Representations of Theater & Popular Entertainment in Safavid Miniatures
The Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) is associated with some of the most exquisite works of miniature ever produced in Iran. In terms of significant political and social events, this era can be considered as a turning point in the history of Persian art. One of the considerable events that occurred during this period was the expansion of relations with Europe, the reflection of which might be found in paintings. Moreover, the unsteady royal patronage of miniature painting, especially in the second century of Safavid rule, resulted in the emergence of other patrons of art. The role of these new patrons, who were mostly merchants, professionals and officials, altered the types and content of Safavid miniature paintings. The artists produced single page paintings and drawings, which were not intended for inclusion in literary texts but were rather designed for exquisite albums. This new form of miniature was created most often under the direction of a painter or calligrapher. They grouped together calligraphy, miniatures, drawings, and also ancient works of art. The increased attention to the single page and album making is one of the characteristics of later Safavid art. It was in this context that new subject matters like theater and popular entertainments were chosen by the painters. This paper, which studies theater and popular entertainments in the Safavid period in two groups of religious and non-religious, tries to answer the question of their representation in paintings and drawings. Of the religious types of drama only several examples of dancing dervishes can be mentioned. Among the non-religious examples, attacking animals and other kinds of playing with animals are most often illustrated. The significance of this type of popular entertainment is revealed from the fact that the most famous painters of the later Safavid period like Riza Abbasi (d. 1635), Mu‘in-i Musavvir (d. 1693) and Muhammad Ali have depicted such themes. Whereas most of the talented painters worked for the royal courts, Riza Abbasi, the chief painter of the court of Shah Abbas I (r. 1587 - 1629), since around 1603 held a non-conformist attitude and depicted scenes of everyday life and popular entertainment. In this period of his life that Sheila Canby have referred to as the “rebellious” period, Riza veered away from his courtly life and employment, associating with dervishes, wrestlers, and musicians. One of the most talented followers of him, Mu‘in-i Musavvir, was as prolific a painter like his master. They have portrayed several cases of a monkey riding a lion or ram and also scenes depicting a monkey-trainer (or qarrad). By the beginning of the seventeenth century, several representations of dancers dressed in goat skins, some of which drawn by Muhammadi Heravi, had survived. Muhammad Ali, the well-known Isfahan painter of the mid-seventeenth century, has also depicted animals specially trained for circus performances. Of the other examples of non-religious drama, several miniatures in manuscripts and albums that depict scenes of royal clowns, dancing ceremonies, wrestling matches and playing polo, have survived. It seems that in spite of the fact that Safavid rulers were staunch supporters of Shiʿi Islam, none of the religious ceremonies like taʿzīa was illustrated during their rule. In fact, most types of drama in the Modern sense were formed outside of the royal courts and were not patronized by the Safavid rulers.
Article Type:
Research/Original Article
Journal of Theoretical principles of Visual Arts, Volume:5 Issue: 1, 2020
53 - 67  
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