Georgii Ivanovich Gabashvili, who painted under pseudonym Gigo Gabaev, was one of the most famous artists of the Republic of Georgia. Regarded as an unsurpassed master of painterly effects and precise drawing techniques, he is considered a founder of the new Critical Realism School of painting in Georgian art. Educated at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, where he was influenced by Gotfrid Villeval'de (1818-1903), a renowned painter of battle scenes, he held his first personal exhibition in 1891 when he was 29 years old. His best works, such as Three Townsmen (1893), Kurd (1890), Georgian Woman with a Tambourine (1893) and many others are now housed in the National Georgian Museum, Tbilisi.
The Bazaar in Samarkand is one of four versions the Georgian artist painted of this famous market in front of the Shir Dar Madrasa at the Registan Square in present-day Uzbekistan. Another large-scale painting showing a similar scene, but at a different angle, is currently in the collection of Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi. (fig.1). During this period Gabashvili was heavily influenced by another famous painter, Vasily Vereshchagin. Vereshchagin worked on similar themes during the 1870s and his paintings from this era would have been known to Gabashvili. Vereshchagin 's painting entitled Madrasah Shir-Dhor at Registan place in Samarkand, 1869-70 is currently housed at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and depicts a scene in front of the same architectural setting as that of the present work (fig. 2).
For this subject matter both Gabashvili and Vereshchagin used large scale canvases and a low horizon line in order to depict the monumental height and size of Shir Dar Madrasa. While Vereshchagin's horizontal placement of the façade of the Madrasa allows the edifice to work as a theatrical backdrop, Gabashvili's placement of the same building on a diagonal angle elongates the length of the Madrasa and exaggerates the dimensions of the market square. This placement enables Gabashvili to communicate a heightened sense of grandeur and therefore admiration of the viewer.
The Shir Dar Madrasa was built in the 17th Century as a teaching institution and residential school of Islamic sciences. The main exterior consists of three contrasting volumes: the imposing rectangular portal, the twin-ribbed domes, and two slender, framing minarets. The dome's transition from high cylindrical drums to stalactites and then to enamel tiled ribs is particularly noteworthy. The tympani on the entrance portal depict lion-like tigers pursuing gazelles, overlooked by human-faced rising suns. Thus, the portal appears to determine the name, Shir Dar, which translates to 'lion bearing'. The structure was first restored in the 1920s and 30s after the Russian invasion, but extensive reconstructions were carried out in the 1950s. Tilting minarets were straightened and steel bands were used to reinforce cracking domes and buckling walls. Large sections of the inner courtyard's upper alcoves were rebuilt with substantial repairs to stucco and tile ornament in 1962. These restorations are easily noticeable when the present painting from circa 1895 is compared with a contemporary photograph of the building.