The style and subject of this work are emblematic of the master painter Riza, who is best known for his paintings of languorous youths. The curving body of the young man, his delicately painted curls, and the garden setting are all typical of Riza’s work in the early seventeenth century. His style and subjects reflect the taste of Shah 'Abbas’ court at Isfahan, which was renowned for its luxurious palaces and gardens, and attracted visitors from all over the world. The painting is signed below the figure and to the right of the fruit: "Riza drew it."
This tiny but elegant portrait of a young man in a fur-lined cloak epitomizes the work of the Safavid court artist Riza at the peak of his powers. Painted not long after Shah ‘Abbas established his capital at Isfahan, the image captures the new wealth and leisure of the city. The youth has hooked his left arm over a cushion covered in gold brocade, one of the luxury products that impressed foreign visitors to Iran. While gazing at the pears arranged in a bowl near his feet, he inclines his head so that he can burrow his cheek into the soft fur of his cloak. The tactile quality of the fur, so finely depicted by Riza, is heightened by its contrast with the precisely rendered contours of the sitter’s cheek, his draped green cloak, and his bent knee. The gold willow arching over the youth, a typical landscape element in Riza’s work, echoes the curves of the feathers in his turban and the many curvilinear details, both large and small, of the composition. By 1600 Riza had been working for Shah ‘Abbas for nearly fifteen years. Qadi Ahmad had noted with admiration his finesse and talent for portraiture. In addition to portraits of highborn men and women, Riza produced a large number of drawings in the 1590s that were executed in a highly original, calligraphic style. His subjects in these works ranged from courtiers to working men and religious pilgrims. With the move to Isfahan in 1598, Riza made more paintings of courtly figures, presumably in response to a broadening of patronage among the grandees in the circle of the shah. This group consisted of ghulams, the class made up of Armenians, Circassians, and Georgians taken prisoner as children and converted to Islam. Unlike the tribal factions in Iran, the ghulams gave their primary loyalty to the shah, who rewarded their allegiance with wealth and powerful positions in the government. Although the youth in this portrait may not have been a ghulam, his opulent cloak and cushion, the archer’s ring on his thumb, his billowing turban and feathers, and the fruit before him all indicate his high status. Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011] Footnotes: 1. Ahmad ibn Mir Munshi al-Husaini. Calligraphers and Painters: A Treatise by Qadi Ahmad, Son of Mir- Munshi (circa A.H. 1015/A.D. 1606). Translated by V[ladimir] Minorsky. Smithsonian Institution Publication 4339. Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers, vol. 3, no. 2. Washington, D.C., 1959, p. 192.
Signature: Signature in Persian in nasta‘liq script below figure’s left knee:
Riza drew it
Inscription: Signature in Persian in nasta‘liq script below figure’s left knee: مشقه رضا Riza drew it
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (until 1929; his sale, Sotheby's, London, December 12, 1929, no. 1532); [ Hagop Kevorkian, New York; by 1953]; [ Kevorkian Foundation, New York, until 1955; sold to MMA]
Robinson, Basil William. The Kevorkian Collection: Islamic and Indian Illustrated Manuscripts, Miniature Paintings and Drawings. New York, 1953. no. CCLI, p. 107.
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).
Robinson, Basil William. "Drawings of the Masters." In Persian Drawings from the 14th through the 19th century. Boston and Toronto: Shorewood Publishers Inc., 1965. pp. 88, 136, ill. pl. 56 (b/w).
Canby, Sheila R. "Five Centuries of Painting." In Persian Masters. Bombay: Marg Publications, 1990. p. 79, ill. fig. 10.
Canby, Sheila R. "The Drawings and Paintings of Riza-Yi Abbasi of Isfahan." In The Rebellious Reformer:
. London: Azimuth Editions, 1996. no. 32, p. 184, ill., ill. in color on frontispiece.
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. 147, p. 220, ill. p. 220 (color).