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Single-page painting began to appear in Iran in the sixteenth century, when artists were active not only at the court but also in their own homes. The medium of drawing as a finished work of art, in particular, became more common as it did not require expensive materials, and compositions could also be achieved in less time. As a medium, it offered the artist the opportunity to experiment with designs, compositions, and typologies. One of the most popular subjects depicted in the seventeenth century was the Sufi dervish, often shown in a contemplative pose in a landscape.
In this portrait, the dervish is identified by his cap, robe, and the divan he holds in his lap. He sits in a clearing against a backdrop of a large, jutting rocky mound. A cup and a carafe, likely filled with wine, are situated before him and he appears either to be feeding himself a small piece of fruit or bringing his fingers to his lips in a gesture of reflection. The drawing has been attributed stylistically to the artist Mu'in Musavvir, active at the courts of four Safavid rulers (Shah Safi', r. 1629-42 CE; Shah 'Abbas II, r. 1642-66 CE; Shah Sulaiman II, r. 1666-94 CE; and Sultan Husayn, r. 1694-1722 CE). The Persian inscription dates the composition to 1663 CE (“dated Rabi’ al-awwal [the first] in the year 1074”) and corresponds to Mu'in’s active years; it is also dedicated to his son (“for my son, Hatim Biq”).
Mu'in was one of the closest followers of Riza 'Abbasi, the most celebrated artist of the Safavid period. While this drawing may not be considered as his finest, Mu'in’s refined style is suggested by the careful manner in which the details of the dervish’s face, his round, sloping forehead and the silhouette of the rocks are formed from a series of calligraphic strokes that waver in thickness and density.