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 Portrait of Jalal al-Din Mirza
New Acquisitions: 2016

Portrait of Jalal al-Din Mirza

With large, slightly hooded eyes, this elegantly dressed figure stares intently at the viewer, his gloved hand placed confidently on his belt. He is identified as “the noble prince Jalal al-Din Mirza ibn Fath Ali Shah Qajar at the age of thirty years.” In this portrait, the prince’s cosmopolitanism and refinement is reflected by his tall astrakhan hat, which he has paired with a Victorian gold-embroidered black coat, favored by Iranian nobility. Behind him, a partially raised fringed curtain, a European-inspired prop, offers a glimpse into a distant landscape.

A historian and freethinker, Jalal al-Din Mirza (1827–1872) was the fifty-fifth son of the Qajar ruler Fath-Ali Shah (reigned 1797–1834). He grew up to become a critic of the slow pace of Qajar reform and, from 1868 and 1871, wrote a history of Iran (Nama-yi Khusruvan) intended for the general public, especially children. Composed in simple Persian and shunning Arabic loan words and terms, the chronicle offered a new national outlook for Iran, one that was devoid of foreign influence. It claimed that country’s worst enemies were the Arabs—and, by extension, the Islamic conquest of the seventh century—and the Mongols.

By 1871, the Qajar prince had contracted syphilis and lost his eyesight. He died a year later, at the age of forty-eight. But his Nama-yi Khusruvan continued to play an important role in subsequent decades as Iran forged its modern identity.

Although unsigned, this portrait of Jalal al-Din Mirza is attributed to one of Iran’s most celebrated Qajar painters, Abu’l Hassan Ghaffari, Sani‘ al-mulk (1814–1866). Originally from Kashan, he was trained by the court artist Mihr Ali. In 1842, the Qajar ruler Muhammad Shah sent the artist to France and Italy to study. Upon his return to Iran in 1850, Abu’l Hassan Ghaffari displayed a distinct new style of portraiture, which combined an acute understanding of the sitter’s physical likeness and psychological state with a certain degree of abstraction. He was appointed court painter and, in 1861, received the honorific title Sani‘ al-mulk (Exalted craftsman of the realm).

This oil portrait of Jalal al-Din Mirza incorporates many of Abu’l Hassan Ghaffari’s stylistic trademarks. The subtle interplay of realism and abstraction, seen in the treatment of the figure as well as his setting, are found in the artist’s other works. The result is a powerful likeness of one of the most colorful and intellectually gifted Qajar princes.

Attributed to Abu’l Hassan Ghaffari, Sani‘ al-mulk (1814–1866)
Iran, Qajar period, dated May–June 1859 (AH Shawwal 1275)
Oil on canvas
Purchase—Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

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