A woman lies back against cushions, lazily watching her dog drink from her wine-bowl. Her relaxed pose and the loosened state of her clothes and hair imply permissiveness, as does the freedom allowed to the lapdog. She is almost certainly a prostitute, and the lavish ceramics, cushions and clothing suggest that she is an expensive one. Many European travelers to Iran in the seventeenth century remarked on the high-class courtesans of Isfahan, and their luxurious lifestyles.
The style of this painting owes much to the artist Riza-yi cAbbasi (died 1635). Many later artists copied his format of one or two isolated figures upon a single page (as opposed to a narrative painting incorporated into an illustrated manuscript). Throughout his career Riza-yi cAbbasi included in his repertoire louche young men and women of the court, drinking alone or in couples, or dreamily writing letters. This painting derives from this type and also from a painting by Riza -yi cAbbasi of 1634, depicting a lounging European nobleman feeding wine to his dog.
The single page format of this painting shows the trend among seventeenth-century art patrons to collect particularly fine examples of drawing, painting or calligraphy on single pages, which could then be assembled in an album or muraqqa.
© The Trustees of the British Museum
S. Canby, The rebellious reformer: the drawings and paintings of Riza-yi ‘Abbasi of Isfahan (London, 1997)
A. Soudavar, Art of the Persian courts (New York, Rizzoli, 1992)
S. Canby, The golden age of Persian art, (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)