A Qajar Ceramic Tile with Safavid Scene

Millon et Associés, 14 June 2023, lot 169: €15,000-20,000

In collaboration with Anne-Sophie Joncoux-Pilorget.

Sold €70,000 (incl. Premium).

Shah ‘Abbas I welcoming Vali Muhammad Khan

Qajar Persia, Tehran, circa 1880-1885
Rectangular plaque of moulded ceramic, painted under glaze.
90 x 62cm


French private collection prior to 1962. Probably from the Château de Cabrières (Aguessac Aveyron) acquired and furnished in the 1920s by the family of the singer Emma Calvé (1858-1942).


The scene depicted reproduces in part the Reception of Vali Muhammad Khan by Shah ‘Abbas I, painted on the northeast wall of the reception hall of the Chehel Sotun Palace in Isfahan in the 1660s. Some groups of figures are copied in extenso; In the foreground of our plaque, we find the kamancheh player, the two women sharing a cup, and the man giving pouring wine into the mouth of a sleeping man. The flute player Looking at the viewer, on the left, alco comes from this painting. The two rulers, in the centre of the upper half of the composition, are also adapted from the mural, as shown by the gesture of Shah ‘Abbas I placing his hand on the hilt of his sword, or the sleeve of Vali Muhammad Khan falling to the ground. Their face were changed, however, with Shah ‘Abbas I having lost his characteristic moustache, and Vali Muhammad Khan’s head having been covered with a qizilbash turban. In doing so, the composition lost its primary iconography in favour of a more generic scene in the Safavid style.

Indeed, this important plaque is part of a large production of flat or moulded ceramics painted under glaze, with iconography inspired by paintings and ceramics from the Safavid period (1501-1722). The ceramic tiles of this production show many portraits of horsemen or gallant scenes within more or less developed landscapes. An example in the Victoria and Albert Museum (230-1887) falls into this category and is particularly interesting for the vegetal border placed above the scene, very similar to the frame of our plaque.

The great interest of our plaque, in addition to its size and quality, is that its iconography is largely inspired by a known Safavid painting. This type is rarer than generic scenes such as the one in the V&A. An example of this can be found in the house of the American artist Frederic E. Church (1826-1900) in Olana, on one of the fireplaces entirely covered with custom-made tiles, the one in the centre of which is a copy of the Safavid panel in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (03.9c). The Qajar painter-ceramist ‘Ali Muhammad Isfahani, responsible for Olana tiles and another in the Victoria and Albert Museum (512-1889), seems to have specialized in copying Safavid scenes. Our plate can be linked to his workshop by its great finesse of execution and its particular iconography.


  • Sussan Babaie, ‘Shah ʻAbbas II, The Conquest of Qandahar, the Chihil Sotun, and Its Wall Paintings’, Muqarnas, 11 (1991): 125–42
  • Robert D. McChesney, ‘Four Sources on Shah “Abbas” s Building of Isfahan’, Muqarnas, 5 (1988): 103–34
  • Mary Roberts, ‘Worlding on the Hudson: Frederic Church and Global Histories of Art’, Art History 45 (2022): 518–44
  • Jennifer M. Scarce, ‘’Ali Mohammed Isfahani, Tilemaker of Tehran’, Oriental Art, 22 (Autumn 1976): 278–88.

The full auction catalogue is available here.