Shah Quli (d.1555/56) was the most important proponent of the lyrical "saz style" of Ottoman court painting in the 16th century. Head of the atelier of Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent for more than ten years, he is first recorded as a craftsman taken from Tabriz by Selim I after the battle of Çaldiran in 1514 (J.M.Rogers, Empire of the Sultans, London, 1995, p.224). He is known to have worked in a variety of media, but one of the things for which he is best known is a series of drawings of dragons. The inclusion of one of his unfinished sketches in the album compiled in 1544 for the Safavid prince Bahram Mirza, demonstrates that in mid-16th century Tabriz it was seen as a remarkable work.
The present picture is a reversed version of two other larger drawings, one in the Cleveland Museum of Art (Türkische Kunst und Kultur aus osmanischer Zeit, Recklinghausen, 1985, p.54), and the other in the Khalili collection (Rogers, op.cit., London, 1995 p.224). For further examples of dragons drawn in the "saz style" and a discussion on their dating see Walter B. Denny, 'Dating Ottoman Turkish Works in the Saz Style', Muqarnas, vol.I, Massachusetts, 1983, pp.103-21.