Persian Miniature Painting: Ustad Abdollah

Ustad Abdollah
Ustad Abdollah
Ustad (Master) Abdollah

Plate 70a. Persia, Mid 16th century, Kunstgewerbemuseum, Leipzig.

Miniature formerly in the Schulz collection. The rock on the left bears the artists signature. The young man is seated in front of the branch, and it is the same theme as a miniature in the Vever collection (Marteau-Vever pl.123).

La Miniature En Orient by Ernst Kuhnel 1925

Translator’s Note: Khorasan, 990 (1582 – 1583)1.

Abdollah is a common name meaning “slave of”2. so the creator of this miniature is usually referred to as Abdollah-e Mozahheb. Abdollah was the intimate and confidant of Prince Ibrahim Mirza. Although some would dismiss Abdollah as a fairly unimportant artist however I suspect that he may have a far larger body of work than previously suggested and was one of the major influences in the art of the court of Ibrahim Mirza.3.

The style of Ustad Abdollah is very much the style of Mashad in the second half of the sixteenth century. I suspect that many of Abdullah’s pictures may be attributed to Mirza Ali and the other better known artists at the court of Ibrahim Mirza or not attributed at all 3. This is signed by Abdullah on the rock at the base of the tree so the attribution is certain. In his signed work he is most likely to sign on a rock.

One area that is a subject of controversy is the “Diwan of Ibrahim Mirza”. There is an inscription that indicates that it was the work of Abdollah-e Mozahheb. However Stuart Cary Welch has suggested that the “Diwan of Ibrahim Mirza” is the work of several artists and only the signed page can be attributed to Abdollah-e Mozahheb.5. Abolala Soudavar takes the other tact and suggests that the “Diwan of Ibrahim Mirza” is in it’s entirety the work of Abdollah-e Mozahheb.6.

Between 1616 and 1629 Iskandar Munshi wrote a work called the Tarikh-I-Alamara-yi- Abbasi. Sir Thomas Arnold translated the part dealing with painters in his book “Painting in Islam”.7. “Mawlana ‘Abd Allah Shirazi was also an accomplished worker in gold; after the murder of Sultan Ibrahim Mirza (in 1574) Ismail Mirza gave him an appointment in the library. At the same period there were other excellent artists and painters, such as Mohammadi of Herat and Naqdi Beg, &c. A selection has merely been ‘made of a few of the more famous masters of this art.'” The important part of this quote is the importance placed on Mawlana ‘Abd Allah Shirazi who I am calling Abdollah-e Mozahheb. Less than 50 years after the heyday of the court of Ibrahim Mirza Abdollah-e Mozahheb was considered an important artist. We can see here that he was seen as the equal of or superior to Mohammadi who today is considered a far more important artist that Abdollah-e Mozarheb. We must take as a very real possibility that the Persian esthetic placed a far higher value on the artistic skills of Abdollah-e Mozahheb than we in the modern day west generally do. Perhaps what I see as a weakness in the skill of Abdollah-e Mozahheb is really a weakness in my western, overly Eurocentic, taste.
Ustad Abdollah
Ustad Abdollah
In this comparison we can see many of the more distinctive elements of the Abdullah style in this two images. The use of this style of flowering trees is common. Abdullah often used the gold braided coats and as you can see his birds while rather crude are consistent. Note also the distinctive cloud-band variations and well as the distinctive spikes of the cypress. In most respects Abdullah is like a less talented version of Mirza Ali, but in the roof of the pavilion we can see that in such work Abdullah was the master in the court art of Khorasan.