This magnificent standing portrait depicts crown prince 'Abbas Mirza (1789-1833), son of Fath 'Ali Shah. The young crown prince is standing in an interior wearing a burnt gold ceremonial robe with full length sleeves, jewelled epaulettes, armbands, cuffs and lining. A sword is suspended from his thickly jewelled belt which is adorned with a pearl tassel. His crown has four points, set with pearls, emeralds, diamonds and precious stones.
Paintings of this type were often made for the various palaces of Fath 'Ali Shah. This fine example of portraiture exemplifies the importance paid to Abbas Mirza. Despite being one of the younger sons of Fath 'Ali Shah, Aqqoyonlu on his father’s side and a Devellu on his mother’s, his royal birth united the two main branches of the Qajar tribe, which led to several paintings of this style commemorating Mirza as a key figure of the Qajar dynasty to be commissioned.
Although scarce, seated depictions of 'Abbas Mirza can be found in the permanent collections of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, and the Art Museum of Georgia (see Eka Japaridze, Qajar Portraits, The Shalva Amiranashvili State Art Museum of Georgia, 2004, p.65). A full length painting of 'Abbas Mirza by Abdullah Khan and dated 1807, was previously sold at Sotheby’s in 1978, whilst more recently a portrait of the Prince attributed to Mihr ‘Ali (circa 1810-1815), was sold at Christie’s 27 April 2004, lot 112. The existence of the latter two paintings help us to date the present work, as the Abdullah Khan portrait depicts a young man with the slightest wispy beard emerging, whilst the 2004 painting depicts the same man with his more recognisable thick bushy beard. Given that 'Abbas Mirza was born in 1789, and is younger-looking in the present portrait than in the 1807 version, it must surely date to around 1800, when he would have been eleven years old.
Certain aspects of the present painting suggest that it may be the work of the famous court artist Mihr 'Ali, who was active at the time this portrait was painted. A number of similarities can be observed between the numerous portraits of Fath ‘Ali Shah by Mihr ‘Ali and this particular life size depiction of 'Abbas Mirza. The setting of the prince against an ornately carved wooden panel features in numerous illustrations of Fath ‘Ali Shah by Mihr 'Ali. Other notable comparables can be observed in the minute detailing such as the numerous precious stones set in his crown and dress. These jewels are illuminated by the silky sheen of the ruler’s robe which is achieved via the use of vibrant contrasting hues also typical to the style of Mihr ‘Ali. The naturalistic depiction of the fingers and signature hand gesture is repeatedly featured in his royal paintings. The prominently arched eyebrows, aquiline nose and heavily lidded kohl-rimmed and almond-shaped eyes are portrayed with a directly focused and expressive gaze on the viewer, also exemplary of his canon of courtly portraits.
Multiple paintings of a distinctly comparable style were commissioned for 'Abbas Mirza’s father, Fath 'Ali Shah. Examples of Mihr ‘Ali’s portraits can be found in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg; Fath ‘Ali Shah Standing with a Sceptre, dated 1809-10 (see Diba and Ekhtiar 1998, p.183, no.39); Fath ‘Ali Shah Seated, dated 1813-14 (ibid, p.184, no.40); The Louvre, Paris; Fath ‘Ali Shah Seated on a Chair Throne, dated 1800-1806 (ibid, p.181, no.38), The Sackler Gallery Trust; Fath 'Ali Shah in Armour, dated 1814-15 (ibid, p.186, no.41); A private collection, New York; Fath 'Ali Shah Attended by a Prince, Smoking a Huqqa (ibid, p.187, no.42).
Abbas Mirza was based in Tabriz alongside his father, where he performed his governing duties as the viceroy of Azerbaijan. Mirza was delegated full control of the northwest of Iran, which included Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. He sought to rule in a European manner and was particularly interested in modernising the Persian armed forces, employing first French, then British officers to restructure his army. He rapidly established himself as a vital component to the Ghajar army, operating as a fundamental military commander during the Russo-Persian Wars 1804-13 and 1826-8 and the constant disputes with the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, in accordance with his pursuit of Europeanisation, it was Abbas Mirza who initially dispatched Iranian students to Europe to learn Western techniques. His governance came to an end with his untimely death in 1833 at the age of forty-four. Despite this, similar to his father, Abbas Mirza fathered a vast number of offspring which cemented the reigning blood line for the the remainder of the Qajar period.
Paintings of this shape were common to the residences of the Qajar period. Such works were cut to fit a niche of an interior wall explaining the arched shape at the top of the canvas. Unfortunately Muhammad Shah, the subsequent successor to Fath ‘Ali Shah did not share his grandfather’s avid interest in artistic patronage, palatial art was not preserved under his reign, resulting in numerous palaces falling victim to disrepair or were later destroyed by Nasir al-Din Shah. The majority of Qajar niche wall paintings have repairs to the edges, where they were torn down, as is the case in this example.