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9 / Portraits

Portrait of Fath ‘Ali Shah
Portrait of Fath ‘Ali Shah
Artist / Origin Mirza Baba (Persian, active 1789–1810)
Region: West Asia
Date 1798–99
Material Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 72 in. (188 cm.), W: 42 in. (107 cm.)
Location Private Collection
Credit Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library International

expert perspective

Layla DibaFormer Curator of Islamic Art, Brooklyn Museum

Additional Resources

Diba, Layla S., and Maryam Ekhtiar. Royal Persian Paintings: The Qajar Epoch 1785–1925. London: I.B. Tauris, 1999.

Floor, Willem M. Wall Paintings And Other Figurative Mural Art in Qajar Iran. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, 2005.

Hillenbrand, Robert. Persian Painting: From the Mongols to the Qajars. London: I.B. Tauris, 2001.

Raby, Julian. Qajar Portraits: Figure Paintings from Nineteenth Century Persia. London: I.B. Tauris, 2001.

Portrait of Fath ‘Ali Shah

» Mirza Baba (Persian, active 1789–1810)

Fath ‘Ali Shah, the second ruler of the Qajar Dynasty, governed in Iran from 1798 through 1834.

Well-versed in the power of images, Fath ‘Ali used architecture, painting, and decorative arts to demonstrate his authority, wealth, and accomplishments. In fact, the sense of splendor, strength, and stability that these cultural productions projected present a very different picture from the one offered by historical facts. Fath ‘Ali Shah’s reign ultimately saw a series of military defeats, the loss of territories, and the deterioration of palaces and fortresses.

Portraiture comprised an important part of Fath ‘Ali’s artistic patronage. This particular portrait is one of the earliest official images of the ruler, created after he assumed the throne in 1798. Designed to be viewed at a distance from a subservient perspective, it displays features common to other Persian royal portraits of the time—elongated proportions, stylized features, prominently displayed weapons and jewelry, and rich colors and patterns that highlight the opulence of the sitter’s garb and surroundings.

Paintings like this one were sometimes sent to foreign leaders as displays of the dynasty’s prosperity and cultural acuity. As in this image, artists often incorporated European techniques into their work. Frequently, however, such images decorated royal buildings at home, where they were intended to awe and impress visitors. Continuing an ancient Persian tradition, these portraits were venerated in much the same way that religious images were. During court ceremonials and processions, viewers would bow down before the image as if in the presence of Fath ‘Ali himself.

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