While the inscription in the drawing assigns it to the celebrated artist Riza-yi 'Abbasi of the Isfahan school, it is more likely by a pupil following the typical calligraphic style of the master. From about 1610 on, figures in Isfahan drawings and paintings have heavy pear-shaped thighs and wide, round cheeks. The subject of a youth paired with an older man, often a dervish or a poet, illustrated the relationship of the spiritual guide or 'pir' and his disciple, the 'murid'.
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Title:Youth and Dervish
Date:second quarter 17th century
Geography:Made in Iran, Isfahan
Medium:Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper (tinted drawing)
Dimensions:H. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm) W. 7in. (17.8 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1911
Two Men Conversing
Drawn in the calligraphic line, hallmark of Reza 'Abbasi and the seventeenth-century style, two men, a princely youth and an old sage, converse in the open, separated only by the unimposing golden tree in the middle. Each protagonist, it seems, conveys his role in the outlines of the body and the gesture of the hands. By his compact outline and confined pose, the sage implies his spiritual control unswayed by the youthful hand that extends a bowl, while the youth himself swings forward in a pose more vulnerable than his elder's.
Each figure appears to display something of an attribute associated with him: an ink pot and some paper in front of the old man, a bottle and some fruit in front of the youth.
In the absence of contemporary written documentation, the meaning of this drawing and many others with the conversing figures of a youth and an old man remains puzzling. The theme was popularized, it seems, by Reza 'Abbasi in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In the Youth and Sage Conversing from the Keir Collection (III, 349), the two figures are viewed against an extended landscape but remain visually apart, as the bottle and the curving trunk of the tree stand between them. In that drawing, the gestures of both figures indicate a lively conversation. Even though the youth is physically larger than the sage, this alone does not seem to indicate moral or social superiority. For example, a variant of the subject is found in an encounter where the youth seems to hold the position of superiority (MMA no. 45.174.22). This is implied not through the size of the figures but by the more servile pose and gesture of the elder, in comparison with the more relaxed attitude of the youth. In either case, the theme seems to reflect something of the concern with the youthful energy lacking in old age and the mature wisdom lacking in youth, a subject dear to Persian poetry. The Museum's drawing is inscribed:
Drawn by the most lowly Reza 'Abbasi, Made for the Sultan of the Poor, Rahima
In spite of the inscription and the very fine treatment, especially of the heads, the swelling and diminishing of the calligraphic lines appear too dry and lacking in verve to be from the hand of Reza himself. Opaque colors are applied selectively to some articles of clothing.
[Swietochowski and Babaie 1989]
1. See also Sotheby's, April 12, 1976, lot 32; Sotheby's, May 3, 1977, lot 44; Sotheby's December 1, 1969, lot 87; and Marteau, Georges and Henri Vever. Miniatures persanes. Paris 1913, vol. II, pl. CXLV, fig. 200.
Prince and Dervish
This tinted drawing, embellished with touches of opaque watercolor and gold, illustrates the relationship between the Sufi master and disciple, a bond so close that the transfer of knowledge from the master to his murid was likened to the transfer of light from the heart of the master to the heart of the student. A princely figure sits on his knees, holding a cup as he gazes intently at his elder, whose wisdom is suggested by his cap, long beard, and robes, and a divan (collection of verses), perhaps a prayer book, placed on the ground before him. While the youth's cup is literally meant to hold wine from the bottle next to him, one is tempted to read it also as a cup open to receiving the flow of knowledge from his master. Gold, used to color the tree dividing the figures and highlighting clouds and other vegetation and forming two halos around the figures, adds another tempting allusion to this transfer of "light."
The relationship between a Sufi elder and his disciple played a key role in the believer's spiritual guidance even before the formation of brotherhoods or "orders" in the twelfth century. Without proper supervision and direction the new seeker was vulnerable to the dangers of the mystical experience, which may lead him to a state of ecstasy but might also delude him and lead him astray. As the revered mystic Rumi (d. 1273) observed, "whoever travels without a guide needs two hundred years for a two days' journey." The shaykh took on a new disciple as his own child, taught him how to behave in each mental state, and, serving as the mediator of divine knowledge, provided him with the spiritual nourishment necessary to find his "true heart" and tawhid. The student must thus completely surrender his will to his teacher:
"When the Pir has accepted thee, take heed surrender thyself [to him]... If anyone, by rare exception traversed this Way alone [without a Pir], he arrived [at his goal] through the help [and favor] of the hearts of the Pirs. The hand of the Pir is not withdrawn from the absent [those who are not under his authority]: his hand is naught but the grasp of God."
The image of a youth and old man conversing seems to have been one of the themes made popular by the Safavid artist Riza 'Abbasi, one of the greatest masters of Persian painting. The youth's fur cap suggests a princely or noble background, a reminder of Sufism's presence at court as well as among the poor and disadvantaged. The work includes an inscription in Persian purportedly bearing the signature of Riza: "Work of the most humble Riza 'Abbasi, it was made for the sultan of the Poor, Rahima." The drawing does not exhibit the level of refinement and fluid, calligraphic draftmanship associated with the celebrated master, however, and was more likely executed by one of his students or followers.
Ladan Akbarnia in [Akbarnia and Leoni 2010]
43. Masnavi-yi-Ma'navi, 3:588. Cited in Schimmel, Annemarie, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975, p. 103.
44. Jalal al-Din Rumi, Masnawi, tran. R. A. Nicholson (London: 1926), p. 162.
45. Marie Lukens Swietochowski and Sussan Babaie, Persian Drawings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989, p. 76. Sheila Canby categorizes this drawing as one of the "rejected and uncertain attributions" to Riza 'Abbassi in The Rebellious Reformer: The Drawings and Paintings of Riza-yi Abbasi of Isfahan. London, Azimuth Editions, 1996, p. 210, fig. 6 (Appendix III, p. 43)
Inscription: Inscription: raqam-i kamina-i Riza Abbasi, jahat-i Sultan al-Fuqara Rahima Sakhta Translation: Drawn by the most lowly Riza Abbasi Made for the Sultan of the Poor, Rahima
[ Gustav Crayen, until 1911; sold to MMA]
Berlin. Museum für Islamische Kunst, Pergamonmuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "The Arts of Islam. Masterpieces from the M.M.A.," June 15, 1981–August 8, 1981, no. 82.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Persian Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 13–December 31, 1989, no. 33.
New York. Brooklyn Museum. "Light of the Sufis : an introduction to the mystical arts of Islam," June 5, 2009–September 6, 2009, no. 10.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Light of the Sufis : an introduction to the mystical arts of Islam," May 16, 2010–August 8, 2010, no. 10.
Schulz, Ph. Walter. Die Persisch-Islamische Miniaturmalerei. Vol. vols. I, II. Leipzig: Hiersemann, 1914. pp. 104–5, 164–65.
Grube, Ernst J. "from Collections in the United States and Canada." In Muslim Miniature Paintings from the XIII to XIX Century. Venice: N. Pozza, 1962. no. 111, p. 127, ill. pl. 111 (b/w).
Grube, Ernst J. "The Language of the Birds: The Seventeenth-Century Miniatures." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. XXV, no. 9 (May 1967). p. 340, ill. fig. 2 (b/w).
"Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York." In The Arts of Islam. Berlin, 1981. no. 82, p. 202–3, ill. p. 203 (b/w).
Soucek, Priscilla, ed. Content and Context of Visual Arts in the Islamic World : papers from a colloquium in memory of Richard Ettinghausen, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Monographs on the fine arts, vol. 44. University Park, PA: College Art Association of America, 1988. pp. 257, 267, ill. fig. 12 (b/w).
Swietochowski, Marie, and Sussan Babaie. Persian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989. no. 33, pp. 76–77, ill. pl. 33 (b/w).
Canby, Sheila R. "The Drawings and Paintings of Riza-Yi Abbasi of Isfahan." In The Rebellious Reformer
. London: Azimuth Editions, 1996. no. 43, pp. 209–10, ill. fig. 6 (b/w).
Akbarnia, Ladan, and Francesca Leoni. "The Mystical Arts of Islam." In Light of the Sufis. Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2010. no. 10, pp. 34–35, ill. p. 35 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam. "Ahl al-Bayt Imagery Revisited : A Drawing by Isma'il Jalayir at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." In Revealing the Unseen : New perspectives on Qajar Art, edited by Gwenaëlle Fellinger. London: Gingko, 2021. fig. 10, pp. 80–93, ill. p. 87.
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