Mir Tuni, A Lady Watching her Dog Drink Wine from a Bowl
Seventeenth century Isfahan, a city now in modern Iran, was an important centre for illustration. The Persian Shia faith allowed a different interpretation of the prohibition on images which had created alternative decorative traditions elsewhere – most notably in the Ottoman Empire.
This example, by the artist Mir Afzal of Tun, depicts a reclining female figure, indolently watching her dog drink wine from a bowl. The splendour of her dress, coupled with her posture, indicates that she is a high-class prostitute. As with other paintings in this room, we are encouraged to focus upon the female form and consider its sensuousness and its dangerous temptations.
What connections might we make between this Persian painting and Pre-Raphaelite art? Are conventions of beauty, heroism and myth culturally specific?
Alexander the Great Building a Brazen Wall Across the Caucusus Against the People of Gog and Magog
Gouache and gold on paper, 560 x 405 mm
Lent by the British Museum
Alexander the Great, like religious figures such as Abraham, was celebrated equally in both eastern and western cultural traditions. The Ottoman ruler Mehmed II ‘the Conqueror’ who captured Constantinople in 1453, was fascinated by Alexander’s martial prowess and sought to emulate him, as did the Christian Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
This early illustration, another from the rich Persian tradition, extols the superhuman qualities of Alexander and – like other works in this room – is preoccupied with ideas of heroism and history. Here the warrior-king walls his kingdoms to keep out the tribes of Gog and Magog, described in both the Bible and the Qur’an.