Portrait of Prince Ardashir Mirza

Portrait of Prince Ardashir Mirza by Abu'l Hasan Ghaffari / Sani' al-Mulk d. 1852-53AD

Portrait of Prince Ardashir Mirza by Abu'l Hasan Ghaffari / Sani' al-Mulk d. 1852-53AD
Portrait of Prince Ardashir Mirza by Abu'l Hasan Ghaffari / Sani' al-Mulk d. 1852-53AD
Comments: Abu'l Hasan Ghaffari also known as Abu'l Hasan kashani and Sani' al-Mulk
measurements note 43.2 by 30.5cm.
gouache on paper heightened with gold, the sitter in an interior decorated with richly coloured and decorated materials, a table at his side with writing implements, a landscape is glimpsed through a window beyond, inscription in upper right corner "huwa'l-maqar shabih navab mustatab shahzadeh-i `azam Ardashir Mirza Hukmaran-i Dar al-Khalafeh-i Tehran va Tavabi`" , signed at lower left "raqam-i Abu'l Hasan naqqash-bashi Ghaffari sanna 1269", a note on the plain verso in pencil in an English hand (presumably that of J.A. Churchill (see provenance below)) reads "Cost Ardashir Mirza 100 toumans, the work of the celebrated Abul Hasan Kashani d.1269, portrait of Ardashir Mirza, cost me £5"
"He (God) is the Bringer of Honour
The portrait of the Highness, the Gracious, the Great Prince Ardashir Mirza, Governor of the capital Tehran and its dependencies"

This portrait is a fine example of the high quality work executed by the artist Abu'l Hasan Ghaffari. A native of Kashan and a member of a family who had been practising artists for generations, Ghaffari was born in 1812, apprenticed to Mihr 'Ali at the age of fifteen and eventually appointed court painter by Muhammad Shah in 1842. After his promotion Ghaffari travelled to Italy and France and studied European art for four years. He returned to Iran full of enthusiasm for the western approach to painting, and the title of naqqash bashi was bestowed on him. In 1861 he was given the title of Sani' al-Mulk and placed in charge of several important artistic projects, including the illustration of a monumental copy of The Thousand and One Nights, the newly founded Dar al-Funun college of art and the weekly government newspaper.

He was a master draughtsman whose naturalistic style and incisive observation profoundly influenced the later Qajar artists. B.W. Robinson has described him as "arguably the greatest artist of the Qajar period" (Ferrier 1989, p.229). His years of study in Europe certainly influenced his style and brought a psychological realism to his work, which marked him out from his predecessors, but he retained the more traditional approach of generations of Persian artists in his attention to detail and pattern. The depiction of the carpet, the wall decoration, the Kirman cloak, the ornate chair and the flowers on the table is meticulous and precise, conveying a richness and luxury which was wholly appropriate to the sitter, a man who was a Qajar prince, a grandson of Fath `Ali Shah, uncle of the then Shah and governor of Tehran when this portrait was painted.

Ardashir Mirza's pensive, almost brooding gaze conveys a troubled mind. What exactly it is he is contemplating we do not know, but it is unsurprising in so hardened a military campaigner and political player. The ninth son of Crown Prince Abbas Mirza, he was a long-standing military commander and loyal ally of the crown. He was a successful politician who at various stages during his career was governor of Gilan, Mazandaran, Luristan, Khuzistan and Tehran, viceroy of Azarbayjan and regent to the crown.

Diba notes the importance of the advent of photography to Qajar portraiture at this period and recalls its beneficial effect on Persian art. Photography provided a widely disseminated artistic form that influenced many Qajar artists, bringing a greater realism to their works by providing tangible examples of real life space, depth and character