At the center of this scene, a lady leans on a bolster pillow and languidly holds out a filled cup. Making somewhat immodest eye contact with the viewer, she displays burn marks, associated with mystics and lovers, on her lower arms. A male figure in European dress and hat, perhaps a merchant, kneels before her. The other figures offer refreshments and conversation.
The gardens of Isfahan have delighted their visitors for centuries. In the Safavid period, English and French visitors compared the city to a forest with innumerable trees and extolled its verdant Chahar Bagh, a broad boulevard lined with gardens, parks, and pavilions. The establishment of this garden district was initiated by the ruler Shah ‘Abbas I (r. 1587–1629) as he transformed Isfahan into his new capital city. This charming tile panel permits a glimpse into these seventeenth-century gardens, with all their "sense-ravishing" delights. In a verdant landscape of flowering trees and plants, a small gathering enjoys a picnic, with bowls laden with fruits and long-necked bottles filled with libations.
The corpulent figures are wrapped in the luxurious textiles popular during the reign of Shah ‘Abbas I. Their voluminous patterned robes, silk sashes, and striped turbans are similar to costumes depicted in Persian drawings and paintings of the seventeenth century. Yet, European dress is found here, too, in the man’s dark cloak and hat. The woman—striking a languid pose and making somewhat immodest eye contact with the viewer—also displays a hairstyle, facial features, jewelry, and bodice in an "Occidental" mode. Such imagery was increasingly prevalent in seventeenth-century Isfahan. The contemporary Roman traveler Pietro della Valle, for example, observed architectural decoration in the city featuring men and women in lascivious poses; someof the figures, shown wearing hats, were intended to represent Europeans.
Mirroring the landscapes and lifestyles they depicted, such panels likely adorned the walls of the garden pavilions and palaces of Isfahan. A few panels survive today in museum collections throughout the world. While it is difficult to pinpoint the original location of this particular set of tiles, a photograph published by Friedrich Sarre about 1910 supports a garden context. In Sarre’s image, a group of tiles with a design similar to this one appears in situ upon the walls of a pavilion located at the north end of the Chahar Bagh.
Denise-Marie Teece in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Barbaro, Josafa, and Ambrogio Contarini. Travels to Tana and Persia. Translated by William Thomas. Works Issued by the Hakluyt Society, 49. London, 1873, esp. the fifteenth-century traveler Ambrosio Contarini (p. 131).
2. Tavernier and Chardin, as cited in Stevens, Roger. "European Visitors to the Safavid Court." Iranian Studies 7, no. 3–4 [Studies on Isfahan: Proceedings of The Isfahan Colloquium, Part 2] (Summer–Autumn 1974), pp. 421–57, esp. p. 429.
3. McChesney 1988, esp. pp. 110ff.; and Babaie 2008, esp. pp. 82–85.
4. Thomas Herbert, as quoted in Stevens 1974 (see footnote 2), p. 436.
5. The treatment of the drapery, approach to physiognomy, and interest in depiction of volume compare well with features found in the work produced by Riza-yi ‘Abbasi in the early decades of the seventeenth century. See Canby 1996, esp. chapter 9 and nos. 110, 119.
6. Ibid., pp. 174–76.
7. Pietro della Valle, as quoted in Stevens 1974 (see footnote 2), p. 437.
8. Metropolitan Museum (acc. nos. 03.9a and 03.9b). See Melikian-Chirvani 2007, p. 359, no. 120; and Carboni and Masuya 1993, p. 40, no. 35. Other panels are found in London (Victoria and Albert Museum, no. 139-1891), Paris (Musée du Louvre, no. OA 3340; Three Capitals of Islamic Art, Istanbul, Isfahan, Delhi: Masterpieces from the Louvre Collection. Exhibition, Sabancı University, Sakıp Sabancı Museum, Istanbul, pp. 221–22, no. 97), and Berlin (published while still in Sarre’s collection in Denkmäler persischer Baukunst [Sarre, Friedrich, Bruno Schulz, and Georg Krecker. Denkmäler persischer Baukunst: Geschichtliche Untersuchung und Aufnahme muhammedanischer Backsteinbauten in Vorderasien und Persien. 2 vols. Berlin, 1901–10, vol. 2, pls. 71 and 72; and Sourdel-Thomine, Janine, et al. Die Kunst des Islam. Propylaen-Kunstgeschichte, 4. Berlin, 1973, fig. 351a and b).
9. The Museum’s records for this tile panel note similar imagery on a tile panel in Sarre, Schulz, and Krecker 1901–10 (see footnote 8), vol. 1, p. 90, fig. 117. Sarre’s caption for the photograph reads, "Pavilion am Nordende des Tschehar Bagh." This photograph is reproduced in Luschey-Schmeisser, Ingeborg. The Pictorial Tile Cycle of Hast Behest in Isfahan and Its Iconographic Tradition. Centro studie scavi archeologici in Asia: Reports and Memoirs, 14. Rome, 1978, pl. 97, fig. 201. The Museum’s tile panel is reproduced in the same plate. In Three Capitals of Islamic Art, Istanbul, Isfahan, Delhi: Masterpieces from the Louvre Collection. Exhibition, Sabancı University, Sakıp Sabancı Museum, Istanbul. Istanbul, 2008 (see pp. 221–22, no. 97, and esp. n. 8), an entry cites a photograph in Denkmäler (Sarre, Schulz, and Krecker 1901–10[see footnote 8], vol. 1, p. 92, fig. 120), which is identified by Sarre as the Aineh-Khaneh, but it does not appear to display tile panels similar to the present piece.
From a palace pavilion built by Shah Abbas (1583–1627) on the garden avenue of the Chahar Bagh at Isfahan
[ Louis Chardon, New York, until 1903; sold to MMA]
Asia Society. "Iranian Ceramics," May 3, 1963–September 12, 1963, no. 87.
Wilkinson, Charles K. Iranian Ceramics. New York: Asia House Gallery, 1963. no. 87, pp. 10, 138, ill. pl. 87.
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Pottery: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 40, no. 4 (Spring 1983). no. 55, pp. 46-47, ill. pl. 55 (color).
Carboni, Stefano, and Tomoko Masuya. Persian Tiles. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. p. 40.
Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan M. Bloom. The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250–1800. Yale University Press Pelican History of art. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994. pp. 196-197, ill. pl. 248 (b/w).
Canby, Sheila R. "The Drawings and Paintings of Riza-Yi Abbasi of Isfahan." In The Rebellious Reformer:
. London: Azimuth Editions, 1996. pp. 174–76, Chapter 9 and nos 110, 119.
Melikian-Chirvani, Assadullah. "L'Art de l'Iran Safavide 1501–1736." In Le Chant du Monde. Paris: Musée du Louvre, 2007. no. 120, p. 359, ill.
Babaie, Sussan. Isfahan and Its Palaces : Statecraft, Shiʻism and the Architecture of Conviviality in Early Modern Iran. Edinburgh, 2008. pp. 82–85.
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. 162, pp. 173, 235-236, ill. p. 236 (color).