Lot 114
  • 114

An old shepherd leaning on his staff in a landscape, signed by Mu'in Musavvir, Persia, Isfahan, Safavid, dated 19 Rabi' al-Awwal 1087 AH/1676 AD

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • gouache on paper, framed
  • painting: 20 by 12cm.
    leaf: 32.2 by 22cm.
gouache heightened with gold on paper, signed and dated on the left, mounted on an album page with illuminated floral borders, framed


Sotheby's London, 12 October 2000, lot 66.
Formerly the property of an American heiress, acquired circa 1940-50.


Catalogue Note

This portrait of a shepherd leaning on his staff is an important example of the single-figure portraits painted by Mu'in Musavvir (1617-1708), who was one of the greatest and most prolific Persian artists of the seventeenth century.

The composition is based closely on a work by Reza-i 'Abbasi ('The Old Shepherd', see Canby 1996, p.144, 150 & 197, cat.107) featuring a bearded shepherd leaning on his staff, a depiction popular among Persian painters of the period. The inscriptions not only provide the artist's signature and the date of execution, but tell us that the painting was completed specifically for an album - 'be-jehat-e moraqqa be-etmam rasid - a highly unusual occurrence.

In the current work Mu’in has reversed the orientation of Reza’s composition, placing the shepherd on the left looking to the right. He has moved the tree from the left to the right, and has reversed the sheep and goat so that the short-haired ewe is in front of the long-haired ram. Mu’in has also omitted the crouching sheepdog which appears in Reza’s. Another version of the same scene ascribed to Reza-i Abbasi and dated 1632 is closer in the compositional details to the present work, although the orientation is again reversed (formerly in the collections of Mrs Helen Sutherland and Constance Sitwell, exhibited Burlington House, 1931), sold in these rooms 23 April 1974, lot 169 (See Canby 1996 no.70, p.214; Binyon, Wilkinson and Grey, pl. CXIb; Stchoukine, p.130).

Interestingly, Mu'in painted three other miniatures closely related to the present piece within the first three months of the year 1087 AH. A youth on horseback was painted on 5 Muharram 1087 (sold in these rooms, 23 November 1976, lot 253), whilst a related shepherd scene, this time depicting a much younger man seated on rocks and playing the flute, was painted just two days after the present work on 21 Rabi’ al-Awwal 1087. This was formerly in the Hagop Kevorkian collection and was sold in these rooms 23 April 1979, lot 77. A further painting by the artist, showing a kneeling youth playing the flute, was painted four days earlier than the present portrait, on 23 Rabi' al-Awwal 1087 AH, and was sold in these rooms, 9 April 2008, lot 54. 

Three other related works are a portrait of the royal physician Hakim Shafa'i painted in 1674 (sold in these rooms, 7 April 1975, lot 53, and now in the Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection, see Canby 1998, no.60), a portrait of the Sultan al-Ulema Khalifa Sultan 'Itimad al-Daula, painted around 1650 (sold at Christie's London, 23 April 1981, lot 120, now in the Art and History Trust Collection, see Soudavar 1992, p.289) and a portrait of a youth in an orange robe, sold in these rooms 2 May 1977, lot 56, and again, 15 October 1998, lot 65. A further related work, attributable to Muhammad Zaman, was sold in these rooms 13 April 2000, lot 41.

Mu’in Musavvir was one of the greatest artists of the seventeenth century and was one of the most prolific. He was a student of the great court painter Reza-i Abbasi, and a portrait of his master by Mu’in survives in the Princeton University Library (Garrett Coll.96G). His long career (c.1635-1707) gave him the opportunity to produce a large corpus of work, and although much of it was concerned with traditional manuscript illustration, including several Shahnameh manuscripts, he also took the art of single-page compositions to new heights. 

For further reading and illustrations of Mu'in's work see Farhad 1990; Canby 1996; Canby 1998, nos.55-61.