East-West: Room 6

Sayyid Mirza Laquer Pen Box
Nasrat Allah Shiraz Queen Elizabeth II
Miniature portrait Abbas Mirza
Miniature portrait Fath Ali Shah

Sayyid Mirza Lacquer painted pen box probably showing King George III and his two sons, the future George IV and the Duke of York 1842

Papier mâché painted under a clear varnish
235 x 42 x 38 mm
The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

This pen box is decorated with portraits of the ruling house of Great Britain: King George III and his two sons King George IV and the Duke of York. The inscription reads ‘the Sultan, son of the Sultan, Muhammad Shah Ghazi’. The artist was best known for his oil portraits of royal figures, especially those instituted by Fath Ali Shah, who was a great patron of both eastern and western arts.

This may have been a gift related to military alliances between English and Iranian governments during the ongoing wars in Afghanistan. Here is a striking example of western figures represented for an eastern court.

If this display offers an ‘orientalist’ perception of the East by the West, do these objects offer an opposing ‘occidentalist’ view?

Between Britons and Muslims there was no colonial discourse, practice, or goal. Muslims were seen to be different and strange, infidels and ‘barbarians’, admirable or fearsome, but they did not constitute colonial targets.

Nabil Matar Turks, Moors and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery 1999

Nasrat Allah Shiraz, Queen Elizabeth II after Annigoni 1960

Painting on ivory
216 x 116 mm
Lent by the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

Nasrat Allah Shiraz’s painting of Queen Elizabeth II is based upon Pietro Annigoni’s iconic 1954 portrait.

In Europe, the 1960s and 1970s was celebrated as a time of intellectual radicalism and conceptual experimentation. For Iran, it was a time of political upheaval that still reverberates today. In 1979 Britain and America supported the monarch (Shah) who was ultimately overthrown during the Islamic Revolution. This portrait is a self-conscious celebration of British royal celebrity that belonged to Iran before the Shah was removed from power.

Miniature portraits of ‘Abbas Mirza and Fath ‘Ali Shah

England about 1825
Enamelled and gilded porcelain, 66 x 53 mm
Lent by the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

These portraits are copies of works originally made by artist, Sir Robert Ker Porter during his travels to Iran in 1817-20. In 1818, Ker Porter met with Prince Abbas Mirza at Tabriz and described him as ‘rather above the ordinary stature’ with ‘dark and expressive eyes’. Having taken his likeness, Ker Porter travelled to Tehran where he was granted an audience with Fath Ali Shah again taking his portrait.

When Ker Porter returned to England he had his sketches engraved as frontispieces to his published travel journals. These miniatures suggest a lively interest in Iranian affairs around this time.