An Oriental exoticism? European contributions to Persian and Indian flower paintings
Safavid Iran (1501-1722) and Mughal India (1526-1854) maintained, as early as the second half of the 16th century, continued diplomatic and commercial relations with Europe. Ambassadors and agents of the trade companies followed one another at the court, bringing many presents to gain favors from the sovereigns. Engravings of naturalistic flowers, particularly in vogue in Europe, were introduced by this way to Safavid and Mughal imperial workshops, where they are copied and assimilated by painters. Floral forms were adapted to large-format album pages, but were also used on textiles architecture and decorative arts.
This article questions the reception of these foreign models by Persian and Indian artists in the context of exchanges maintained between Europe and the East. Several flower paintings copied on identified European models are known and illustrate the reflection on the activity of copy and adaptation. The integration of European visuals into innovative compositions reveals a global understanding of foreign models.
The formal analysis of engraving copies must also be placed in the broader context of the relations maintained between East and West. The attitude of Safavid and Mughal sovereigns towards Europe, often ambiguous, raises the question of the role of engravings as sources of iconography within the Persian and Indian decorative repertoire. The study of flower painting thus offers the possibility of understanding the process of adapting foreign motifs in a complex cultural and socio-political context, in which the conceptions of foreign, attached to the notion of exoticism, are absolutely central.