A youthful dervish, his clothing rendered in uniformly dark hues of cool green, purple, and brown that contrast with the warm pink of his face and hands, is posed against a ground of ivory-colored paper, unpainted save for a common repertoire of golden landscape elements. He wears a plumed wool cap, carries a staff over his shoulder, and offers a sprig of yellow, red, and gray leaves to a companion beyond the picture frame. An inscription that reads, raqm/raqam-i kamina Riza-yi ?Abbasi (work of the humble Riza ?Abbasi)—the customary wording of the artist’s signed works—appears at the lower left. Although raqm or raqam ordinarily means “writing” or “figuring” here it makes more sense translated as “work” or “design.” Riza’s frequent use of this term in his signatures suggests a conceptual blurring of the boundaries between the arts of writing and of depicting and, in addition, may represent a claim of entitlement to the high status accorded to calligraphers.
Title: Youth Dressed as a Dervish, folio from an album
Physical Dimensions: w20.4 x h32.3 cm
Period: Safavid period
Credit Line: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Creation Place: Isfahan/Iran/Middle East
Artist: Aqa Riza (Riza ‘Abbasi)
External Link: Harvard Art Museums
Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
1565 – 1635
Reza Abbasi was the leading Persian miniaturist of the Isfahan School during the later Safavid period, spending most of his career working for Shah Abbas I He is considered to be the last great master of the Persian miniature, best known for his single miniatures for muraqqa or albums, especially single figures of beautiful youths
Riza was possibly born in Kashan, as Āqā Riżā Kāshānī is one of the versions of his name; it has also been suggested that he was born in Mashad, where his father, the miniature artist Ali Asghar, is recorded as having worked in the atelier of the governor, Prince Ibrahim Mirza After Ibrahim’s murder, Ali Asghar joined Shah Ismail II’s workshop in the capital Qasvin Riza probably received his training from his father and joined the workshop of Shah Abbas I at a young age By this date, the number of royal commissions for illustrated books had diminished, and had been replaced by album miniatures in terms of employment given to the artists of the royal workshop
Unlike most earlier Persian artists, he typically signed his work, often giving dates and other details as well, though there are many pieces with signatures that scholars now reject He may have worked on the ambitious, but incomplete Shahnameh, now in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin A much later copy of the work, from 1628, at the end of Abbas’ reign and rendered in a very different style, may also be his It is now in the British Library His first dated drawing is from 1601, in the Topkapi Palace A book miniature of 1601-2 in the National Library of Russia has been attributed to him; the only other miniature in the book is probably by his father He is generally attributed with the 19 miniatures in a Khusraw and Shirin of 1631-32, although their quality has been criticised
His speciality, however, was the single miniature for the albums or muraqqas of private collectors, typically showing one or two figures with a lightly drawn garden background, sometimes in gold, in the style formerly used for border paintings, with individual plants dotted about on a plain background These vary between pure pen drawings and fully painted subjects with colour throughout, with several intermediate varieties The most typical have at least some colour in the figures, though not in the background; later works tend to have less colour His, or his buyers’, favourite subjects were idealized figures of stylishly dressed and beautiful young men.
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