Persian Miniature Painting: The Kevorkian Portrait of a Seated Flautist

The Kevorkian Portrait of a Seated Flautist
The Kevorkian Portrait of a Seated Flautist
Portrait of an elderly musician playing the flute while seated on a ‘Savonarola’ chair, Safavid Persia or Mughal India, c.1570 gouache with gold on cream paper, uncolored background decorated with flowers in silver and gold, illuminated calligraphic panel above the miniature with 8 lines of diagonal Nastaliq on a gold floral ground, further couplet in neat Nastaliq on gold ground at lower left, margins ruled in colors and gold, borders of stout blue paper finely decorated in gold and silver with animals and mythical beasts in wooded landscapes, miniature 178 by 104mm., page 336 by 232mm,

Formerly in the Hagop Kevorkian Collection, sold in these rooms 7th April 1975, lot 30 (recto of an album leaf, the verso of which is lot 57 in this sale) and from a dispersed album of which another leaf, showing a portrait of Sultan Husayn Bayqara, was sold in these rooms, 1st December 1969, lot 68.
This is a fine and rather interesting portrait, showing aspects of both Persian and Mughal painting at a time when the various Persian schools were intricately linked with the emerging Mughal style. There arc several characteristics which arc found more often on Persian paintings of the period, particularly the gold and silver decoration of flowers and leaves on the uncolored background, the red shading on the yellow sleeves of the flautist’s shirt, his feet (where both the shoes and the rather flat painterly style are Persianate) and the rather molded, calligraphic style of the drapery. However, several other features are more typical of Mughal work of the period, particularly the strongly modeled face with the furrowed brow and slightly frizzy hair, the broad areas of strong red and blue pigment and the ‘Savonarola’-type chair, which was picked up by Mughal artists from European prints and can be seen in a late sixteenth century painting of a female musician in the British Museum (Rogers, 1993, no.52). Two other Mughal works which exhibit similar painterly characteristics are a painting in the British Museum of a mendicant dervish dated to circa 1570 (ibid., no.10) and a painting of a Portuguese couple sold in these rooms.
The Kevorkian Portrait of a Seated Flautist
When the present work was previously sold in these rooms in 1975 it was catalogued as ‘Qazvin, c.1560-70’. While a Qazvin origin is certainly plausible, with artists such as Siyavush and Naqdi being possibilities, an eastern Iranian origin in Herat or Khorasan, where the Shamlu dynasty were patronizing artists at the period, is also a possibility. The second half of the sixteenth century was a time of a great movement of Persian artists to Mughal patrons in India and with the mix of Persian and Mughal characteristics exhibited in this painting, there is a strong possibility that it could be the product of a Persian artist working in India.

The borders of the page are very finely drawn in gold and are typical of Persian work of the third quarter of the sixteenth century. The page was originally the recto of lot 57 in this sale and the borders of that drawing show stylistic influence from the Tabriz school of the mid-sixteenth century.

Whatever its exact origins, this painting is a rare and fine example of the exciting artistic developments of the second half of the sixteenth century in which influences within the Persian and Indian Milieu (and indeed the Turkish) were fluid and dynamic.