Women's Worlds in Qajar Iran
July 21, 2018 4:46 PM   Subscribe

This is the greatest thing you will see today: a group portrait of Ismat al-Muluk, granddaughter of the King of Persia Nasir al-Din Shah, and her relatives, circa 1900. This photograph is part of Women's Worlds in Qajar Iran, an archive exploring the lives of women during the Qajar Dynasty (1796-1925) through a wide array of photographs and materials from private family holdings. Other pictures of Ismat al-Muluk include this funny/strange one featuring her dad, her sister and a chair and this tender one, with her husband and a goat. Also: her sister Fakhr al-Taj (seated) with her mom Ismat al-Dawlah (lying).

The late period of Qajar Dynasty, which ended in 1925, is credited for beginning the modernization of Iran, and the photographs of the archive chronicle the transition from traditional Persia to a more westernized Iran (for the upper classes at least). King Nasir al-Din Shah (1831-1896) had a keen interest in photography and patronized photographers such as Antoin(e) Sevrugin (Wikimedia Commons; Sevruguin's Images of the Orient. After Nasir al-Din Shah was assassinated, Sevrugin photographed the public hanging of his murderer). Many pictures of the archive depict the members of the royal harem - wives, servants, slaves - in the andarum, the women's quarter. Many pictures are annotated by Nasir al-Din Shah himself. Here are some remarkable photographs from the archive, mostly from the Qajar court in the late 19th/early 20th century: The archive is huge and includes items from the last years of the Qajar period and beyond, with a noticeable shift in the appearance of the Iranian upper classes in the 1910s, many of whom were adopting a westernized look (Munir al-Muluk and her friends, ca 1914-1915). The archive also includes material from the Jewish, Armenian and Zoroastrian communities. Note that the image links go to the full-size images on the harvard.edu website. Unfortunately, there are no links back to the Qajar Women website.
posted by elgilito (9 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for this! There is so much to take in here. I love old pre-Kodak photos with unexpected facial expressions.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:40 PM on July 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thank you this is great!
posted by jcrcarter at 7:21 PM on July 21, 2018

Amazing - thank you for publishing.
I find it excruciatingly difficult to imagine a scenario to explain the facial expressions or circus-like poses in some of these photos - particularly in your first link. Were they playing around, just having fun? Strange for a family of royals.
posted by aqsakal at 1:14 AM on July 22, 2018

Thank you for posting this!
posted by kmt at 4:40 AM on July 22, 2018

Adding my thanks! Very interesting.
posted by james33 at 5:14 AM on July 22, 2018

This is wonderful.
posted by xarnop at 8:12 AM on July 22, 2018

These are wonderful, thank you for sharing!

FYI – Chirkasi is not in Chinese dress; she's wearing a Japanese kimono. Looks to be a five-crest irotomesode.
posted by fraula at 8:25 AM on July 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Chirkasi is not in Chinese dress
Hey, that's what King Nasir al-Din Shah wrote on the picture. I guess that he didn't know much about Chinese and Japanese clothing. Btw, I just realized that Chirkasi (چرکسی) means Circassian so this woman was one of those famed "Circassian beauties" (and possibly a slave).
posted by elgilito at 10:50 AM on July 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

These are delightful and show a lovely sense of humor. We tend to think so one-dimensionally of people in black and white photos, these show some very touching and fun moments.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:59 PM on July 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

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