The arrival of European traders was soon reflected in the art of Safavid Iran. Male dress, poses from oil portraits, and the depiction of architecture and landscapes were all incorporated into traditional Persian paintings. Here the languid, handsome youth popular in many early seventeenth-century albums appears in the type of costume worn by Portuguese visitors to the court.
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Title:Young Man in Portuguese Dress
Geography:Attributed to Iran
Medium:Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Dimensions:Painting: H. 7 in. (17.8 cm) W. 3 15/16 in. (10 cm) Page: H. 12 1/4 in. (31.1 cm) W. 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm) Mat: H. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm) W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1955
Two Paintings Reflecting the Portugese Presence in Iran and India: 55.121.23 and 13.228.27
In Iran and India, the Portugese had fairly autonomous colonies from which their commercial activities operated, which gave them an advantage over the trading concerns of other European countries. In Iran, their base was the Persian Gulf island of Hormuz, from which Indian Ocean trade was launched; in India, it was Goa, a major port on the subcontinent's west coast. The Portugese presence in these regions is reflected in the two paintings shown here, one (55.121.23) a study of a young man in Portugese-style clothing, the other (13.228.27) an illustration in which several protagonists are depicted as Portuguese.
European figures generally appear in two modes in Safavid-period painting from Iran, either in erotic scenes or in gently mocking portraits. The former became popular in the mid-seventeenth century and show men in European dress making love to women whose dress and accessories mark them as prostitutes. The latter are part of a larger group of paintings inspired by the artist Riza,who made several portraits of foreigners between the years 1625 and 1630. Paintings by Riza and other artists in his circle captured what they saw as the most characteristic aspects of European dress and behavior. Foreigners are shown wearing hats with squared crowns and wide brims, buttoned tunics with white collars and cuffs, and voluminous pants tucked into tall leather boots; they engage in what was considered a highly odd activity, doting on their pet dogs. The painting of the young man (55.121.23) does not fall easily into either category. His facial features are those of the beautiful Iranian court youths commonly depicted in the seventeenth century, unlike the broader features used to denote European ethnicity. The habit of dresing in exotic costume was not as widespread in Iran as it was in Europe, but this portrait may record a passing trend.
In Mughal India, the Portugese were accorded more respect than they were in Iran. Jesuit priests were called to the court of the emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) for serious discussions of their religious beliefs, and the establishment of the colony at Goa allowed for extended cultural exchanges with the Mughal and other regional courts. Alexander is Lowered into the Sea (13.228.27) was painted to illustrate a luxury copy of a poem by the Indian poet Amir Khusrau Dihlavi (1253–1325), of which part concerns the life of Alexander the Great. The Macedonian conqueror is shown being lowered in a glass diving bell into the sea, where he spent one hundred days as a test of his faith.
All of the figures in this painting wear dress incongruous to the fourth-century B.C. setting for the story, but while those in Indian dress come from the sixteenth-century milieu in which the painting was made,the appearance of men in Portugese dress is surprising. It has been suggested that, in Mughal minds, the strong connection between Europeans and shipping prowess explains their inclusion here and in other paintings that feature boats; indeed, most ships that appear in Mughal paintings have European crews. In the late 1590s the main European power in India was Portugal, whose might was founded on maritime strength.
Marika Sardar in [Peck 2013]
1. See the discussion in Canby, Sheila R. The Rebellious Reformer: The Drawings and Paintings of Riza-yi Abbasi of Isfahan. London: Azimuth Editions, 1996, pp. 174 and 176, fig. 9 and nos. 127 and 128.
2. Seyller, John. "Pearls of the Parrot of India: The Walters Art Museum Khamsa of Amir Khusraw of Delhi." The Journal of the Walters Art Museum 58 (2000), p. 90.
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (until 1929; his sale, Sotheby's, London, December 12, 1929, no. 464); [ Hagop Kevorkian, New York, by 1953]; [ Kevorkian Foundation, New York, until 1955; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800," September 9, 2013–January 5, 2014, no. 91A.
Robinson, Basil William. The Kevorkian Collection: Islamic and Indian Illustrated Manuscripts, Miniature Paintings and Drawings. New York, 1953. no. CCXCVIII, p. 119.
Dimand, Maurice S. "An Exhibit of Islamic and Indian Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n. s., vol. 14 (December 1955). p. 93, ill. (b/w).
Peck, Amelia, ed. Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. no. 91A, pp. 255–56, ill. pl. 91A (color).
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