Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Islamic Art History, Harvard University
“Painting After the Mass-Produced Image: Art in 19th-Century Iran”
Rulers of the Qajar dynasty (1779-1925) in Iran pursued a broad range of military, bureaucratic and social reforms, formed new institutions—including the first polytechnic (Dar al-Funun, “Abode of the Sciences”), and embraced new technologies of the mass-produced image (photography and lithography). It was also a period of heightened exchange between Iran, India, Russia and the countries of Europe, in which greater numbers of people traveled between these regions for work, trade, diplomacy, education, and tourism. Art produced under Qajar rule—for elite and middle class audiences—fully reflected this new mixture of mediums and images moved across and between them with great fluidity. While Persian artists welcomed these new mediums—freely excerpting subjects from a broad range of high through popular visual culture and combining them to produce innovative artworks—the majority of European visitors by contrast offered scathing and derisive criticism. The largely negative history of reception of Qajar art has haunted art historical scholarship until recent years. The lecture examines the processes by which Qajar artists—whether working at the royal court or in the bazaar—embraced new technologies of the image and examines the nature of their resulting intermedial artworks. What were the implications for the art of painting after the advent of photography and lithography?