Portrait of a Safavid Prince

Photo: Paul Macapia

Portrait of a Safavid Prince

ca. 1590-1630 or later

Like the portrait of Shah Jahan, this image features a single male figure placed in a neutral setting to emphasize the importance of the human subject. The triangular borders, with their multicolored flowers on golden tendrils, hint at a garden setting. The figure himself holds a flower in his hand, indicating that he is seated outdoors. The emphasis on nature is at odds with the fact that the figure does not cast a shadow and is not represented in a three-dimensional way suggesting a human body occupying space. The rendering is idealized, and the figure represents a type of persona courtier or princerather than a specific individual.  Men and women are represented in a similar fashion in Persian painting, with round, soft faces; tall willowy bodies; and dainty hands and feet. The identity of the prince in this portrait is not as significant as the elaborate detail and finely wrought setting for this ideal human being.

Although the figure may be a stereotype, great attention to detail is lavished on the portrait.  The artist chose to depict the face in a three-quarter viewemphasizing the smooth roundness of the cheekswhich in Persian painting is the most flattering perspective. Persian artists excelled in "miniature" painting, and many images can be appreciated fully only by viewing them through a magnifying glass. Creative virtuosity resided in the rendering of minute detail, and not as much in the faithful copying of an individual's features. Given the small size of this painting, the rendering of the details of the face, clothing and border decoration would have required the skill of a master miniaturist.
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
7 1/2 x 4 5/16 in. (19.1 x 10.9 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Alfred Horace Anderson
Provenance: Persian Art Centre, Inc. New York, NY, 1927; Estate of Mrs. Alfred Horace Anderson; donated to Seattle Art Museum, 1940
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view

Related Objects in SAM's Collection

Photo: Paul Macapia
Emperor Jangahir in pavilion with attendants, 18th century, Mughal, 38.155
Photo: Paul Macapia
Portrait of a Safavid Prince, late 16th century, Persian, 40.36
Photo: Paul Macapia
Portrait miniature, Shah Jahan, 17th century, Indian, 59.46

Art for the Palace/Tent

Secular Islamic manuscripts feature a variety of themes-some of them fantastic and mythical-illustrating popular literary and poetic works. Other manuscripts represent the lives and daily activities of the people who commissioned them-royal and elite patrons who populated the court in the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

The imagery in these secular Islamic manuscripts mirrors the lives of people in the upper levels of society and depicts their favorite pastimes. The images display a high degree of fantasy: court figures and rulers are represented in an ideal form, as they wished to be seen rather than the way they actually were. A certain tension exists between the real and the imaginary. One cannot be truly certain if what one sees is historically accurate.
The Alhambra, Grenada, Spain
Photo: Jaron Berman


One theme that characterizes secular Islamic manuscripts is portraits of rulers and society's elite. Portraiture became a significant genre of painting in the Islamic world in the seventeenth century. Rulers were generally not accessible to the public, so when their images were distributed widely, they provided a level of contact between the ruler and his subjects.  Contact with Europe brought more interest in the naturalism of portraiture, an art form that had been popular in the Western Mediterranean since Greek and Roman times.  
Portrait Miniature, Shah Jahan, 17th Century, Indian, 59.46


Karen Mathews, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Miami, on the prince depicted in this Persian manuscript
Karen Mathews, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Miami, discusses art for the palace or tent


Exhibition HistoryUtah, Provo, Brigham Young University, Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islam, February 24, 2012 - November, 2013

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

Learn more about Equity at SAM

Supported by Microsoft logo