A portrait of Rustam Khan Zand, signed by Muhammad Sadiq, Persia, Zand, Shiraz, circa 1779. Lot 99 from the upcoming Arts of the Islamic World sale. Estimate: £300,000 - 500,000.
LONDON - The Zand dynasty portrait that will be sold in the Arts of the Islamic World sale on October 9 is exceptional for more than one reason. Even though the dynasty itself was prodigious, its reign was short-lived. Karim Khan, an egalitarian ruler in an age of tyrants, proved that Oriental despotism was not endemic but a matter of character. During his brief sovereignty a few likenesses were made of him but not too many survived. The fact that a portrait of a minor prince – Rustam Khan, the grandson of Karim Khan’s half-brother Zaki – has survived to tell the tale is quite unusual, but even more exceptional is the quality of the painting itself. Published in the bible of all things Qajar – Diba and Ekhtiar’s Royal Persian Paintings, the Qajar Epoch 1795-1925 – the painting has been praised for its portrayal of the classic Persian ideal of youthful masculine beauty. We see a regally attired prince wearing fur-lined, elegant silk brocade and an embroidered Zand turban, bare of any imperial regalia, which later became so fashionable amongst the Qajars. A red apple signifying good auspices and prosperity, sits in his hand.
A portrait of Rustam Khan Zand, signed by Muhammad Sadiq, Persia, Zand, Shiraz, circa 1779 (detail).
The contribution of the painter Muhammad Sadiq to later Qajar painting cannot be overstated. It never ceases to amaze me that whilst the Qajars summarily deposed the Zand dynasty and famously gouged out their eyes, they were nevertheless keen to decorate their palaces with Zand paintings taken from the Shiraz palace. The one thing the Qajars did not adopt was Karim Khan Zand’s inclination to be portrayed in informal unpretentious assemblies, sitting on the floor and not on a throne. Rustam Khan here too, is sitting on the floor within a modest architectural setting.
Perhaps the story of the Zand dynasty is a cautionary tale after all. Karim Khan’s decision to be called vakil al-ru’ayya (representative of the people) rather than Imperial Majesty may have heralded his doom in a political climate where the rule of force prevailed. This was not an era of free elections and opinion polls. Whatever the case, an unusual memento from an exceptional part of Iranian history makes for what is indeed a rare work. And we all know the value of rarity. Do come and view this portrait when it graces our galleries in early October. Is the date in your diary?
The painting will be hanging in our New York galleries until the evening of Thursday 5th September. Benedict Carter will be on hand on Wednesday and Thursday to show anyone the portrait.