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A group of four engravings, Portrait of Shah ‘Abbas, King of Persia, after Giacomo Franco and Sir Anthony Shirley, after Aegidius Sadeler II, both by Dominicus Custos, from his Atrium Heroicum Caesarum, circa 1600-02, on laid paper, fine impressions, lacking the letterpress text; together with Portrait of Sinal Khan Shamlu, by Aegidius Sadeler ll, after Essaye le Gillon, engraving, 1604, on laid paper, a very good impression; and Portrait of Robert Shirley, copy by James Fittler after Matthias Greuter, etching and engraving, 1789, on laid paper, a very good impression
Portrait of Sir Anthony Shirley 7 ½ x 5 ¼in. (18.9 x 13.3cm); portrait of Shah 'Abbas 7 ½ x 5 1⁄8in. (19 x 13cm.); portrait of Sinal Khan Shamlu 9 x 5 7⁄8in. (23 x 14.9cm.); portrait of Robert Shirley 5 ½ x 3 ¾in. (14.1 x 9.5cm.)
Acquired by the present owner in Germany in the 1980s and 1990s
Engraving of Shah 'Abbas I: Massagetoe Cyro nocuere, Scythoeque Dareio / Turcatibi nocuit, sed Scythae cessil Abbas 'The Massageteans [a nomadic people] harmed Cyrus, the Scythians Darius / Turkey harms you. But the Sythians flee before Abbas'

Engraving of Anthony Shirley: Anton. Scherleyns Angl. Eq. Avrat. Mag. Soph. Persar. Ad Caesarem, etc. Legatvs Antoni Orator Persae, Angliae, regis, ad istud Excelso munus peruenis ingenio 'Anthony Sherley, Englishman, knight in the Order of the Golden Spur, legate of the Great Sophi of Persia to the Emperor and others. O Anthony, legate of the Persian king to the king of England, you were given this appointment thanks to your great gifts'.

Engraving of Sinal Khan Shamlu: (Persian and Latin) Janeb-e raf at-e dastgah Zeynal Khan Shamlu keh az janeb-e navvab-e homayun-e ashraf-e a’la be jenab-e hazrat-e qeral saheb-e eqbal-e a’zam 'H.E. the noble mighty Zeynal Khan Shamlu, who, on behalf of His Exalted Most Noble Royal Majesty, has come to His Royal Majesty, Lord of the Greatest Felicity'.
Synal Chaen Serenissmus Princeps in Persia Magni Sophi Regis Persarum ad Avgvstvm Caesarem Rvdolphvm II Laegatvs. Cum priui. S. Cae. M.tis Anno M. D.C.IIII. 'Zeynal Khan, most serene prince, legate of the grand Sophi, King of Persia, to the His Imperial Majesty Rudolph II. With privilege of His Imperial Majesty, 1604'. S: Cæs. M.tis sculptor Aegidius Sadeler ad viuum delineavit Pragae 'made after life by His Imperial Majesty’s engraver Aegidius Sadeler in Prague'

Engraving of Robert Shirley: Robertvs Sherley’ Anglvs Comes Caesare’ Eqves Avrat 'Robert Sherley, Englishman, Count in the Emperor’s Order of the Golden Spur'.
Die 29. septembris (September 29). Magni Sophi Persaru Legatus ad SSmu D.N./ Paulu P.P.V. Ceterosq. Principes Christianos. Ingress. Romam solenni pompa die 28. Septemb. 1609. aetatis sue. 28. 'Legate of the Great Sophi, King of Persia, to His Holiness Our Lord Paul V and other Christian princes. Entered Rome in solemn ceremony on the 28th day of September 1609 at the age of 28'.
Supm lic. MG f. Si vendino alla Pace. cu priuil.o 'Under license. MG [Initials of Matthias Greuter, intertwined]. On sale at the [Piazza della] Pace. With privilege'.
Sale room notice
Please note that the second engraving listed in the description should read Sir Anthony Shirley by Dominicus Custos and not Sir Robert Shirley as in the printed catalogue.

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Lot Essay

Shah Abbas I was at war with the Ottoman Empire for a combined duration of 20 years of his 40-year reign. Believing that the key to ending the Ottoman conflict was an alliance with the European powers, he dispatched three embassies to Europe in order to form such alliances. This lot consists of four early 16th century engravings of Shah Abbas himself and the leaders of his three embassies Anthony Sherley, Zeynal Khan Shamlu and Robert Sherley.

After defeat against the Ottoman Empire in the Ottoman–Safavid Wars of 1578–1590, Shah Abbas sent the first embassy led by Anthony Sherley with Hossein Ali Beg Bayat second in command. The embassy left Persia in 1599 aiming to visit eight European courts. It met with three German potentates, and the Italian and Spanish courts, but plans to meet with the courts of France, England, Scotland and Poland were abandoned on the way. It returned to Persia in 1602 without having achieved the hoped for results. A new conflict between Persia and the Ottoman Empire erupted soon after the embassy’s return, leading to the new Ottoman–Safavid Wars of 1603–1618. A second embassy led by Zeynal Khan Shamlu was dispatched to the court of Rudolph II in Prague in 1603, to which was added a second ambassador, Mehdi Quli Beg, a few months later. Their negotiations with Rudolf II were inconclusive. The two ambassadors left Prague in 1605, with Mehdi Quli Beg going to other European courts as Shah Abbas’ ambassador, and Zeynal Khan intending to return to Persia. Being refused passage through Russia, Zeynal Khan travelled to the Netherlands and from there to Portugal, where he embarked on a ship to Persia, arriving in Persia in 1609. Mehdi Quli Beg was back in Persia in 1608 with an update on the inconclusive negotiations in Europe, and the bad news that in spite of his promises to Shah Abbas Rudolf II had signed the Peace treaty of Zivta-Torok with the Ottomans in November 1606. Hoping that an Englishman was more likely to succeed than his Persian ambassadors, Shah 'Abbas dispatched a third embassy in 1608 led by Robert Sherley to the remaining courts of Europe, in a final attempt to revive the idea of a Persian-European alliance against the Ottomans.

The four engravings are:
1) Portrait of Shah ‘Abbas, King of Persia, after Giacomo Franco by Domenicus Custos (1560-1612), Augsburg 1602. European portrayals of Shah 'Abbas vary tremendously, reflecting what was then a common phenomenon: portraits that were not based on first-hand observation. Custos based his portrait on a work from Giancomo Franco, which was published in Venice in 1596 in his Effigie naturali dei maggior principi et piu valoro-si capitani di questa eta co l’armi toto, racolte et con dilegentia intagliate. Franco himself had reused an older engraving of Sultan Mehmet III that he had engraved in 1595. The cut of the shah’s garments, and above all the shape of his turban, are therefore most definitely Turkish, which explains why Shah 'Abbas looks more like an Ottoman sultan than a Persian shah. Other copies are in the Bibliotheque National de France (N2–Abbas 2) and British Museum (1873,0510.2788).

2) Sir Anthony Shirley, engraved by Domenicus Custos after an engraving by Aegidius Sadeler II in turn after Essaye le Gillon, Augsburg, 1601. Other copies of this engraving are in the British Museum (1873,0510.2788), National Portrait Gallery (1950.14.1097), and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (RP-P-1908-3839). Born in 1565 at Winston (West Sussex) and died in 1633 at Granada (Spain), Anthony Shirley was one of three brothers from a Sussex gentry family. He was a soldier fighting in France and the Netherlands, and then an unsuccessful privateer, before his patron, the Earl of Essex, chose him to lead a group on a mission to Ferrara, which proved abortive. With funding of the Earl of Sussex, Shirley went to Persia with his younger brother Robert, 26 men, and 5000 horses to offer to Shah 'Abbas to train the Persian army according to the rules and customs of the English militia and to retrain the Persian artillery. Arriving in Persia in 1589, he was well received by Shah 'Abbas, to whom he suggested the benefits of allying with the West against their mutual enemy, the Ottoman Empire. Shah 'Abbas approved the plan, and sent Shirley back to Europe as his ambassador. The embassy which was led by Shirley was composed of Hossein 'Ali Beg, Uruch Beg (son of Sultan 'Ali Beg); the nephew of Hossein 'Ali Beg; and two others. It left in July 1599 for Astrakhan and reached Moscow in November 1599. After a long voyage, they reached Prague in Bohemia in the autumn of 1600, where they met with Rudolf II and were sumptuously received over the winter. In Spring 1601 they set for Munich, where they met with William II, the former Duke of Bavaria. They then went to Italy, where they were received by Vincenzo Gonzaga in Mantua. The embassy failed to meet the Doge of Venice, as he declined an interview on the ground that he was meeting an ambassador from the Ottoman Empire. The final portion of their mission took them to Spain, where they met with king Philip III, and obtained seaborne transportation from Portugal to the Strait of Hormuz and Persia, where he arrived in 1602. In Persia, he got involved with the training of the Persian army with his brother Robert, but never managed to regain Shah 'Abbas’ favour as his efforts to form a Persian-European alliance against the Ottomans had failed. After his return to Europe things went badly wrong. The Earl of Essex lost all influence at court and was eventually executed for treason. Shirley was refused permission to return to England. After various episodes in Venice and Morocco he ended up in the pay of Spain and was chosen to command a fleet created to stop pirates from attacking Spanish possessions. After the failure of this project he retired to Granada, where he lived the rest of his life.

3) Portrait of Sinal Khan Shamlu, by Aegidius Sadeler ll (1570-1629) after a painting by Essaye le Gillon, Prague, 1604. Other copies are in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig (P-Sig-illum 3.12); British Museum (O,2.101-Bb-12.393); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (61.663.252), and Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (RP-P-OB-4995). Sinal Khan Shamlu was a Safavid nobleman who led an embassy of Shah 'Abbas I to the court of Rudolf II in Prague. Sinal Khan departed Persia sometime in mid-1603 and arrived in Prague on 19 July 1604 to much fanfare. He and his party of 30 servants were given an escort of over one thousand men, mounted and on foot. Reports liken the arrival and procession across town to a parade. The ambassador met Rudolf II a week later on 26 July, when he was received at the palace. The Persians presented Rudolf II gifts of carpets and silk. It appears nothing of substance was discussed at this first meeting, for the reports describe “exchange of pleasantries” and “magnificent entertainment”, without mentioning discussion of political topics. However, after the meeting with the Emperor concluded, the ambassador had a more substantial meeting with Stefan Ferreri, the Papal Nuncio. The two discussed several topics in this meeting. They covered Papal relations with Persia, where Ferreri expressed a desire to see more Catholic orders established in Persia. They also discussed the lack of an Imperial representative in Persia, in contrast with the Vatican and Spain which had sent semi-permanent representatives. Ferreri informed Zeynal Khan that an Imperial ambassador, Stephano Kakasch von Zalokemeny, was under way. Finally, the Persian ambassador complained that the Spanish King had promised to go to war with the Turks, but he had not done so yet. Sinal Khan had hoped to deliver his message to the Emperor, obtain a reply and quickly depart for home; however, things in the Imperial court did not move so quickly. Shah 'Abbas had requested a promise that the Christians would keep fighting the Turks, and that they would consult Shah 'Abbas before making peace. This would be in line with the minimal expectation for a military alliance and would not allow the Turks to shift all their forces away from Hungary to face Persia. But Rudolf II and the court were hesitant to make this promise. The war was putting a strain on Imperial resources. Already there were tentative offers of peace coming from the Ottomans, and some in the court were encouraging these offers to be accepted. Rudolf II was indecisive and the court was divided. Already by 9 August, Sinal Khan was requesting that he be given leave to return home. But the Emperor kept postponing his departure. Instead, Rudolf arranged many activities for the ambassador, such as troop reviews and banquets. Eventually, word came from Moscow that another Persian diplomat was on his way to Prague. This gave the Emperor an additional excuse for postponing Sinal Khan’s departure while he and the court pondered how to reply to Shah 'Abbas. Meanwhile, in 1605, the military situation was turning quite bad for the Imperial forces. Stephan Bocskay was now in charge in Transylvania and switched allegiance to the Ottomans. In addition to its own strategic value, this move also caused unrest in many Hungarian areas. The Turks took advantage to conduct an offensive which recaptured the fortresses of Visegrad and Esztergom, thus erasing the main Imperial strategic gains from the war. Ferreri speculated that Rudolf II was waiting for a victory he could report to Shah 'Abbas before sending the ambassador home. Many voices in the court and the nobility were calling for a peace settlement with the Ottomans. But there were also equally strong proponents of continuing the war, notably the papal nuncio Ferreri, and perhaps the personal feelings of Rudolf II himself. Finally, on 31 October 1605, the ambassador had his farewell audience. Ferreri also attended the audience and bid him farewell and gave him a letter for Shah Abbas professing his intentions to continue fighting the Turks and to send an embassy the following year. He also expressed these assurances personally. However, despite his assurances, within days Rudolf II gave instructions to start peace negotiations with the Turks. Sinal Khan who had been refused passage through Russia went first to the Netherlands and arrived home via a ship from Portugal shortly before May 1609. By the time he returned home, news had already made the messages he carried obsolete. Rudolf II had been forced to sign the peace treaty of Zivta-Torok in November 1606, breaking his promises to Shah 'Abbas. After his return, Sinal Khan went on to high positions in the service of Shah 'Abbas and his successor Shah Safi. He was an ambassador to the Moghul court of Jahangir, he successfully led a defence of Baghdad against a Turkish attempt at recapture, and for that he was promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the army. But he suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Ottomans at Mahidasht near Kermanshah on 4 May 1630 and was tried and executed on the orders of Shah Safi for this failing.

4) Portrait of Robert Shirley copy by James Fittler after Matthias Greuter, England, 1789. Robert Shirley was born circa 1581 at Winston (West Sussex) and died in 1628 at Qazvin (Persia), and was the younger brother of Anthony Shirley, in whose company he travelled to Persia 1598. The purpose of their mission was to train the Persian army. When Anthony Shirley left Persia as Shah 'Abbas’s ambassador in 1599, Robert remained in Persia with fourteen other Englishmen, and played an important role in training the Persian army according to the rules and customs of the English militia and to reform the Persian artillery. After receiving news that Rudolf II had signed the peace treaty of Zivta-Torok in November 1606 with the Ottomans, Shah 'Abbas decided to sent Robert Shirley on a diplomatic mission to James I of England and to other European princes in order to make a final attempt of uniting them in a confederacy against the Ottoman Empire. The embassy left Persia in 1608, travelled first to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, where Robert Shirley was received by Sigismund III Vasa. In June of that year, he arrived in Germany, where he received the title of Count Palatine and was appointed to Knight of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Rudolph II. From Germany, he travelled to Florence and then Rome, where he entered the city on Monday, 28 September 1609, attended by a suite of eighteen persons, and had an audience with Pope Paul V, who conferred upon him the title of Count. He next visited Milan, and then proceeded to Genoa, from whence he embarked to Spain, arriving in Barcelona in December 1609. He remained in Spain, principally at Madrid, until the summer of 1611. He returned to Persia in 1613 without receiving any commitments that could lead to a European-Persian alliance against the Ottomans. His embassy was deemed a failure and his standing at the Persian court was greatly diminished. Seeing no further opportunities in Persia, he returned to Europe in 1615 and resided at Madrid. Robert Shirley’s third journey to Persia was undertaken in 1627 when he accompanied Sir Dodmore Cotton the first British ambassador to the Kingdom of Persia, but soon after reaching the country he died at Qazvin, in what is today northwest Iran.

Domenicus Custos was a Flemish artist, printer and copperplate engraver, who was born in 1560 at Antwerp and died in 1612 at Augsburg. His career took him to Augsburg where he specialized in producing and publishing engraved portraits of rulers, nobles, statesmen, dignitaries, celebrities, military leaders and important businessmen. His main collaborator was the humanist Marcus Henning, with Custos being responsible for the engravings while Henning took care of the Latin texts and eulogies since Custos had little proficiency in the language.

Aegidius Sadeler II was born in 1570 at Antwerp to an artistic family and died in 1629 at Prague. His father was an art-dealer and his two uncles were engravers. His early career took him to Frankfurt, Munich and Rome where he worked with several artists who subsequently worked for the court of Rudolf II (Joris Hoefnagel, Hans von Aachen and Joseph Heintz the Elder). Once these artists moved to the Imperial court, they recommended Sadeler to the Emperor; in 1597 he was appointed to the court himself, where he became the most illustrious engraver of his time. Sadeler’s portraits of the Persian ambassadors in 1601 of Hossein 'Ali Beg Bayat and Anthony Shirley, in 1604 of Sinal Khan Shamlu, and in 1605 of Mehdi Quli Beg were based on paintings by the court-painter Essaye le Gillon, a Belgian painter who was the nephew of Carolus Clusius the physician and botanist whom he followed to Vienna in 1574. Le Gillon was already a painter at the court of Rudolf II in 1590 which is the earliest dated letter which he sends to Clusius from Prague.

Matthias Greuter was born in 1564 at Strasbourg and died in 1638 in Rome. He was mostly known for his cartographical works. He started his career in Avignon and Lyon and moved to Rome in 1606 were he received important commissions for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Pope Paul V, Pope Urban VIII, and the Accademia dei Lincei. He was commissioned by Robert Shirley to produce a portrait of him and highlight his audience with the pope, in order to publicize the importance of his embassy to the European courts.

Born in London in 1758, James Fittler, RA, studied engraving at the Royal Academy, London. He worked as a book illustrator but distinguished himself with his work at creating engravings after English and foreign artists. He was later appointed marine engraver to King George III. Fittler died in London in 1835.

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