A Portrait of Muhammad Shah Qajar, signed by Ahmed, with calligraphy by Muhammad Isma'il, Persia, Qajar, dated 1260 AH/1844 AD
LOT SOLD. 373,250 GBP
A Portrait of Muhammad Shah Qajar, signed by Ahmed, with calligraphy by Muhammad Isma'il, Persia, Qajar, dated 1260 AH/1844 AD
LOT SOLD. 373,250 GBP

Details & Cataloguing

Arts of the Islamic World


A Portrait of Muhammad Shah Qajar, signed by Ahmed, with calligraphy by Muhammad Isma'il, Persia, Qajar, dated 1260 AH/1844 AD
oil on canvas, framed, with a border of inscribed cartouches containing verses in nasta'liq script, the painting signed and dated 'raqam kamtarim Ahmad 1260', the calligraphy signed 'Muhammad Ismail'
222.5 by 127cm.
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Catalogue Note


Darin pardeh naqsh-e farrokh shahriyar     
Siah kardeh ruz-o behesht-o bahar              
Del-e shir darrad ze tasvir-e u                      
Falak tarsad az tarkesh-o tir-e u                   
Jahanash nahadeh ast gardan be-band          
Sar-e asmanash bovad dar kamand              
Par-e marg bar basteh bar chub-e tir            
Ze pestan-e tir ajdaha-o madeh shir             
Nagardad nahang az dam-e u raha               
Be-bazi be-girad dum-e ajdaha                    
Sepehr-o setareh hameh khak-e ust             
Haman kahkashan band-e fatrak-e ust         
Jahan tazeh kardast shah-e javan                 
Keh shah-e javan tazeh darad jahan             
Jahan ju Muhammad shah-e namdar           
Jahan ra yaki pak-del shahriyar                     
Be-razm asman-o be-bazm aftab                   
Godazandeh atash govarandeh ab                 
Boland asman guy-e chogan-e ust        
Hameh sharq ta gharb meydan-e ust             
Tak-e bad payash be-navard gah                   
Zadeh mah be-mahi-o mahi be-mah             
Sar-e mahi az gav-sar kufteh                         
Del-e mah ze neyze bar ashufteh                   
Kaf-e u kalid-e dar-e ruzi ast                         
Darash ruy dar ruy-e behruzi ast                    
Sepehr-o sahabash be-dar bandeh bad           
Zamin-o zamanash parastandeh bad            
Sepehr-e kohan chon sepehr-e sokhan           
Be-rahash nahadast jan-o tan

'In this curtain is the portrait of the fortunate monarch
Which has blackened days, Heaven and Spring
His picture would rent the heart of lions
His quiver and his arrows would frighten the firmament
The world has tied the rope of submission around its neck
The summit of heaven is in his lasso
Feathers of death are tied to his arrows
From the breast of his arrows to dragons and lionesses
A whale would not escape him
He would play with dragon's tail
The heavens and stars are all his soil
That very milky-way his saddle-straps
The young king has refreshed the World
The World has a new young king
The World-seeker Muhammad, the illustrious king
The world has a pure-hearted monarch
In combat he is like heavens, in entertainment like the Sun
He destroys like fire and is pleasant like water
The high heaven is a ball for his polo
From East to West is his field of play
His horse's pace in battle-field
Has caused the Moon to touch the fish and fish the Moon
Fish's head vexed with his mace
Moon's heart bewildered by his spear
His palm is the key to sustenance
His door facing good-fortune
May Sepehr and Sahab be servants at his door
May the universe worship him
The old Sepehr like the world of speech
Has put his soul and body at his path'

This is a rare and highly important portrait of Muhammad Shah Qajar. Compared to his predecessor Fath 'Ali Shah Qajar, and his successor Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar, Muhammad Shah sat for official portraits more rarely and the great majority of extant examples are smaller works, often in watercolour or gouache on paper. Large, monumental portraits of Muhammad Shah such as the present one are very rare. Indeed the seminal exhibition Royal Persian Paintings-The Qajar Epoch 1785-1925, which took place in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and London in 1998-99, presented only one large-scale portrait of Muhammad Shah (and this was considerably smaller than life size), as opposed to eight of Fath 'Ali Shah (see Diba and Ekhtiar 1998, nos.37-42, 67; Raby 1999, nos.110 & 114; for a discussion of the general artistic trends of Muhammad Shah's reign see Diba and Ekhtiar 1998, pp.221-1).

The Persian verses in the border cartouches comprise a eulogy by the poet Mirza Muhammad Taqi Lisan al-Mulk of Kashan (1792-1879). Known by the penname Sepehr, Lisan al-Mulk was the royal eulogist under Muhammad Shah, also serving as the secretary to the Finance Department and later on as a historian. Finely inscribed by the calligrapher Muhammad Ismail, these verses are a hymn in praise of the shah. They evoke his regal splendour and the apotheosised image that he had of himself and that others had of him, as embodied in the painting.

This work is notable for its traditional composition, reminiscent in the pose, the garments, the sword, the sceptre, the girdle, the throne and the rug, of portraits of his forebear Fath 'Ali Shah Qajar.  Both its formal arrangement and the grandeur and regal presence which it conveys are executed in the style of royal portraiture which was established by the artists Mirza Baba and Mihr 'Ali under Fath 'Ali Shah's direction in the early 19th century.

The artist in this case was recognised as one of the leading court painters during the reigns of Fath 'Ali Shah and Muhammad Shah Qajar, and was possibly a pupil of the famous Mihr 'Ali (E. Yarshater [Ed.], The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 7, p.879). Known simply as Ahmad, three other signed portraits of Muhammad Shah are attributed to his hand. These include a very similar seated composition now in the Ethnographisches Museum in Berlin, a bust portrait, and an equestrian painting now at the Gulistan Palace in Tehran (see, respectively, J. Kröger, Islamische Kunst in Berliner Sammlungen, Berlin, 2004, pp.200-1; J. Raby, Qajar Portraits, London and New York, 1999, p.55, pl.117; B.W. Robinson, 'Persian Royal Portraiture', in Qajar Iran: Political, Social, and Cultural Change, E. Bosworth and C. Hillenbrand (eds.), Costa Mesa, 1983, p.307, pl.5). It is important to note, however, that in his publication The Lives and Art of the Old Painters of Iran, M.A. Karimzadeh-Tabrizi refers to two distinct artists named Ahmad—one a watercolourist, the other an oil painter—who were active in the first half of the 19th century. It is in fact possible, nonetheless, that these are the same person working different media (M. A. Karimzadeh-Tabrizi, The Lives and Art of the Old Painters of Iran, London, 1990, pp.52-3).

A significant symbol of wealth and power in this portrait is the plethora of diamonds that surrounds Muhammad Shah's attire, particularly the pair of large diamonds incorporated into his bazubands (reminiscent again of the Fath 'Ali Shah portraits, which have also depicted the rectangular diamond Darya-I Nur (Sea of Light) and ovoid Taj-I Mah (Crown of the Sea). These diamonds were a result of Nadir Shah's sacking of Delhi in 1793, and were then worn by successive Qajar rulers including Fath 'Ali Shah, Muhammad Shah and finally Nasr Al-Din Shah (who then had the Darya-I Nur mounted, as it remains today, see V.B. Meen & A.D. Tushingham, The Crown Jewels of Iran, Toronto, 1969, pp.53 & 68). The diamond encrusted sword propped on his lap is also believed to have belonged to Nadir Shah, and later enamelled by order of Fath 'Ali Shah (illustrated in Ibid, p.60-61).

Arts of the Islamic World