Right and left-hand centre:
ya Sadiq al-Va'd...shabih-i Muhammad Rustam Khan
This exceptional portrait of Rustam Khan Zand, of the ephemeral but prodigious Zand dynasty, is unusual and rare. It is an exemplary portrayal of the classic Persian ideal of youthful masculine beauty. The painting effectively displays the artist Muhammad Sadiq’s revolutionary style, to which his students strictly adhered, and which influenced the extensive canon of royal Qajar portraiture.
Rustam Khan Zand was the grandson of Karim Khan Zand’s half-brother Zaki, who ruled Iran for a year in 1779. Dressed in eighteenth-century regal attire, the young prince is depicted kneeling in a modestly decorated courtly interior, suggested by the possible inclusion of a column on the left, a subtle symbol often incorporated into royal portraits. He is wearing a silk brocade robe decorated with a staggered repeat floral pattern adorned with a natural fur collar and matching cuffs, and on his head an embroidered Zand turban, bare of any imperial regalia or royal attributes. The handle of an archetypal Iranian jewelled jambiya-style dagger is visible at his waist, the slightly curved ensuite scabbard tucked into a decorative tunic waistband. His prominently enjoined arched eyebrows frame heavily lidded kohl-rimmed eyes, slight double chin and rose bud mouth. His costume and pose bear a noteworthy resemblance to portraits of the valiant and handsome Lutf ‘Ali Khan (1789-94), Karim Khan Zand’s nephew. The prince’s strength is subtly conveyed by a focus on his broad shoulders, almost filling the entire upper surface area of the canvas. This portrait demonstrates Sadiq’s aptitude at capturing the mood of his sitter via his sparkling eyes and direct gaze, as though eager to make a lasting impression. In his left hand he holds a red apple, a visual metaphor, representative of love and fruitfulness in ancient Persian culture. The ornamental aspect of Persian painting is ubiquitous in the surface patterning of the carpet, the geometric balustrade, his delicately floral patterned imperial dress, and his gracefully wound turban. It is intriguing to note the realism of the image is enhanced by the dark palette employed to emphasise his olive skin tone. The combination of two and three dimensionality is typical of the Zand style; the pillar and openwork wooden balustrade are three dimensional, whereas the carpet is treated as a flat patterned surface at the bottom of the picture. Paintings of this shape were common in the royal residences of the Zand period; canvases were cut to fit a niche of an interior wall explaining the pointed apex of this portrait.
Sadiq’s works are signed in a compact naskh script, with his proper name, Muhammad Sadiq, or with the formula ‘Ya Sadiq al Wa’d ('O thou who art true', referring to Ja’far al-Sadiq the Sixth Imam), as in this example and his lacquer works. The concept of a punning signature is typical of artists of the eighteenth century, also used by Muhammad Zaman and Muhammad Baqir. The placing of the signature here, on the upper band of the background wooden balustrade is characteristic. For a further discussion of his varied signatures please see N. D. Khalili, B.W Robinson and T. Stanley, Lacquer of the Islamic Lands, part one, London 1996, pp.100-103.
The identification of Rustam Khan is confirmed by the inscription on the left which reads; ‘likeness of Muhammad Rustam Khan’. Due to his grandfather’s short reign it is possible to assume the painting was executed at around the same time. The date is consistent with the stylistic features of the work, indicating its completion towards the latter years and final evolution of the Zand style of portraiture. In contrast to the Qajar imperial enthronement scenes of Nadir Shah (r.1736-47) and Fath 'Ali Shah (r.1798-1834) both decoratively depicted in full regalia, there are more subtle indicators that this portrait of Rustam Khan Zand is an imperial image.
A monumental portrait entitled, ‘Karim Khan Zand and his kinsmen’, sold in these rooms in October 2000, also bears the metaphorical signature of Muhammad Sadiq. Similarly this official portrait of the regent surrounded by his family has the informal tone inherent to Zand portraiture. The vivid parallels are the dark colours, heavily modelled faces, majestically wound turbans, and sturdy body proportions. The figures which have been identified, such as the blind courtier to the ruler’s right representing Karim Khan’s brother, Sadiq Khan, and several others, have identical floral ornamentation incorporated in their dress, indicating the possibility that such a design is definitive of Zandi royal court dress.
More recently a stylistically comparable portrait was sold in these rooms in October 2010, entitled ‘A Portrait of a Lady’ executed by the renowned court artist, Mirza Baba. It is probable that Mirza Baba was a pupil of Sadiq’s. Diba suggests this in her description of the work where she calls it ‘A Tipsy Lady’ in the catalogue of the 1998 exhibition of Qajar painting (Diba and Ekhtiar 1998, no.28). The heavily ornamented materials, carpets and wooden balustrade, in addition to the inclusion of the red apple and similar seated posture, provide direct proof of the master-student relationship.
Muhammad Sadiq was the leading painter of his generation. A pupil of Muhammad 'Ali Ashraf, Sadiq worked on the St Petersburg Muraqqa in Isfahan. After its completion, he was appointed to create two large scale paintings for the pavilion in Shiraz, a building which today serves as the Pars museum. A skilled fresco painter, his involvement in the interior decoration of the Shiraz pavilion led to a distinctive development in his compositions, whereby he started to create works which were inserted into architectural niches in buildings, such as the present work. The generation of court artists prior to him such as Muhammad Zaman and 'Ali Quli Jubbadar had been hugely influenced by European art, frequently copying European subjects directly. Sadiq rejected this, developing a distinctive Persian method of painting: warm hues, heavy modelling of features, the inclusion of fruit, flowers and glassware; all features of his iconic style which shaped the works of subsequent court artists and was particularly popular within the Qajar court.
Many details observed in this painting: the costume, fur collar, and seated figure, are reminiscent of those seen in Safavid paintings. The lively trade with Russia during this period could be a possible factor for the inclusion of fur in this depiction of Rustam Khan Zand and is common in other official Zand portraits. The floral designs often decorating opulent fabrics of Zand royal dress were initially used in the Safavid dynasty. The geometric wooden balustrade is illustrative of the longevity of the khatamkari technique, which is repeatedly incorporated into eighteenth and nineteenth century painting. Khatamkari was a craft well established in Isfahan and Shiraz during the Safavid period. (see: L. Honarfa: ”Woodwork, khatamkar”, in J. Gluck: A Survey of Persian Handicrafts, Tehran, 1977).
The Zand and Qajar were both Iranian dynasties that utilised figural depictions for propaganda purposes, particularly focusing on single figure royal depictions. Life-size portraits became an integral emblem of monarchy, attracting further patronage in each successive dynasty. Karim Khan Zand, who preferred the title Vakil (‘regent’) to that of Shah, unlike the future monarch Fath 'Ali Shah, did not demand his painters to enliven his appearance in depictions. Even in monumental canvases, Karim Khan was content to be portrayed in informal unpretentious assemblies within modest architectural settings. The tone of such portraits of Karim Khan and his family provided a sharp contrast to the later vainglorious portraits of Fath 'Ali Shah and his opulent court.
The contribution of Zand painters such as Muhammad Sadiq to the further development of Persian painting cannot be overstated. After the overthrow of the Zand dynasty, Aqa Muhammad decorated his Tehran audience hall with Zand paintings taken from the ornate Shiraz palace. Although scenes of domesticity are the dominant subject portrayed in such works, a few rare monumental and historical paintings allude to the dynastic use of life size-imagery, which was typically applied during the Qajar period to the decoration of palaces. Within such works there is a particular focus on expressing emotion and personality as well as an employment of two dimensionality, key factors borrowed from Zand painting which contribute to the final development of late nineteenth-century Persian painting, particularly in works portraying Nasir al-Din Shah by Abu’l Hasan Sani’ al-Mulk and his pupils.