Painting by Muhammad Qasim (active ca. 1600–d. 1659)
dated 114 (A.H. 1014/ A.D. 1605–6)
Attributed to Iran, Mashhad
Ink, watercolor, and gold on paper
Painting: H. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm)
W. 6 5/16 in. (16 cm)
Page: H. 13 5/8 in. (34.6 cm)
W. 9 in. (22.9 cm)
Mat: H. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm)
W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
Frame: H. 21 5/8 in. (55 cm)
W. 16 3/4 in. (42.5 cm)
D. 1 3/16 in. (3 cm)
Frederick C. Hewitt Fund, 1911
Not on view
In this drawing, two elderly dervishes witness a boy’s chastisement. School scenes such as this example often include figures burnishing paper and practicing calligraphy. The artist, Muhammad Qasim, was one of the proponents of the style developed by Riza‑yi 'Abbasi, known for its innovative use of line and wash colors.
If the date of 114 inscribed on this painting refers to A.H. 1014 (1605–6 A.D.), it would mean that Muhammad Qasim was already established as an artist by the middle of the reign of Shah ‘Abbas I. Thanks to a reassessment by Adel Adamova, Muhammad Qasim is now considered a slightly younger contemporary of Riza-yi ‘Abbasi. Massumeh Farhad’s study of the art patronage of ghulams (slaves from the Caucasus who converted to Islam and formed a cadre loyal to the shah) has reasonably proposed that Muhammad Qasim, Muhammad ‘Ali, and Muhammad Yusuf were all active in Mashhad in the first half of the seventeenth century. Most likely, Muhammad Qasim found patrons in Isfahan as well, since his portrait Shah ‘Abbas I and a Pageboy from 1627 suggests that the artist was well known at the Safavid court. Yet, his absence from the early seventeenth-century texts of Qadi Ahmad and Iskandar Beg Monshi implies that he was working in a city other than Isfahan and did not have a reputation in court circles until the 1620s. According to Farhad, the artist’s death date of A.H. 1070/1659 A.D. is mentioned in the Qisas al-khaqani (The Imperial Annals) of Wali Quli Shamlu.
As the earliest reliably dated work of Muhammad Qasim, this tinted drawing of the bastinado, the punitive beating of an unfortunate student’s feet, contains many of the defining stylistic characteristics associated with the artist. Beardless youths have rounded cheeks, which become more pronounced over time. Large plane trees or variant species framing elements of the composition reappear in numerous works for the rest of his career, most notably in many of his illustrations to the 1648 Windsor Shahnama. The stippled ground, fleshy clumps of low vegetation, jutting rocks with striated and cross-hatched contours, and even a fondness for blue linings on sleeves and skirts all recur throughout Muhammad Qasim’s oeuvre. While evidencing some illusionistic European techniques such as modeling, Muhammad Qasim’s style was far more conservative than that of the artists working in Isfahan, who embraced Indian as well as European influences. Over time his draftsmanship strengthened, and tentative passages were minimized.
A.-S. Melikian Chirvani has noted the allusion in this painting to the school scenes in Nizami’s poem "Layla and Majnun." He suggests that the lines the young boy at the lower left is writing, "I say love and I weep bitterly / I am an ignorant student: this is the first lesson," remind the viewer of the lovelorn Majnun, even though they are not from the original text. Beyond the literary reference and exaggerated facial expressions of the figures, the scene provides a small window into how children learned to read, write, and burnish paper, including those occasions when the lesson had to be beaten into them.
Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Adamova, Adel T. in Hillenbrand 2000, pp. 22–23.
2. Farhad, Massumeh in Babaie et al 2004, pp. 129–33.
3. Canby 2009, pp. 250–51.
4. Massumeh Farhad in Treasures of Islam. Exhibition, Musée Rath, Geneva. Catalogue by Toby Falk and others. London, 1985, no. 89.
5. Robinson, B[asil] W[illiam], and Eleanor Sims. The Windsor Shahnama of 1648. London,2007, for example pls. 2, 26, 96.
6. Melikian-Chirvani 2007, p. 392.
Inscription: Signature in Persian, in nasta‘liq script, on the right-hand side of the drawing:
رقم خاکسار محمد قاسم سنه ۱۰۱۴
The humble Muhammad Qasim drew it [in the] year A.H. 1014 [ A.D. 1605–6]
Ph. Walter Schulz, Leipzig (in 1910); [ Gustav Crayen, until 1911; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Persian Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 13, 1989–December 31, 1989, no. 34.
Musée du Louvre. "La Dynastie Safavide," October 1, 2007–January 7, 2008, no. 147.
Schulz, Ph. Walter. Die Persisch-Islamische Miniaturmalerei. Vol. vols. I, II. Leipzig: Hiersemann, 1914. vol. II, ill. table 166.
Swietochowski, Marie, and Sussan Babaie. Persian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989. no. 34, pp. 78-79, ill. pl. 34 (b/w).
Yarshater, Ehsan, ed. Encyclopaedia Iranica vol. 7 (1996). p. 545, ill. pl. XLII (b/w).
Hillenbrand, Robert, ed. "Studies in Honour of Basil W. Robinson." In Persian Painting from the Mongols to the Qajars. Pembroke Persian papers, vol. 3. London; New York: I.B. Tauris & Company, Ltd., 2000.
Babaie, Sussan, Kathryn Babayan, Ina Baghdiantz-McCabe, and Massumeh Farhad. "New Elites of Safavid Iran." In Slaves of the Shah. Library of Middle East history, vol. 3. London; New York: I.B. Tauris & Company, Ltd., 2004. pp. 129–33.
Melikian-Chirvani, Assadullah. "L'Art de l'Iran Safavide 1501–1736." In Le Chant du Monde. Paris: Musée du Louvre, 2007. no. 147, pp. 392-93, ill. (color).
Canby, Sheila R. Shah 'Abbas: The Remaking of Iran. London, 2009. pp. 250–51.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 153, pp. 226-227, ill. p. 227 (color).