. The inner walls of the sliding compartment area decorated with flowers and male portrait busts.

  • Pen Box with Portrait Medallions on Floral Ground

    Pen Box with Portrait Medallions on Floral Ground

    Cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top is decorated in vertical format with three portrait medallions and two anchor pendants, surrounded by flowers painted on a red background. The inscription is written in the anchor pendants. The portraits are all of women, and the central figure wears a fanciful European gown. The sides are decorated with floral scrolls, which are continuous around the ends. The walls of the compartment bear gold landscape motifs on a red background. The base is plain red.

  • Mirror Case with Flowers, Hazelnuts, Birds, and Butterflies

    Mirror Case with Flowers, Hazelnuts, Birds, and Butterflies

    Rectangular mirror case with hinged lid. On its exterior surfaces, this mirror case bears decorative schemes of mixed flowers with birds and butterflies that were popular in lacquer wares during the 18th and 19th centuries. The compositions on the outer face of the lid and the case back are very similar, but not identical. The outer face of the lid is, however, virtually identical to the front and back of 2014.386. The inner face of the lid is decorated with a gathering of dervishes in a riverine landscape. A white-bearded man holding a staff kneels in the middle ground, flanked by two clean-shaven dervishes; a pipe-smoking bearded man is seated in the foreground.

  • Mirror Case with Flowers and Birds

    Mirror Case with Flowers and Birds

    Octagonal mirror case with fitted lid. The outer surfaces of the mirror case are decorated with birds perching on sprays of mixed flowers, against a sparkling background. The inner surface of the lid features a reclining female nude and two winged cupids in a woodland setting, a composition based ultimately on a painting by British artist Richard Westall (1765-1836).

  • Pen Box with Figures in Indoor and Outdoor Settings, and Medallions

    Pen Box with Figures in Indoor and Outdoor Settings, and Medallions

    This pen box is richly decorated on the top, front, and back with figural designs. The largest cartouches that hold the center of each side contain vignettes of Iranian men. The top central cartouche bears the artist’s signature and date and a composition of men and boys gathered in a brick courtyard to hear the words of a figure whose green turban suggests he is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. This scene is flanked by cartouches of beautiful young women in Iranian dress reclining in terraces, attended by servants. On the front and back sides, the central cartouche of a gathering of men is flanked by oval medallions of a young man and women in Iranian dress. The ends bear continuous compositions of human and animal figures traversing the landscape. All figural vignettes are framed with gold rococo scrollwork.

  • Folio 2 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Blank page (recto); Birds, flowers, and butterflies (verso)

    Folio 2 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Blank page (recto); Birds, flowers, and butterflies (verso)

  • Folio 21 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Three drawings of figures in European dress (recto); Study sheet with flowers and female portraits and figures (verso)

    Folio 21 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Three drawings of figures in European dress (recto); Study sheet with flowers and female portraits and figures (verso)

  • Folio 41 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Four sheets: Pen box design with reclining females and attendants in landscape (top), Portrait bust of Muhammad Shah Qajar (center), European woman with bouquet and shawl (center), Pen box design with reclining females and attendants in landscape, divided by medallions (bottom) (recto); The Binding of Isaac (verso)

    Folio 41 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Four sheets: Pen box design with reclining females and attendants in landscape (top), Portrait bust of Muhammad Shah Qajar (center), European woman with bouquet and shawl (center), Pen box design with reclining females and attendants in landscape, divided by medallions (bottom) (recto); The Binding of Isaac (verso)

  • Folio 18 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Two draings: The meeting of Shams-i Tabrizi and Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi (top), Shaykh San`an and the Christian Maiden (bottom)
 (recto); Zulaykha's maids cut themselves, overcome by Yusuf's beauty (verso)

    Folio 18 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Two draings: The meeting of Shams-i Tabrizi and Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi (top), Shaykh San`an and the Christian Maiden (bottom) (recto); Zulaykha's maids cut themselves, overcome by Yusuf's beauty (verso)

  • Pen box with scenes from Nizami's tale of Bahram Gur and the Seven Princesses

    Pen box with scenes from Nizami's tale of Bahram Gur and the Seven Princesses

    Cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top is decorated in horizontal format with three tri-lobed cartouches alternating with two oval medallions. The tri-lobed cartouches contain figural vignettes, and the oval medallions contain female portrait busts. The sides are similarly composed, with a central portrait medallion flanked by tri-lobed cartouches. The seven cartouches each contain a vignette of the Sasanian king Bahram Gur being entertained by one of the seven princesses whom he visits sequentially in the 12th century Persian poem Haft paykar (Seven Beauties) by Nizami. Inscriptions in small oblong panels identify each princess by the color of her pavilion. The base is painted with a gold arabesque on a red ground.

  • Pen Box with the Virgin and Child

    Pen Box with the Virgin and Child

    Cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top is decorated in vertical format with an oblong cartouche containing the Virgin and Child, a white-bearded man, and a winged putto. The rest of the top and the sides are covered with densely painted illumination. The base and outer surfaces of the compartment are painted with a gold arabesque on a red background. Inside the compartment, multicolored flowers are painted on a gold background.

  • Pen Box with Shaykh San`an and the Christian Maiden

    Pen Box with Shaykh San`an and the Christian Maiden

    Cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top is decorated in horizontal format and divided into three sections separated by elaborate gold scrollwork and arabesque designs. The central section illustrates a tale recounted in Farid al-Din `Attar’s Manṭiq al-ṭayr (Conference of the Birds), in which Shaykh San`an kneels before the Christian Maiden, who offers him wine. The sections to the left and right feature scenes of a teacher with his students. The sides of the cover are similarly divided by gold scrollwork and arabesque designs that enclose illustrations from Persian literature. The scenes on the front and back reference the famous tarji’-band by Hatif of Isfahan. The vignettes on the ends represent Shirin visiting Farhad at Mount Bisutun, and Khusraw spying Shirin at her bath. The base of the cover and sides of the drawer are decorated with flowers and female portrait busts of women.

  • Pen box with medallions on floral ground

    Pen box with medallions on floral ground

    Oblong pen box consisting of a cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top bears three lobed medallions and two pendants, all outlined in gold. These are set against a reddish ground beautifully decorated with symmetrical designs of small flowers and leaves. The three medallions hold vignettes of birds perched on the branches of flowering prunus plants set against a black background. The inscriptions are written on the prunus trunks. Symmetrical floral compositions fill the pendants. The sides and ends bear horizontal segments filled with floral scrolls against a red background. These alternate with smaller segments with iris and poppies set against a dark brown background. The base is decorated with fine gold scrollwork on dark brown background.

  • Folio 42 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Virgin and Child with attendants (recto); Three sheets framed by colored paper borders: bust-length portrait of men and women (verso)

    Folio 42 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Virgin and Child with attendants (recto); Three sheets framed by colored paper borders: bust-length portrait of men and women (verso)

  • Pen Box with Portrait Medallions on Floral Ground

    Pen Box with Portrait Medallions on Floral Ground

    Cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top is decorated in vertical format with three portrait medallions and two anchor pendants, surrounded by blossoms. The inscription is written in the anchor pendants. The portraits are of two woman (top and bottom) and one man (center). The sides are decorated with clumps of flowers growing from a ground line. The red background of the top and sides has thin stripes of a shiny copper under lacquer.

  • Pen Box with Persian Women in Medallions

    Pen Box with Persian Women in Medallions

    Cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top is decorated in vertical format with three cartouches. In the center is a full-length portrait of an Iranian woman in a black jacket and floor-length skirt; above and below are bust-length female portraits. The sides are composed in a similar manner with an oblong cartouche in the center that features animals in a mountainous landscape; to the right and left are small riverine landscapes. On the base an arabesque is painted in gold on a black background. The artist Muhammad Baqir Samirumi sometimes added the number 303 to his signature. It has been suggested that this stands for the name “Baqir,” the letters of which have this numerical value.

  • Mirror Case with the Virgin and Child with Attendants

    Mirror Case with the Virgin and Child with Attendants

    Rectangular mirror case with fitted lid. The outer surfaces of the mirror case feature open-terrace scenes, with figures of the seated Virgin and Child and various attendants. In the backgrounds, putti hover over trees and fanciful architecture. The inner surface features a young prince and his attendants visiting a religious sage. The figures occupy a double-balustraded terrace in the middle ground. The background offers a vista of fanciful European towers with arched openings set within a riverine landscape.

  • Snuff box with lovers discovered

    Snuff box with lovers discovered

    This small box was likely intended to hold snuff. The exterior of the hinged lid is decorated with a scene of two young lovers embracing on a terrace. The foreground holds a sheathed dagger, a flintlock, and a tray with refreshments. Clean-shaven with light-colored eyes and dressed in a frock coat, the bare-footed male lover perhaps represents a European. The female lover is dressed in Qajar garments, including an aigrette in her hair, a jacket with turned-back cuffs, and a short flaring skirt of the type that became popular in Iran in the later 19th century, following Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar’s travels in Europe. The young woman glances rightward, in the direction of a frowning older man, presumably her husband. Sporting a prominent mustache and a Qajar hat, he leans into the terrace from outdoors. An elderly woman in headscarf appears at the left, partially hidden by two large cushions. Her finger is raised to her mouth in the conventional gesture of wonder or dismay. The vignette is framed by gold scrollwork and bordered by floating bouquets.

  • Folio 3 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Medallion with portrait bust of a European woman, enclosed in symmetrical composition of scrollwork, birds, flowers, and butterflies 
 (recto); Hunter with falcon, hound, and rifle (verso)

    Folio 3 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Medallion with portrait bust of a European woman, enclosed in symmetrical composition of scrollwork, birds, flowers, and butterflies (recto); Hunter with falcon, hound, and rifle (verso)

  • Folio 49 from an Album of Artsts' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Lovers discovered (recto); Two hands of Fatima (verso)

    Folio 49 from an Album of Artsts' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Lovers discovered (recto); Two hands of Fatima (verso)

  • Folio 30 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Three sheets: Pen box design with perspectival architectural landscape divided by medallions (top), Bahram Gur visiting a princess (center), Pen box design with audience scene divided by medallions (bottom) 
 (recto); Blank page (verso)

    Folio 30 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Three sheets: Pen box design with perspectival architectural landscape divided by medallions (top), Bahram Gur visiting a princess (center), Pen box design with audience scene divided by medallions (bottom) (recto); Blank page (verso)

  • Pen Box with European Woman and Eagles in Medallions

    Pen Box with European Woman and Eagles in Medallions

    Cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top is decorated in vertical format with three oval medallions. In the center is a three quarter length portrait of a woman; the upper and lower medallions contain eagles. The sides each feature a circular medallion in the center with a bust length female portrait, flanked by oval medallions containing pairs of male and female ruminants. The base and compartment are painted with a gold arabesque on a black background.

  • Mirror Case with Scenes of a Baby Boy's Birth and Circumcision

    Mirror Case with Scenes of a Baby Boy's Birth and Circumcision

    Rectangular mirror case with fitted lid. This mirror case is decorated with figural scenes celebrating the birth and circumcision of a baby boy. All of the vignettes take place on a well appointed porch with red drapery and a distant view of trees. On one side of the lid, a young woman has just given birth to a tiny baby. She is attended by a midwife, while attendants wrap the afterbirth. On the other side of the lid, a servant brings melon to two women who are seated on either side of the naked, smiling baby. On the back of the case is a circumcision scene.

  • An Album of Persian Paintings and Drawings

    An Album of Persian Paintings and Drawings

    This album is bound in folding or accordion format, with 20 folios, or 40 pages, containing Persian sketches and paintings. The majority of the works are rendered in black or red pigment, but a few are in full color. For the most part each page bears a single work, framed with decorative borders, but on a few pages, up to four different items have been fitted together. There are a variety of inscriptions—sometimes on the work of art and sometimes on the page backing—that name Persian artists active from the eighteenth through mid-nineteenth century, e.g., Mirza Baba, Muhammad `Ali, Muhammad Baqir, Muhammad Hadi, Muhammad Hasan Afshar, and Muhammad Zaman (Ya Sahib al-Zaman). The album is dominated by botanical studies, but the contents also include animals and human figures. One work of art is non-Persian: a late Mughal painting of a semi-nude woman holding a lotus and enclosed in a crescent.

  • Mirza Zayn al-`Abidin

    Mirza Zayn al-`Abidin

    In this unfinished painting, the sitter kneels within a shallow space and faces the viewer with a penetrating gaze. Although European fashions had entered Persian clothing and furniture by the middle of the nineteenth century, this figure’s garments and posture are staunchly traditional. He wears the tall Astrakhan hat favored by the Qajar court and two long robes. The outer cloak is broadly sketched in, but the blue inner robe is carefully rendered in a moiré pattern. The details of the striped sash and the complicated piping on the robes suggest the fine woolen fabrics woven in Kirman, which Qajar government policy aimed to promote over Kashmir imports at the time this painting was created. The sitter’s two hands—with henna-stained nails—are tucked into his sash, along with two rolled documents.

  • Large Book Covers with Entertainment Scenes on a Terrace

    Large Book Covers with Entertainment Scenes on a Terrace

  • Folio 10 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Hero on horseback fighting a dragon (recto); Couple entertained on a terrace by musicians and dancers (verso)

    Folio 10 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Hero on horseback fighting a dragon (recto); Couple entertained on a terrace by musicians and dancers (verso)

  • Folio 6 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Virgin and child with elderly men and attendants (recto); Amorous couple with attendants, baby, rabbits, and birds (verso)

    Folio 6 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Virgin and child with elderly men and attendants (recto); Amorous couple with attendants, baby, rabbits, and birds (verso)

  • Folio 56 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Bird and floral design for a pen box (recto); Two sheets: Study of a rose; Study of an iris (verso)

    Folio 56 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Bird and floral design for a pen box (recto); Two sheets: Study of a rose; Study of an iris (verso)

  • Pen Box with Reclining European Women and Female Portraits

    Pen Box with Reclining European Women and Female Portraits

    Cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top is decorated in horizontal format with three vignettes featuring a semi nude woman draped in a red cloth. The background is a sparkling dark brown. In the different scenes, the companions include winged angels, a white bearded man, female attendants, and a brown bearded man who grasps a bottle. These scenes are separated by two oval medallions with female portrait busts. The sides are similarly composed and decorated, with male portrait medallions appearing on the back. The base is decorated with a gold arabesque on a black background.

  • Pen Box with Amorous Couples and Portrait Medallions

    Pen Box with Amorous Couples and Portrait Medallions

    Cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top is decorated in horizontal format with three cartouches framed by elaborate gold scrollwork, all set against a black background filled with floating blossoms. The central cartouche features a vignette of couples reclining against cushions in an interior setting; they drink wine and embrace. To the left and right are portrait busts of European women with flowers in their hair. The sides are composed and decorated in the same manner with couples engaged in amorous play and portrait busts of European women. The ends bear portrait busts of men. The base is painted with an arabesque on a gold background.

  • Illustrated Manuscript of poetry by Maktabi Shirazi, Vahshi Bafqi, and Naw’i Khabushani

    Illustrated Manuscript of poetry by Maktabi Shirazi, Vahshi Bafqi, and Naw’i Khabushani

    Bound between fine lacquer covers, this anthology contains three tragic love poems: Layli va Majnun by Maktabi Shirazi (d. circa 1510); Farhad va Shirin by Vahshi Bafqi (d. 1583); and Suz va Gudaz (Burning and Melting) by Naw`i Khabushani (d. circa 1610). A colophon following Maktabi’s poem gives the date and place of completion as 22 Shawwal 1254 (January 8, 1838) in Fars. The patron's name is given as Muhammad Hasan Khan, son of the Qajar ruler Fath `Ali Shah. The small manuscript opens with double illuminated text pages which are copied in shikasta nasta`liq in two columns and 15 lines to a page. There are a total of 42 paintings illustrating the texts. The outer covers of the binding feature two scenes from the story of Khusraw and Shirin: on the front Shirin visits Farhad at Mount Bisutun; and on the back Khusraw spies on the bathing Shirin. The inner covers bear monumental standing figures of an elderly (front) and a youthful (back) dervish. Each carries a begging bowl filled with flowers and hefts an axe on his shoulder. These figures reflect wall paintings in the Haft Tan mausoleum in Shiraz.

  • Illustrated Manuscript of the Gulistān (Rose Garden) by Sa`di

    Illustrated Manuscript of the Gulistān (Rose Garden) by Sa`di

    The manuscript opens with a richly illuminated heading and margins. The text is copied in nasta`liq by Fathallah, also known as Jalal, for Aqa Mirza Mahdi Khan kalantar, ra’is dar of Isfahan. Most of the fourteen paintings are signed “Ibrahim” in red ink. The back of the folios with paintings are decorated with a large diamond shaped medallion in different colors. The binding is decorated with center and corner pieces decorated with filigree leather. The horizontal pendants have the name of the poet Jami. The doublures are decorated with center pieces with pendants.

  • Folio 7 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Embracing couple on terrace, attended by servants, dancers, and musicians (recto); Standing woman with headscarf (verso)

    Folio 7 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Embracing couple on terrace, attended by servants, dancers, and musicians (recto); Standing woman with headscarf (verso)

  • Pen Box with Nasir al-Din Shah and His Court; and Rulers from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) by Firdawsi
  • Pen Box with Portrait Medallions on Floral Ground
  • Mirror Case with Flowers, Hazelnuts, Birds, and Butterflies
  • Mirror Case with Flowers and Birds
  • Pen Box with Figures in Indoor and Outdoor Settings, and Medallions
  • Folio 2 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Blank page (recto); Birds, flowers, and butterflies (verso)
  • Folio 21 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Three drawings of figures in European dress (recto); Study sheet with flowers and female portraits and figures (verso)
  • Folio 41 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Four sheets: Pen box design with reclining females and attendants in landscape (top), Portrait bust of Muhammad Shah Qajar (center), European woman with bouquet and shawl (center), Pen box design with reclining females and attendants in landscape, divided by medallions (bottom) (recto); The Binding of Isaac (verso)
  • Folio 18 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Two draings: The meeting of Shams-i Tabrizi and Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi (top), Shaykh San`an and the Christian Maiden (bottom)
 (recto); Zulaykha's maids cut themselves, overcome by Yusuf's beauty (verso)
  • Pen box with scenes from Nizami's tale of Bahram Gur and the Seven Princesses
  • Pen Box with the Virgin and Child
  • Pen Box with Shaykh San`an and the Christian Maiden
  • Pen box with medallions on floral ground
  • Folio 42 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Virgin and Child with attendants (recto); Three sheets framed by colored paper borders: bust-length portrait of men and women (verso)
  • Pen Box with Portrait Medallions on Floral Ground
  • Pen Box with Persian Women in Medallions
  • Mirror Case with the Virgin and Child with Attendants
  • Snuff box with lovers discovered
  • Folio 3 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Medallion with portrait bust of a European woman, enclosed in symmetrical composition of scrollwork, birds, flowers, and butterflies 
 (recto); Hunter with falcon, hound, and rifle (verso)
  • Folio 49 from an Album of Artsts' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Lovers discovered (recto); Two hands of Fatima (verso)
  • Folio 30 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Three sheets: Pen box design with perspectival architectural landscape divided by medallions (top), Bahram Gur visiting a princess (center), Pen box design with audience scene divided by medallions (bottom) 
 (recto); Blank page (verso)
  • Pen Box with European Woman and Eagles in Medallions
  • Mirror Case with Scenes of a Baby Boy's Birth and Circumcision
  • An Album of Persian Paintings and Drawings
  • Mirza Zayn al-`Abidin
  • Large Book Covers with Entertainment Scenes on a Terrace
  • Folio 10 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Hero on horseback fighting a dragon (recto); Couple entertained on a terrace by musicians and dancers (verso)
  • Folio 6 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Virgin and child with elderly men and attendants (recto); Amorous couple with attendants, baby, rabbits, and birds (verso)
  • Folio 56 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Bird and floral design for a pen box (recto); Two sheets: Study of a rose; Study of an iris (verso)
  • Pen Box with Reclining European Women and Female Portraits
  • Pen Box with Amorous Couples and Portrait Medallions
  • Illustrated Manuscript of poetry by Maktabi Shirazi, Vahshi Bafqi, and Naw’i Khabushani
  • Illustrated Manuscript of the Gulistān (Rose Garden) by Sa`di
  • Folio 7 from an Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran: Embracing couple on terrace, attended by servants, dancers, and musicians (recto); Standing woman with headscarf (verso)
On View Locate on Floor Plan University Research Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

The 19th century was an era of heightened image-making in Iran. As the century unfolded, the new Qajar dynasty sought to unify a country torn by decades of civil war, even as the outside world increasingly intruded on Iranian affairs. The expansionist ambitions and technological advances of European powers brought Westerners to Iran and, to a later and lesser extent, drew Iranians to the West. Stimulated and challenged by developments both inside and outside their country, Persian artists mastered new image-making technologies and readily assimilated an unprecedented influx of pictorial material from abroad into their traditional art forms.

This exhibition brings together four principal art forms—lacquer, lithography, photography, and painting and drawing on paper—to explore their separate and intertwined histories, contexts of production, and means of dissemination across sectors of society ranging from the courtly elite to the citizenry at large. The almost 80 works in the exhibition, most of which have never before been exhibited, include illustrated books, album folios, pen boxes, mirror cases, single-sheet painted and printed images, and photographs. Several of the objects are on loan from collections within Harvard University and from private and public collections in the United States and abroad. Many of the Qajar era’s most interesting and accomplished artists are represented in the exhibition, including Abu al-Hasan Ghaffari Saniʿ al-Mulk, Antoin Sevruguin, Mubarak Mirza b. Mahmud, Mirza ʿAli Quli Khaw’i, Muhammad Ismaʿil, Muhammad Riza al-Imami, and members of the Najaf ʿAli circle of lacquer artists.

Co-curated by Mary McWilliams, the Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art at the Harvard Art Museums; and David J. Roxburgh, the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Islamic Art History at Harvard University.

The accompanying exhibition catalogue features essays by co-editors David J. Roxburgh and Mary McWilliams as well as by Farshid Emami and Mira Xenia Schwerda, Ph.D. candidates at Harvard University and collaborators on the project.

An additional publication, An Album of Artists’ Drawings from Qajar Iran, edited by David J. Roxburgh, is also available. The book is a compendium of the nearly 150 beautiful drawings, paintings, and a print that make up the Harvard Qajar Album. Several works from the album will be displayed in the exhibition.

This project has been made possible in part by the Curatorial Support Fund established by Stan and Norma Jean Calderwood.

Related Programming
Information about related events, including a lecture on Wednesday, September 13, by scholars Mary McWilliams (Harvard Art Museums), Farshid Emami (Oberlin College), and Mira Xenia Schwerda (Harvard University), as well as a series of gallery talks, can be found in our calendar.