Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Reclining Figure

Object Name:
Illustrated single work
Attributed to Iran
Ink, watercolor, and gold on paper
Painting: H. 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm)
W. 6 15/16 in. (17.6 cm)
Page: H. 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm)
W. 6 15/16 in. (17.6 cm)
Mat: H. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
W. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1912
Accession Number:
Not on view
This figure, elegantly draped over a cushion and dreamily gazing into the viewer’s space, has traditionally been identified as a woman. Not only the leggings with a decorative border, but also the figure’s voluminous thighs, pearl necklace and long hair are all associated with women in the Safavid period. However, the long floppy cap is an article of male clothing and suggests a different reading of this drawing. According to European visitors to Iran in the seventeenth century, youths who "dressed effeminately" were employed in coffeehouses to dance suggestively and serve as prostitutes for the male clientele. Safavid paintings of alluring women invariably emphasize their breasts and often show more skin whereas this figure covers his chest and is fully clothed, relying on his alluring pose to please the viewer or owner of this work.
Arms draped over a brocaded cushion, torso twisted toward the viewer, and knees bent, this individual has traditionally been identified as a woman.[1] Certainly the leggings with a decorative border were standard, though fancy, undergarments of Safavid women. However, the long, floppy cap, usually combined with a turban, is of a type favored by men in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The pose recalls that found in two works by Riza-yi ‘Abbasi: one, a drawing of a sleeping woman based on an engraving after Raphael by Marcantonio Raimondi, and the other, a painting of a seminude sleeping woman adapted from that drawing.[2] While sleeping figures were not new to Persian painting, the depiction of a mostly nude reclining woman removed from any narrative context was highly novel in the 1590s and resulted in a spate of similar works produced for inclusion in albums by artists other than Riza.[3]
The clues to the identity of this figure may be found in European descriptions of Georgian, Circassian, and Armenian youths who "dressed effeminately" and performed "immodest" dances intended to arouse the "libidinous desires" of the clientele of coffeehouses.[4] Although he traveled at a later date to Iran, between 1666 and 1677, Jean Chardin described the environment of coffeehouses during the reigns of Shah ‘Abbas I and Shah Safi, noting that the boy dancers ranged from ten to sixteen years old, wore their hair in a feminine manner, and were essentially male prostitutes for coffeehouse customers.[5] The beardless face, feminine underwear and hair, and alluring pose of this figure suggest that he is one of the "coffee youngsters" who caught the eye, or inflamed the passions, of the anonymous patron of the drawing. If the artist had drawn a woman in this seductive pose, he would most likely have emphasized her breasts and portrayed her either partly nude or showing her navel. Here, the figure is fully clothed, and his arm covers his breasts. Despite his full thighs and long hair, the figure is sexually ambiguous and fits the descriptions by Europeans who observed such personages in the coffeehouses of Isfahan in the 1620s and 1630s. In the mid-1640s under Shah ‘Abbas II, the coffeehouses were reformed and the lewd practices of previous decades were banned.
Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Swietochowski and Babaie 1989, p. 50, no. 20.
2. Canby 1996, p. 28, no. 8, fig. 1, and p. 31, no. 7.
3. Several of these are in albums in the Topkapı Palace Library (for example, no. H2155, fols. 23b, 24a, and no. H2158, fol. 27b); all of them depict men instead of women.
4. Matthee, Rudi. "Coffee in Safavid Iran: Commerce and Consumption." Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 37, no. 1 (1994), pp. 1–32, esp. pp. 26–27.
5. Chardin, as quoted in ibid., p. 27.
[ E. Kalebdjian, New York, until 1912; 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. 20.

Swietochowski, Marie, and Sussan Babaie. Persian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989. no. 20, pp. 50-51, ill. pl. 20 (b/w).

Canby, Sheila R. "The Drawings and Paintings of Riza-Yi Abbasi of Isfahan." In The Rebellious Reformer: . London: Azimuth Editions, 1996. p. 28, no. 8, fig. 1, p. 31, no. 7.

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. 152, pp. 173, 225-226, ill. p. 225 (color).

Related Objects

"The Concourse of the Birds", Folio 11r from a Mantiq al-tair (Language of the Birds)

Artist: Painting by Habiballah of Sava (active ca. 1590–1610) Date: ca. 1600 Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper Accession: 63.210.11 On view in:Gallery 455

The Lovers

Artist: Painting by Riza-yi `Abbasi (Persian, ca. 1565–1635) Date: dated A.H. 1039/ A.D. 1630 Medium: Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper Accession: 50.164 On view in:Not on view

Kitab suwar al-kawakib al-thabita (Book of the Images of the Fixed Stars) of al-Sufi

Artist: `Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi (Iranian, Rey 903–986 Shiraz) Date: late 15th century Medium: Ink and gold on paper; leather binding Accession: 13.160.10 On view in:Gallery 453

Folio from a Qur'an Manuscript

Artist: Date: ca. 1180
Accession Number: 29.160.23
Date: ca. 1180 Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Accession: 29.160.23 On view in:Gallery 451

Calligraphic Galleon

Artist: 'Abd al-Qadir Hisari Date: dated A.H. 1180/ A.D. 1766–67 Medium: Ink and gold on paper Accession: 2003.241 On view in:Gallery 459