There existed, in the early Qajar period, a tradition of 'historical' portraiture, important as dynastic legitimacy continued to be an issue of consequence. The numerous depictions of the Qajar royal family were perhaps intended to reinforce the length of the pedigree and the importance of the dynasty. Charles Texier counted some 60 in different palaces (Vol. II, 1853, pp.128-9, referenced in Julian Raby, Qajar Portrai ts, London, 1999, p.49). The tradition was well established by the time Fath 'Ali Shah acceded to the throne, and it must certainly have played a role in the projection of his monarchical pretensions (Raby, op. cit., p.49). Aga Muhammad Khan (1742-97), as the man credited with the establishment of the Qajar dynasty, is unusual as subject matter but logical when considered within this framework of portraiture as a mechanism for portraying political legitimacy.
The facial style of Aga Muhammad Khan in this work is interesting. There seemed to be a tendency towards depicting faces either with a distinct youthful innocence or old and wizened. In two of a series of historical portraits by Mehr 'Ali published in Raby's Qajar Portraits (Nos. 115-6, pp.50-1), the features of Afrasiyab, the King of Turan and Chingiz Khan are painted in the latter style, riddled with wrinkles and with soft features and downcast expression, reminiscent of the present example.