31 E I G H T S E AT E D M E N Iran (Qajar, probably Tehran), 1890-1900 Height: 32.5 cm Width: 53.5 cm
A large moulded rectangular pottery tile, underglaze-painted in shades of cobalt blue, pink, manganese, turquoise, ochre, yellow and black against a white slip ground and depicting a group of kneeling men in conversation. The eight seated men, possibly courtiers placed before the unseen Shah in front of them, fill most of the cobalt ground. They are all dressed in vibrant coloured close-fitting tunics with decorative patterns and thick swathed girdles around their waists. All of them wear neatly coiled turbans of various colours on their heads, strands of dark hair emerging in places from below. Large fruits are scattered above the men, with two placed on a dark pink bowl almost floating against the cobalt ground. All eight are seated informally and facing the same way, yet
most have turned their heads towards each other suggesting they are deep in conversation. They could well be onlookers, with the tile originally part of a much larger scene depicting perhaps a concert or event. The theme here is interesting because it has a “naturalistic” treatment which is characteristic of late Qajar tilework from the late 1880s onwards.1 The fruit are probably pomegranates and pears. Pomegranates have held longstanding significance
in Persian culture, symbolising fertility, strength, and invincibility. They were also used in Zoroastrian rituals and domestic practices, including religious rites and marriage ceremonies. As can be seen here, robes, coats and other garments were mostly decorated with floral patterns during this time and were produced in a wide assortment of colour schemes. In the nineteenth century, there was a revival of the silk industry in Iran, and the popularity of silk-brocaded coats grew. Fabrics used for the kordi (a short, hip-length overcoat with short sleeves) were characterised by floral designs in pastel colours, namely pink and blue, with the edges of the robes trimmed with gold and silver.2 Acknowledgement: We are grateful to Jennifer Scarce for her help in researching this tile. References: 1. Personel communication with Jennifer Scarce. 2. Layla Diba, “Clothing X. In the Safavid and Qajar periods,” pp. 789–793 in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition.