Research seminar: Persian and Islamic Arts; Transcultural Geographies

Seventeenth-century Oil Paintings on Canvas from Safavid Iran: People from ‘Parts Unknown’

Thursday, 8 May 2014

18.00, Research Forum South Room

Georgian Lady in XVIIth-Century Persian Court Dress
A Georgian Lady in XVIIth-Century Persian Court Dress.
Oil-painting on canvas, 180 x 112.5 cm. Isfahan (?) about 1630-50 (?). Tehran, Sa'adabad Museum of Fine Arts

Speaker(s): Dr. Eleanor Sims (Independent Scholar)

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission

Organised by: Dr Sussan Babaie

A small number of nearly life-size oil-painted canvases surely dating from the second half of the 17th century still present issues of interpretation and intention. They show men and women dressed in Persian clothing, but the figures stand in richly furnished European settings with an array of luxurious European goods. At first glance they are unsettling in the extreme. Some – five -- made an "appearance" in the summer of 1976 in London; another pair had actually been displayed at the great Persian exhibition in Burlington House in 1931 but then disappeared from sight, until the summer of 1974. Several had been more quietly acquired in that same decade; still others have since appeared. One relatively new museum in the Persian Gulf now owns nearly half such paintings presently recorded -- half a dozen. Initially so puzzling, they have now come to take an accepted place in the history of mid-17th Persian imagery in the "eclectic" style. Numerous examples exist on paper, as well as on the walls of buildings in the 17th-century Safavid capital of Isfahan; these paintings in the "exotic" and imported European technique, oil-pigments on sturdy and stretched canvas, may clearly be seen as still another version of the same eclectic vision, one more aspect of Iranian figural imagery in the second half of the 17th century.

Dr Eleanor Sims holds both an MA and a PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and a Certificate of Museum Training from The Metropolitan Museum of Art through the Institute of Fine Arts. She is now an independent scholar working from London. With her late husband, Ernst J. Grube, she edited Islamic Art. Other professional activities include museum and exhibition-work, field-research in Iran, and teaching. Her publications number more than 80 and include books, articles, reviews, encyclopedia articles -- several even for newspapers. Her Peerless Images: Persian Painting and Its Sources, written with Boris I. Marshak and Ernst J. Grube, was published by Yale University Press, 2002, and in 2003 it was awarded a prize by the British-Kuwait Friendship Society. Her The Persian Book of Kings: The Windsor Castle Shahnama of 1648 (together with B. W. Robinson and Manijeh Bayani), was written for the Roxburghe Club and published in 2007. Her current writing projects are the catalogue of some of the Khalili Collection of Persian paintings; a study of an important 15th-century Timurid manuscript of the ‘interim period’; and a book devoted to the 17th-century paintings of ‘people from parts unknown’.

Research Seminar: Persian and Islamic Arts: Through the lens of Persianate arts, this research seminar invites discussion on artistic practices in pre-modern Eurasia. It encourages new historiographic approaches and interdisciplinary debates and promotes considerations of ‘worldly’ art histories. Speakers will address a range of media from monumental architecture to wearable and portable arts.

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