PORTRAIT OF A LADY
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PORTRAIT OF A LADY

SAFAVID IRAN, MID-17TH CENTURY

Details
PORTRAIT OF A LADY
SAFAVID IRAN, MID-17TH CENTURY
Oil on canvas, the lady stands before a window with green draped curtain, wearing red surcoat of floral design, transparent skirt, patterned leggings and red and gold turban, holding a fan in her left hand, small areas of repainting, in heavy gilt frame
Painting 60¼ x 36in. (153 x 91.4cm.); framed 65 3/8 x 40in. (166 x 101.6cm.)
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Lot Essay

The clothing of the lady in this portrait, with her transparent skirt and brightly patterned leggings, suggests that she may be a Turk. A painting by the Dutch 17th century painter Jean-Baptiste Van Mour (1671-1737) in a private collection depicts a Turkish lady in similar low-cut frock with transparent sleeves and skirt over patterned trousers (Türkische Kunst und Kultur, 1985, pp.17 and 237). The fashion is said to have come from India, and her gold brocade turban has the appearance of the Mughal turban of an early 17th century Indian lady. It is likely that the Persian artist misunderstood elements of the Turkish costume, translating the baggy trousers into tight leggings and the stilted bath slippers into the flat red sandals seen here.

As Isfahan developed in the 17th century, from the period of Shah 'Abbas I, new impetuses pushed taste in new directions. The influx of foreigners including European traders bringing in new products, as well as Armenians in New Julfa generating wealth through trading activities, created a new market for goods. The format of Persian painting fell subject to these new influences as the enormous building program undertaken by Shah 'Abbas and his successors created a need for new methods of decorating these spaces. Although the practice of wall painting was well known in the genre of Iranian painting previously, with this new building program came a taste for large-scale single-figure paintings. Paintings such as the present are often described in European sources of the second half of the seventeenth and of the early eighteenth centuries as a feature of the decoration of royal palaces and residences of the Muslim elite and of the Armenian and European merchants. Large scale paintings can still be seen in the Chihil Sutun, Hasht Bihisht and 'Ali Qapu. A drawing in the James Ford Bell Library in the University of Minnesota depicts the interior of the no longer standing Aiyina Khaneh Palace (circa 1671-75) decorated with life-sized paintings set into mirrorwork. Houses in the Armenian area of New Julfa were similarly decorated (Carswell, 1968, pl.80). Paintings such as that offered here, which represent not only individuals, but also different ethnic groups, were intended as components of decorative programmes (Diba, 1998, pp. 131-33).

Other 17th century oil portraits were exhibited at Colnaghi's in 1976, but the costume of the ladies is quite different to the present lot. The similarities are limited to a rather rigid pose and slightly curious perspective, the use of a draped curtain, and view of a distant landscape. The latter may have been gleaned from Western prints. (Sims, 1976, pp.223-248).

From the very small number of Safavid oil portraits that have survived, one can say that their patrons must have been wealthy merchants or members of the Safavid aristocracy. Other Safavid single figure oil paintings include the following, all of which were exhibited at Colnaghi and are now in the Sadabad Museum of Fine Arts, Tehran: A Lady in Persian dress in an interior, A Gentleman in Persian dress in an interior, A Lady in Persian dress holding a wine flask in a landscape, A Lady in Persian dress holding a rhytons in a landscape, A Footman in a landscape (Sims, 1976, pp.223-248). Others include: A Gentleman in an interior holding a bow and arrow (Adle, 1996), A Portrait of a European Gentleman in Persian dress (sold at Sotheby's, 15 October 1997, lot 35), An Armenian lady (sold at Sotheby's, 15 October 1998, lot 69 - the pendant portrait to the Gentleman in Persian dress in an interior in the Sadabad Museum), two pendant portraits - A Portrait of a Nobleman and A Portrait of a Lady (formerly in the Aryeh collection, sold at Sotheby's, 13 October 1999, lots 13 and 14 and recently offered again Sotheby’s, London, 25 October 2017, lots 115 and 116), Portrait of a Nobleman holding a bow and arrow and Portrait of a Nobleman with a white shawl (sold at Sotheby's, London, 12 October 2004, lots 11 and 12), Portrait of a Noblewoman (sold at Sotheby's, 8 October 2008, lot 49, now in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha) and its pendant Portrait of a Nobleman (in a private collection and published in the International Exhibition of Persian Art, Royal Academy, Burlington House, London, 1931), and two Portraits of Caucasian Youths.

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