What’s it worth? European Art at the Persian Court

Early-modern European accounts of the Safavid Court agree on one thing: Persians loved splendour, as much, if not more than their European counterparts. A splendid art collection was the ultimate mark of distinction in the West, so some European visitors to Persia were alarmed to find that upwardly-mobile Persians seemed to care more for flashy things, like solid gold horse bridles, than they did for European works of art. No one was more shocked than Louis XIV’s ambassador, Pierre Victor Michel. For fear of a diplomatic incident, Michel had to rescue a solid gold medal that he had given to Shah Soltan Hosayn from a goldsmith who had been instructed to melt it down to make one of those magnificent bridles. Another Dutch account from the same period tells of a merchant taken aback when he presented a fine equestrian painting to the Persian Court, knowing that the great love for horses in that nation, only to be asked: “what’s it worth?” This paper draws upon early-modern European accounts of Persia and the Safavid Court to analyse the perceived reception of art presented to Persian elites as diplomatic gifts.

Robert Wellington is a senior lecturer at the Centre for Art history and Art Theory at the Australian National University, and chercheur invité at the Centre André Chastel in Paris for 2018. His research focuses on the role of material culture in history making and cross-cultural exchange in ancien-régime France. This presentation draws upon material gathered during a Getty Research Institute Library Fellowship in February 2018. It is part of a broader investigation of French prints and medals as objects of cross-cultural exchange and extends the work he first published in the article “Médailles en mouvement: la réception des médailles de Louis XIV à la croisée des cultures,” in Yvan Loskutoff (ed.) Les Médailles de Louis XIV et Leur Livre, (2016).

Organised by Dr Sussan Babaie (The Courtauld) 

5:00pm, 26 Nov 2018

Monday 26th November 2018

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London




Courtauld Asia