A portrait of a kneeling royal prince with a falcon Safavid Persia, probably Tabriz, circa 1540-70, landscape added in Mughal India in the 17th Century
Lot 23
A portrait of a kneeling royal prince with a falcon
Safavid Persia, probably Tabriz, circa 1540-70, landscape added in Mughal India in the 17th Century
Sold for £15,600 (US$ 20,585) inc. premium

Lot Details
A portrait of a kneeling royal prince with a falcon
Safavid Persia, probably Tabriz, circa 1540-70, landscape added in Mughal India in the 17th Century
gouache in colours and some gold on paper, laid down on card with inner margins of beige and blue paper, outer borders of gilt-sprinkled blue paper, trimmed, creased, small tears, in margin an 18th-century seal impression of the Asaf Jahi court, framed
album page 260 x 201 mm.; miniature 146 x 100 mm.


  • Provenance: UK private collection since the 19th Century.

    The seal impression is that of Vizir al-Mamalik Asaf al-Dawla Asaf Jah Yahya Khan Bahadur Huzhabr Jang, a minister in the court of the Asaf Jahi dynasty in Hyderabad.

    The prince wears a blue robe adorned with gilt palmettes over a red shirt, a striped sash tied round his waist holding a dagger, two knives and a large white handkerchief. He looks attentively at a falcon perched on an embroidered leather gauntlet worn on his outstretched right hand. He also wears a low turban of white cloth wrapped around a gold cap and decorated with a black rimmed white feather. In the background there is a hilly landscape with green bushes including some resembling prickly pears, painted by a different hand in India in the 17th Century.

    This fine portrait was probably painted around 1540-70, at a time when the 'arts of the book' had reached their zenith at the courts of the Timurid Sultan Husain Bayqara (reigned 1469-70 and 1470-1506) in Herat and the Safavid Shah Tahmasb (reigned 1524-76) in Tabriz. Towards the end of his life the Shah moved his capital to Qazwin, and appointed his nephew Sultan Ibrahim Mirza as governor of Mashhad, which resulted in the movement of artists to these two cities and the establishment of two new schools of Persian painting. Other court artists, including Abdu'l-Samad, Mir Sayyid 'Ali and Mir Musavvir, travelled to India when the Emperor Humayun returned from exile in 1555 after living in Persia since 1544. These artists were instrumental in founding the Mughal school of painting, 'a more naturalistic mode in which Safavid, Bukharan, Hindu and Muslim Indian styles were synthesised' (S. C. Canby, Persian Painting, London 1993, p. 83).

    This portrait retains all the characteristics of a painting produced in Persia towards the middle of the 16th Century. The kingly posture of the sitter, his large face, confident gaze, and his expensive costume and headwear all point to a royal personage. Dr. Barbara Brend observes that one does not feel that the sitter is a working falconer, and that the posture and the physical features of the face are reminiscent of earlier portraits of Sultan Husain Bayqara, or possibly of his son Muhammad Hasan. The kneeling posture and the flattened turbans also remind her of similar headdresses seen in the early Safavid manuscript of Asafi's Jamal and Jalal, Herat, dated 1502-3, the late Aq Quyunlu 'Big Head Shahnama', Turkman, Gilan, 1494, and the illustration of 'Khusrau and Shirin make love on the second night' from a manuscript of Amir Khusrau's Khamsa, Yazd, dated 1497 (SK 29) 127a, H. 801, in the Topkapi Museum, Istanbul; see B. Brend, Perspectives on Persian Painting: Illustrations to Amir Khusrau's Khamsa, London 2003, pl. 51.

    In this portrait the royal posture, the conveying of the volume and weight of the body and the arrangement of the trunk and limbs in three dimensions all have a striking similarity in feeling to a portrait of a seated princess with a spray of flowers attributable to Mirza 'Ali, Tabriz, circa 1540. Stuart Cary Welch states that: 'Few schools of painting in the world outshone the elegance of Safavid portraiture', and when he describes the princess as 'unapproachably royal, perfectly mannered, without stiffness, formally aloof, yet friendly', one cannot but be reminded of this portrait. (See S. C. Welch, Wonders of the Age: Masterpieces of Early Painting 1501–1576, Boston 1979, pp. 184-185).

    In conclusion, this handsome portrait was painted either by one of the many artists who worked under royal patronage in one of the centres of manuscript production such as Tabriz, Herat, Mashhad or Qazwin sometime between 1540 and 1570, or because of the added Indian background and later seal impression of the Asaf Jahi court, might have been done in India in the early days of Mughal painting production, after the return of the Emperor Humayun, by a Persian artist who was still painting in a purely Persian style, and had not yet adapted to the new Mughal style which was in its formative days.
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