The work by an anonymous Persian artist is believed to be the first portrait of an African figure in Persian art and one of the earliest artistic records of the African community that is still present in the Gulf region. It is estimated between £100 000-150 000.
This rare Safavid oil painting of an African soldier Persia will be on offer at Bonhams’ Islamic and Indian Art sale in London on Tuesday 30 March perfectly represents the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the time and place.
The painting, which was executed between 1680-90, shows a young African man dressed as a soldier and is rich in detail with typically Persian weapons and equipment, and European influenced uniform and hat. While the sitter is not identified, he is likely to have been a real-life soldier, a musketeer or tofangchi, a division of the Persian army primarily composed of foreign mercenaries.
Back in the late 17th / early 18th centuries, the Persian city of Isfahan in the late Safavid Empire was a melting pot of diversity from around the known world. Here people of all cultures and creeds came together whether European, Jewish, Armenian or African.
“This is a wonderful painting. The artist has captured the soldier’s confidence in his status and profession and dress, creating a well-to-do, almost dandyish, image. We cannot, of course, know how he arrived in Isfahan. What is beyond question, however, is the significance of the work, a rare, perhaps unique portrayal of an African in the Safavid army, and of an African in Persia.”Oliver White, Bonhams Head of Islamic and Indian Art
21 other paintings of similar shape and style, all showing figures in Safavid costume, are known to exist, and it is possible that Portrait of an African Soldier once had a companion piece depicting a young African woman. The presence of Africans in Persia dates from as far back as the 6th century, mainly through the slave trade.
Today, small but significant Afro-Iranian communities are still to be found in the coastal provinces of the Persian Gulf.
How much do you think this oil painting will be sold for?