Prince of Persia
Magnificent Portrait of Qajar Ruler Fath-Ali Shah

A monumental portrait of Fath-Ali Shah, the second ruler of the Qajar dynasty, seated against a jewelled bolster, will be offered at Bonhams Islamic and Indian sale on 30 April 2019 in London. The rare work, which will appear at auction for the first time, was commissioned by the Qajar court to adorn the royal pavilion. Estimate on request.

Fath-Ali Shah, who reigned for 40 years after one of the most terrible civil wars in Persian history, is considered a major catalyst of Persia's cultural revival. He came to power in 1796 at the age of 24 after succeeding his much-feared uncle, Agha Mohammad Shah. Unlike his brutal uncle, Fath-Ali Shah encouraged poetry and the visual arts; he understood how art and a carefully cultivated imperial image could compensate for a lack of military prowess.

Known for his generous patronage and commitment to the arts, Fath-Ali Shah used both painting and architecture as propaganda to demonstrate his authority. Writing for the Spring edition of the Bonhams Magazine, William Dalrymple wrote, "He set about creating bejewelled royal and dynastic images of fabulous gravity and splendour. These magnificent images of the Shah's reign, mixing for the first time a modulated western influence on Persian art, have only recently begun to receive the attention they deserve."

Fath-Ali Shah's enthusiasm for self-promotion led to the incomparable canon of life-sized portraits commissioned by the Qajar court. These works would have been paraded through the streets, sent abroad as diplomatic gifts or created to adorn palace walls. The painting offered in the Bonhams sale is a wonderful example of the latter, it would have occupied pride of place within a prominent royal pavilion. An important and imposing projection of the King's imperial might, virtue and wealth. Fath-Ali Shah's glamorised appearance; his luxuriant black beard, slim waist and youthful demeanour made him instantly recognisable throughout Iran - even today.

Oliver White, Bonhams Head of Islamic and Indian Art Department said, "The portrait in the sale is a unique record of a fascinating moment in Persian history. Fath Ali Shah's reign marked the resurgence of Persian arts and culture and the large-scale paintings of his image have become some of the rarest and most valued objects in the Islamic art world."

Dr Amir Farman-Farma, the Chairman of the Qajar Family Association, and a great great-grandson of Fath Ali Shah said, "It is wonderful to see Bonhams holding an auction devoted solely to Qajar art, which is finally getting the attention it deserves. The Qajars were the last traditional monarchs of Persia - their power was home-grown and strictly based on the strength of their tribe and its alliances.

"Their gaze was also directed outward; Nasser Al-Din Shah, Mozzafar El-Din Shah and Ahmad Shah were the first Persian kings to travel to Europe. Their exoticism, elegance and style captured the European imagination. Qajar-era painting, architecture and clothing developed a distinct, syncretic style, which can be observed in the impressive collection of works assembled by Bonhams for this auction."

Also in the sale is a magnificent gold-damascened watered steel sword bearing the name of Fath-Ali Shah. The single-edged sword with a bejeweled hilt has an estimate of £20,000-30,000.


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