ʿABBĀSĪ, ŠAYḴ, a Safavid miniature painter, whose known works include seventeen signed and dated examples executed between the years 1060/1650 and 1095/1683-84. Throughout his career it was his normal practice to sign his paintings with an obsequious formula which was written in minute characters, usually in a small rectangular panel of uncolored paper placed within the foreground vegetation. This reads: bahā gereft čo gardīd šayḵ ʿabbāsī, “It (or he) achieved worth because he became Šayḵ ʿAbbāsī,” i.e., he, or his work, gained value because his patron Shah ʿAbbās II had permitted him to use the nesba ʿAbbāsī.
Apart from an apparently early work in the standard Isfahan style of the second quarter of the 17th century (Cristie’s 10 July 1975, lot 197), Šayḵ ʿAbbāsī departed from the established conventions of Safavid painting and embarked upon an eclectic manner in which European and Indian elements played an important role. He was thus one of the forerunners of the trend in Iranian painting which later developed into the Qajar style. Eleven other paintings attributable to him have their inscriptions erased (Walters Art Gallery, MS 668, fols. 4v, 5r, 10v, 11r, 18v, 22v, 57r, 60v; Reza Library, Romper, album 5, fol. 15; Metropolitan Museum of Art, 30.95.174 ; and Topkapi Saray, H. 2142, fol. 25v). His style is also seen in approximately two dozen other paintings attributable to him or his associates and followers.
In his early work, typified by the painting of an acrobat and tambourine player in the Chester Beatty Library (Mughal MS 47-14; see Plate I), Šayḵ ʿAbbāsī uses a soft restricted palette in which the background paper is only partly covered with pigment. The figures are stiffly posed with smoothly graded modeling and extremely finely stippled faces, triangular in shape, often with darkly accented eyes and a cloying sweetness of expression. His landscape backgrounds are often distant Italianate towns among wooded hills. At a later date he uses stock conventions such as a stream flowing past a stylized tree, or a fountain gushing from a lion-mask carved in the side of an outcrop of rock. Generally his original stylistic tendencies are maintained in his later works, but faces are at times more heavily stippled or more coarsely rendered.
Unlike his contemporaries, Moḥammad Zamān and ʿAlī-qolī Jobba-dār, he does not directly copy European subjects and he shows very little direct understanding of the principles of European painting, of which his knowledge may have been partly gained from Turkish models. Similarly his attempts at portraying Indian subjects towards the end of his career show little familiarity with Indian costume details or Indian pictorial style. His most successful essay in the Indian manner is a lightly tinted drawing of a prince riding an elephant with retinue, dated 1086/1675-76, in the Musée Guimet (no. 7166).
With the exception of a group of illustrations from an unidentified manuscript, Šayḵ ʿAbbāsī’s works are mainly album paintings, including portraits of rulers (Shah ʿAbbās II and Shah Solaymān), equestrian subjects, the Virgin and Child, youths and ladies posed in landscapes or picnicking and listening to music. His two sons, Moḥammad Taqī and ʿAlī Naqī, were also painters and modeled their styles on that of their father.
F. R. Martin, The Miniature Painting and Painters of Persia, India and Turkey I, London, 1912, p. 123.
Paintings and Drawings of Persia and India from the Collection of John Frederick Lewis, Philadelphia, 1923, p. 31, no. 134.
E. Blochet, Catalogue of an Exhibition of Persian paintings (Demotte, Inc.), New York, 1929, no. 98.
I. Stchoukine, Les miniatures indiennes, Paris, 1929, p. 62.
Sotheby and Co., Catalogue of a Very Choice Collection of Indian MSS. And Miniatures, London, 5 February 1935, lots 53-56.
G. Wiet, Miniatures persanes turques et indiennes, Cairo, 1943, pp. 136-37.
Cat. Chester Beatty III, pp. 23, 68.
I. Stchoukine, Les peintures des manuscrits de Shāh ʿAbbās I à la fin de Safavīs, Paris, 1964, p. 82 (the bird painting mentioned here is actually by Šafīʿ ʿAbbāsī).
Islamic Art from the Collection of Edwin Binney 3rd, Washington, D.C., 1966, no. 53.
B. W. Robinson, “The Shāhnāmeh Manuscript Cochran 4 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ed. R. Ettinghausen, New York, 1972, pp. 72, 79, note 6.
A. Welsh, Shah Abbas and the Arts of Isfahan, New York, 1973, p. 100, no. 62.
Cristie’s, Fine Oriental Miniatures and Manuscripts, London, 10 July 1975, lot 197.
B. W. Robinson et al., Islamic Painting and the Arts of the Book, London, 1976, p. 212, no. 395.
B. W. Robinson et al., Persian and Mughal Art, London, 1976, p. 83, nos. 58 and 59.
Plate I. Miniature Painting of an Acrobat and a Tambourine Player by Šayḵ ʿAbbāsī (The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, MS 47-14)
Originally Published: December 15, 1982
Last Updated: July 13, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 1, pp. 86-88