Reza was born around the year 1565, the son of the mid-sixteenth-century Safavid court painter 'Ali Asghar. He followed his father's profession and by the mid-1580s was active as a painter. Canby dates his first surviving work, signed Aqa Reza, to 1585 (Young Man in a Blue Coat, Harvard University Art Museums, see Canby 1996, cat.1), and notes that "his eight earliest known works rely on the Qazvin court style of the 1570s and 1580s.....but they are infused with the fresh vision of a brilliant young artist." His first surviving dated work is from 1591 (Topkapi Saray Library, Istanbul, MS.H.2166, fol.18a, Canby 1996, cat.14). During the late 1580s and early 1590s he is thought to have contributed several illustrations to a manuscript of Firdausi's Shahnameh possibly executed for Shah 'Abbas I (Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ms.277, Canby 1996, cats.9-12).
After Shah 'Abbas moved his capital from Qazvin to Isfahan in 1598, Reza was given the title 'Abbasi, and subsequently used the signature 'Reza-i 'Abbasi' on many occasions, although he did not use it frequently until after 1610. From around 1603, in what scholars have referred to as a "mid-life crisis", Reza veered away from his courtly life and employment, associating with wrestlers, and other riff-raff. This 'rebellion' may have coincided, even been partly caused by, the four-year absence of 'Shah Abbas from the court in Isfahan while he was engaged in military endeavours. Reza's output from these years is dominated by drawings of dervishes, wrestlers other subjects from a context of street life, which are among his most spirited, incisive and artistically poignant productions.
After 1610 Reza returned somewhat to more mainstream subjects and a more mature, replete courtly style. His later years saw the production of highly polished portraits of idealized youths and maidens, often in romanticised settings, of shaykhs and hunched greybeards, and of conventional manuscript illustrations. Two comparable drawings to the present from the same period of Reza's career are published by Canby, op.cit., pp.139 and 143, cat. nos.102 and 101. Both the sitting bearded dervishes share with the present drawing the same distinctive, sloping nose and hunched appearance.
For a full account of Reza and his life and works see Canby 1996.
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