A Qajar Musician playing a drum

18 • A Qajar Musician Playing a Drum

Turkey, first half of 19th century
144 × 88 cm; oil on canvas

Under the reign of the 19th-century Qajar dynasty (1785–1925) music emerged prominently following nearly two centuries of neglect, developing into what is recognized today as classical Iranian music. Rulers made music an integral part of their culture, taking an active interest in its development and inviting musicians to perform at their court.

All the refined beauty of that court is on show in this depiction of a musician: elongated frame, flamboyant hair, almond eyes, joined eyebrows and aquiline nose; she is portrayed within a context of sophisticated luxury: richly decorated fabrics, lakes within landscaped gardens leading to grand palace buildings.

Portraits such as these were often hung on the walls of the palatial residences and musicians were very often the subject. Here a tombak player is in full swing: her hips are swaying, movement is expressed by her unaligned head, torso and legs, her lips and eyes betray a smile and even her dress is moving to the beat.