november, 2019

201928nov6:00 pm8:30 pmIAMCC: Michael Chagnon—Riza ‘Abbasi and the Embedded Image: 3 Paintings6:00 pm - 8:30 pm Jackman Humanities Building, Suite 318, 170 St George Street, Suite 318 Event Organized By: Institute of Islamic Studies


Event Details

In the study of Perso-Islamic painting, the name Riza ‘Abbasi (fl. 1590-1635) has become a byword for transformations in image-making during the Safavid dynastic era, particularly the ascendency of single-sheet painting and drawing as the preeminent vehicle for pictorial expression during the Isfahan phase of Safavid rule. Riza is renowned for his figural studies, executed in a modulated calligraphic line, enhanced by subtle washes or luxurious pigments, and depicting generic types as well as specific individuals identified in captions. Several compositions by Riza feature ancillary objects such as textiles and vessels, which are themselves adorned with figural imagery. Limited scholarly attention has been given to these secondary, “embedded” figures. They often appear as active participants in the image rather than mere decoration, directing their gestures and gazes toward the main subjects. Some scholars (Canby 1996; Babaie 2001) have extrapolated hypothetical narrative pretexts for such puzzling activity. Focusing on three paintings, this paper argues instead that Riza’s embedded figures function as metatexual commentaries on the ambiguous role of figuration in early modern Perso-Islamic thought. When examined through this lens, such works help bridge the gap between period proto-theoretical texts on image-making and its contemporary visual expression.

Dr. Michael Chagnon joined the Aga Khan Museum as Curator in May 2019. A specialist of painting and the arts of the book of the early modern Persianate sphere, he has held curatorial positions at Japan Society in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum. Dr. Chagnon’s substantial teaching experience includes a recent graduate seminar on Critical Approaches to Persianate Painting at Columbia University, New York. He received his Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, in 2015.


(Thursday) 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm


Jackman Humanities Building, Suite 318

170 St George Street, Suite 318




Institute of Islamic Studies