Special Issue: Qajar Art and Society

Iranian Studies, Volume 34, Issue 1-4, 2001

Qajar Art and Society
Guest Editor: Layla S. Diba

Iranian Studies: The Journal of the International Society of Iranian Studies, Volume 34, Numbers 1-4, 2001

This volume originated in the papers presented at a symposium entitled: ‘Representing the Qajars: New Research in the Study of Nineteenth-Century Iran‘ held on 11-12 December, 1998 at New York University and at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The volume was dedicated to the memory of Mahmood T. Diba and funded by the Soudavar Memorial Foundation. The publication featured an introduction by Layla S. Diba and essays by twelve eminent scholars of Iranian Art and Culture. A section on resources and book reviews in Persian was also included. Mahmood Diba, [respectively the husband and father of our board members, Layla S. Diba and Ahmad-Reza Diba, was instrumental in defining the ideas that went into the creation of the Soudavar Foundation with the bequest of the late Fereidoun Soudavar.


he history of Iran in the nineteenth-century, the era of Qajar rule, has been a relatively well-tilled field of Western scholarship. Crucial as Iran was to the superpower politics of the time, the procession of Qajar kings and princes, and their policies drew the attention of outsiders almost from the very beginning of the dynasty’s reign, although generally from political or commercial perspectives. Until recently, though, little has been done to uncover, examine, analyze, and appreciate the richness of Qajar cultural life, especially the aesthetics of the period in the visual arts—painting, architecture, and photography—and to connect those aesthetics to a domestic interpretation of the past as well as to contemporary foreign influences. For historians generally, and historians of visual culture particularly, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries of Iranian history—the Timurid and Safavid eras—have received disproportionate attention and been appraised as a zenith in Iranian artistic expression. Succeeding eras have been measured against the aesthetics and creativity of those earlier centuries, and generally found wanting.

In 1998-1999, Layla S. Diba, Hagop Kevorkian Curator of Islamic Art at the Brooklyn Museum organized an exhibition of Qajar royal art and a symposium on Qajar culture at the museum and at New York University that forever changed this perception of the Qajar period. For those who were unable to see the exhibition in New York or in London, the catalogue, ‘Royal Persian Paintings: The Qajar Epoch, 1785-1925‘, edited by Dr. Diba with Maryam Ekhtiar (London and Brooklyn, NY, 1998), is a startling record of the creativity of the Qajar era.

The symposium which met in December 1998 also produced new revelations about the visual culture of the Qajars in areas other than painting, including rock carving, numismatics, architecture, photography, jewelry, and caricature. Those papers, with only one or two exceptions, have been revised and enlarged for publication in this issue.

A number of people and institutions have provided invaluable help in assembling the illustrations that accompany these studies. Individuals who deserve special thanks are Pierre Cambon, Maryam Ekhtiar, Judith Lemer, May Schinasi, and Jeffrey Spun. Institutions whose cooperation and help we gratefully acknowledge are the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Sackler Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, Harvard University’s Fine Arts Library and Semitic Museum Photo Archives, and the Musee Nationale des Arts Asiatiques—Guimet.

R. D. McChesney
Editor, Iranian Studies


Layla S. Diba

Invested with life: wall painting and imagery before the Qajars
Layla S. Diba

The Kayanid crown and Qajar reclaiming of royal authority
Abbas Amanat

The Qajar rock reliefs
J. P. Luft

Coinage of the Qajars: a system in continual transition
Priscilla Soucek

Gendered transformations: beauty, love, and sexuality in Qajar Iran
Afsaneh Najmabadi

The architecture and decoration of the Gulistan palace: the aims and achievements of Fath cAli Shah (1797–1834) and Nasir Al‐din Shah (1848–1896)
Jennifer M. Scarce

Face of the seven spheres: the urban morphology and architecture of nineteenth‐century Isfahan (part two)
Heidi Walcher

The power‐ful art of Qajar photography: orientalism and (self)‐orientalizing in nineteenth‐century Iran
Ali Behdad

Nasir Al‐din Shah and the Dar Al‐funun: the evolution of an institution
Maryam Ekhtiar

Print culture in late Qajar Iran: the cartoons of Kashkūl
Shiva Balaghi

Reflections on Qajar art and its significance
Oleg Grabar

The Qajar era in the mirror of time
Ehsan Yarshater

Newspapers and journals reprinted from 1991 to 2001
Mansoureh Ettehadieh (Nezam‐Mafi)

Historical works relating to the Qajar era published in Iran, 1996–2001
Mansoureh Ettehadieh (Nezam‐Mafi) Mas‘ud Erfaniyan