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Art of the Islamic world 640 to now

Two portraits, two views

Sheila Canby, curator of the exhibition Shah Abbas the remaking of Iran, discusses two very different portraits of Shah 'Abbas giving an insight into his character. © Trustees of the British Museum. Created by British Museum.

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Video transcript

we have two contemporary portraits of Shah boss in this exhibition and they're I think quite good in pointing up the contradictions in his character we have one that was painted by a mogul artist who came with an Indian Embassy to Iran in 1613 it shows him simply standing alone on a dark green ground and while his little stature seems small if you look closely at his face you see this very shrewd intelligent look in this man's eyes and of course his trademark moustache in fact you can get a measure of how strong his will was and how cleverly he arranged things in Iran he came to the throne with a plan and he actually was able to realize most of his ambitions and those ambitions really were to restore peace and prosperity to Iran to restore its borders to strengthen the religion by strengthening the rule of law and I think that those are really modern ideas and then the other or trick we have is right at the end of his life by an Iranian artist from 16 27 and he's sitting with a young beardless youth and sort of arms entwined and they're the youth is offering a cup of wine to him so it's a very intimate portrait by 1627 of course he had probably achieved most of what he'd set out to achieve and here we see him taking his pleasure you