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Shah Abbas I and His Page

Brief Identification

Shah Abbas I and His Page is an ink drawing on paper with gold and colored highlights of Shah Abbas the Great, a famous king of the Safavid Dynasty,  and his cupbearer.  A short poem is written on the right side of the canvas followed by the artist’s name and the date, Muhammad Qasim Musavvir , February 10, 1627.

Technical OverviewEdit

The portrait of Shah Abbas I and his Page was made with ink and accented with color and gold. These materials can be found in many paintings from the Safavid dynasty in the 15th-17th centuries [Hunt for Paradise: Court Ats of Safavid Iran]. Special techniques that the artist Muhammad Qasim Musavvir used can be found in the knotty tree in the background and the diagonal plane the painting is on. Scholars believe that the artist was Mahammad Qasim Musavvir, a student of the Isfahan School of Art, due to his signature found under a poem on the right side of the page, also the poem can be found on another of Musavvir's paintings. Around the time this painting was produced Musavvir, among other artist, were commonly recruited by wealthy patrons to make illustrated manuscripts of religious stories or historic tales, but a small trend began of painting small portraits of people such as the Shah Abbas I and His Page [Court Arts of Safavid Iran].

Local Historical SignificanceEdit

The significance of this artwork is not found in the techniques used or the man who made it, but found in the man who is depicted in it, Shah Abbas I. This painting was produced after a time of social, military, and economic reform in the Safavid Dynasty brought around by the Shah.

When Abbas came to power the Safavid dynasty was going through a difficult time due to disunity. The previous ruler of the Safavid was being undermined from within by a group of Turkish chiefs known as qizilbash, who controlled the main fighting forces and gathered the taxes for the Safavid rulers. The qizilbash were right below the shah on the social pyramid and sometimes rose above the shah in power. Shah Abbas distrusted them because of the influence they held and his observations of how they used their power [Iran Under the Safavid 77]. From the beginning of his reign Shah Abbas, started plotting ways to reduce the power of the Qizilbash: first by moving them to new provinces away from their tribes and then replacing them with ghulams (slaves) of the shah, who were Circassian, Georgian, and Armenian converts to Islam [Iran Under the Safavids 78].  Abbas I’s changing in ranks of his country men by removing the qizilbash chiefs and replacing them with ghulams led to a change in the social pyramid from fixed to more mobile [Iran Under the Safavids 76-79].  

Besides the social status of different races Shah Abbas's reign brought a change in the social status of artists. Shah Abbas was a lover of the arts, he is known for being the patron of many Safavid artists. He had many illustrated books made and contracted architects to improve the capital city Isfahan. He would reward some of the most talented artists and architects with a place in the Safavid court. Muhammad Qasim Musavvir may have been rewarded with such an honor for his many paintings [Iran Under the Safavids].

Shah Abbas I also relaimed territories taken by the Ottoman Empire and the Özbegs. Shah Abbas I reclaimed Iranian lands and therefore reunited Iran [Iran and the World in the Safavid Age]. 

World Historical SignificanceEdit

The world historical significance of the man in the painting Shah Abbas and His Page was vast. During the reign of Shah Abbas many new peoples traveled to Safavid Persia. These people mostly came from Europe for politics, religious purposes, trade, and knowledge. 

Shah Abbas was a wise military leader [Iran under the Safavid].  He began his reign with a strategic peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire that ceded some of Safavid's most wealthy provinces to the Ottomans. This treaty eliminated the threat of a double fronted war when Abbas made his move to reclaim territory from the Ozbegs [Iran Under the Safavids 76-77]. The Shah managed to win back the land lost to the Ozbegs and in 1602 he moved his attention to the Ottoman Empire and managed to win those territories back as well [Iran Under the Safavids 84-90]. Through his endeavors against the Ottoman Turks and the Ozbegs Shah Abbas gained fame among the European Christian countries for fighting against the Islamic Ottomans, because they had been trying to stop the Ottomans and reduce the spread of Islam. After the Shah battles with the Ottomans diplomats traveled to Isfahan to persuade the Shah to continue his efforts against the Ottomans. Shah Abbas did fight the Ottomans but it was for his own gain, he aquired the city of Baghdad in 1623 [Iran and the World in the Safavid Age 81]. Also after the war Christians began to filter into Safavid Persia with the belief that they could convert the Shah to Christianity [Safavid Iran through the Eyes European Travelers 11]. The Shah remained true to his faith in Shi'ism, but he supported the building of Christian missions and monasteries.

In addition to being a force against the Ottoman Turks and being a place of religious tolerance, Safavid Persia was an important trading country. Its location on the Silk Road made it a prime place for European businesses to set up offices and relations with the Persian people. The Safavid Empire became known for its silk, textiles, examples are found in the painting Shah Abbas I and His Page, and carpets.

The techniques adopted by the artist of Shah Abbas and His Page can be found in different parts of the world; such as the nobiness of the tree which resembles works of Chinese artists. The materials used could be found in many parts of the world as well.


 

Bibliography

Floor, Willlem and Emund Herzig, Iran and the World in the Safaid Age, London, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2012 Mathee, Rudolph, Safavid Iran Though the Eyes of European Travelers, Harvard Library Bulletin, 2012 

Mazzaoui, Michel, Safavid Iran and Her Neighbors, Salt Lake City, University of Utah Press, 2003

Savory, Roger, Iran Under the Safavids, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1980

Thompson, Jon and Sheila R. Canby, Hunt for Paradise: Court Art of Safavid Iran 1501-1576, New York, Asia Society, 2003

BBC, The Ottoman Empire, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/history/ottomanempire_1.shtml

Britannica, Golden Horde, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/237647/Golden-Horde

Britannica, Shah Abbas, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/447/Abbas-I)

Iran Chamber Society, Safavid Empire 1502-1736, http://www.iranchamber.com/history/safavids/safavids.php

Louvre, Shah Abbas I and His Page, http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/shah-abbas-i-and-his-page Met Museum, Art of the Safavids Before 1600, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/safa/hd_safa.htm

Safavid Dynasty, http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~daradib/chsntech/review/social-studies/world/safavid-aspire.pdf

The Silk Road, http://www.ess.uci.edu/~oliver/silk.html

Encyclopdia Iranica, Art in Iran, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/art-in-iran-ix-safavid

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