Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 70. A Kneeling Youth, style of Reza-i 'Abbasi, Persia, Safavid, circa 1635.

A Kneeling Youth, style of Reza-i 'Abbasi, Persia, Safavid, circa 1635

Auction Closed

October 26, 12:30 PM GMT


20,000 - 25,000 GBP

Lot Details


gouache and ink heightened with gold on paper, 2 lines of nasta'liq in black ink above and 4 lines to the right in clouds reserved against a gold ground, within gold floral illuminated margins, laid down on card, the reverse plain

painting: 15.8 by 7.6cm.

leaf: 31.2 by 22.6cm.


Three couplets from the Bustan of Sa’di.

On the back, possibly the folio number of an album: ‘120’

The present work is an example of the Isfahan school of painting during the later Safavid period, executed in the manner of Reza-i ‘Abbasi (circa 1560-1635), possibly by an artist near contemporary to or from his immediate circle. When Shah ‘Abbas I (1571-1629) moved the capital to Iṣfahān in 1589, Reza was his most influential court painter. Here Reza created a style that relied on a calligraphic line and an original sense of colour. One of Reza's common themes was the depiction of youthful figures, often, as in this example, they were rendered in colour against backgrounds drawn in gold. His paintings reflected the luxurious taste of the Safavid court with its fondness for elaborate textiles, Chinese porcelain and exotic garments, a result of Shah Abbas's openness to foreigners and non-Muslims. Through foreign agents, Shah Abbas encouraged Europe to trade with Persia. During the sixteenth century the Portuguese began establishing bases in the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf regions. 

The arrival of European traders was soon reflected in the art of the Safavid court. European dress, poses and landscapes were synthesised into traditional Persian iconography. The paintings of Reza-i 'Abbasi reflected the Shah and the public's preference for intimate works, single miniatures intended for the albums muraqqas of private collectors. They typically show one or two figures with a lightly drawn background, sometimes in gold as we see here with individual plants dotted about on a buff ground. The present painting closely relates to a 'European giving a dog a drink', dated 1634, at the Detroit Institute of Arts inv. no.58.334 (see Canby 1996, p.175, pl.128) and an Isfahan 'Portrait of a kneeling youth in Portuguese garb' of circa 1640, sold in these rooms 25 April 2002, lot 40.

The subject of this portrait of a foreigner drinking is an interesting one and possibly indicates that the Safavid prohibition against the consumption of wine was possibly more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The poetic verses surrounding the young man are from the introduction to the tenth ‘chapter’ or bab from the Bustan completed in 1257, by the great Persian poet Sa'adi Shirazi or Sa’di (1210-91/92). Sa’di’s Bustan consists of stories illustrating the standard virtues recommended to Muslims (justice, liberality, modesty, contentment) and reflections on the behaviour of dervishes and their ecstatic practices. Usually the verses found on miniatures from this period were often ornamental rather than relevant to the content. However in this case the wine drinking youth, a non-Muslim Portuguese foreigner, may be considered to represent the very sins and idolatry of man for which Sa’di warns us against. Or maybe the beautiful youthful figure in sumptuous attire surrounded by poetic verses, may also allude to the fact that drinking often inspires poetry and art, thus presenting us with an image for reflection and admiration. 

Further comparable portraits can be found in Soudavar 1992, pp.265-71, nos.104, 107 and 109), Grube 1962, pl.110; Welch 1973, pl.50; Falk 1985, nos.85 and 86 and Canby 1993, no.66. And sold in these rooms 14 April 2010, lot 66 and 26 April 1995, lot 81.