Celebrating Iranian Art in the British Museum
Exhibition of “Shah Abbas, The Remaking of Iran”
One of the most talked about exhibitions of the British Museum in London this year is “Shah Abbas, The Remaking of Iran,” honoring the art of Safavid Dynasty. The British press wrote many articles about the specifics of this exhibition long before its opening.
This exhibition, featuring objects including: carpets, paintings, calligraphies, and porcelain plates of Safavid reign, will go on until June 14 of this year. It is arranged in association with the Iran Heritage Foundation. In addition to the artifacts collected from different museums in England, it features loans from the National Museum of Iran and other museums and libraries across the world – such as the National Library of Russia.
Shah Abbas started a new era in Iran and expanded Shi’ism that was declared the state religion of Iran during his predecessor, Shah Esmail Safavi. The Director of the British Museum believes Shah Abbas brought back dignity to Iranians and ushered in a golden period in the arts, commissioning beautiful works of art. He believes Shah Abbas was the first representative of Iran in Europe during the modern age, who put the wheels of trade with European countries into motion and made Esfahan the center of trade with European, Chinese and Indian merchants. Shakespeare, in Twelfth Night, calls Shah Abbas a “Sufi.”
The grand architecture of Safavid era is also featured by the organizers of this exhibition. Many slides are shown of the marvelous structures built in this period such as Shah Mosque, Sheikh Lutf Allah Mosque, Imam Reza Shrine (the eighth Imam of Shi’ites). These slides make Iranian visitors nostalgic and foreigners awestruck.
One of the outstanding artifacts of this exhibition is the “Steel Pole” that dazzles every visitor with its elegant design and beautiful brass calligraphy. This piece is on loan from the Reza Abbasi Museum in Iran.
The exhibition also features many artifacts of this dynasty belonging to the British Museum or British private collectors that Iranian researchers find quite extraordinary. These are: “Brass Pitcher with long neck,” from the British Museum, “Brass Candleholder” from a private collection of Yanni Petsopoulos in London, both demonstrating this period’s delicate design and sketch on metal, and the “Steel Sword” from the private collection of Dr. Robert Elgood which signifies the blend of religion and art at that time.
The “Silver Cross of Jesus,” on loan from Vanak Museum of Esfahan, is in another display of the religious art of this period– but this time not at the service of Shi’ites. During the reign of Shah Abbas the Armenians settled in Jolfa of Esfahan and created their own artifacts.
Another piece exhibited is a Koran signed by the third Imam of Shi’a followers, Hossein the son of Ali. This Koran was endowed by Shah Abbas to the mausoleum of the eighth Shi’a Imam.
During Safavid dynasty the cities of Mecca and Medina were under the dominance of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore Shah Abbas decided to promote the pilgrimage of the mausoleum of Ali Ebn Musa (Reza) in Mashhad instead of the annual pilgrimage of Mecca. The main designer of today’s shrine of Imam Reza is the famous artist, Ali Reza Abbasi, who built this monument during the reign of Shah Abbas.
Reza Abbasi and Mir Emad are the two great artists of this era whose work are featured in this exhibition.
Other than porcelain plates that depict different aspects of artwork of this period (and are loans from different museums), the miniatures of Reza Abbasi are another admirable display of Iranian art. Also, a selection of calligraphic work featured gives the visitors a broad picture of how this exclusive Iranian art evolved.
The British Museum has printed a richly illustrated book by Sheila Canby that accompanies this exhibition. Also, souvenirs like notebooks, cups, table-cloths, pens and pen-holders with Safavid Dynasty designs are offered for sale to the visitors.
There are other events that take place along with the exhibition, like a small display of Khosrow Hassanzadeh’s installation, featuring an image of Gholam Reza Takhti, Iranian icon and world champion.
The exhibition is also accompanied by many lectures and seminars about Iran’s art.
Also, a comedy show by Hadi Khorsandi, an event for Norooz family celebration and a documentary about Shah Abbas were included.
A few Iranian films like Crimson Gold, Five in the afternoon, Persepolis, Grass, Divorce Iranian Style and The Color of Paradise are also featured during this exhibition.