barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham

July 2013

A Seated Dervish

Riza ‘Abbassi (c. 1565-1635)

Persian, Isfahan School, 17th-century
Drawing on paper with watercolour

Purchased 1949 (No. 49.2)

This miniature by the persian artist Riza ‘Abbasi depicts a seated dervish, or Sufi Muslim ascetic, who has chosen a life of poverty and austerity. Seated on the ground in a long loose robe, flowing scarf, and slippers the bearded figure is holding a humble bowl as he gazes over his shoulder in a contemplative manner. The background is a delicately illustrated with very little colour. The pale blue watercolour is repeated on the dervish’s robe, the bowl and in the sky. The artist’s skill as a miniaturist is particularly noticeable through the intricate folds of the garment.

An inscription to the left of the dervish’s head, reads: ‘the work of the humble Riza ‘Abbasi’. Few Persian miniature artists signed their works between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. Riza ‘Abbasi was the leading Persian miniaturist of the Isfahan School during the latter period of the Safavid Dynasty (1501-1722). He spent most of his career producing work under Shah ‘Abbas the Great (1587-1628).
The drawing bears a poetic inscription which can be translated as:

Do not be a companion with one lower than thyself because a wise person converses with those better than himself

Do not be pressing with a person greater than thyself, for he too does not wish to be in company lesser than himself


A gallery talk will be given in the front of this miniature on the 12 July, at 12:30pm.

All welcome.