© The Aga Khan Museum
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The palaces of 17th-century Safavid Isfahan were praised for their spectacular ornamentation, their gold and lapis paintings, their gleaming tiles, and their dazzling mirrorwork. This pair of tiles belonged to a large, arch-shaped panel (as indicated by the cut-off corner of the lower tile) from one of these palaces, now lost. Although the central theme of the panel escapes us, this detail demonstrates the skill and artistry of the painter. The stems and leaves of an iris plant bend gracefully in a naturalistic fashion, although the colour scheme is fanciful. The remains of some 24 such tile-arches can be found in various museums and collections. The arched panels are mostly of uniform expanse (3.68 m), and all are executed in the same technique and style. For each arch, the same scene is repeated in reverse on the opposite spandrel. The lower tile with the irises is cut obliquely, indicating it belonged to the left spandrel, but the theme of the rest of the panel is unknown. The two tiles do not match up perfectly. They may have come from different spandrels in this series or the potter may have erred in the colouring.
On these tiles a white glaze covered the terracotta body before the black lines and coloured glazes were applied. During the firing, the black pigment fused with the white glaze, leaving graceful matte outlines that preserve the sweep of the painter’s brush. The potter achieved bold colours by using an oily pigment that burned away in the firing and left only black outlines. This technique was called haft-rangi in Persian, but is often known by its Italian name, cuerda secca, in Italian.
This series of tiled arches represents diverse themes.  Some are familiar stories from Persian literature while others depict contemporary scenes: dragon hunts as well as boar and wild animal hunts; scenes from royal picnics and games on the Royal Maydan; and depictions of nomadic encampments with tents and camels. Favourite stories include Layla and Majnun, Bahram Gur, and the Simurgh, a fantastical bird that plays a role in mystical poetry. An incomplete panel depicts a gathering of dervishes. One of the most puzzling tile arches shows the Shah seated on a throne outdoors, receiving visitors while a servant prepares to serve water-pipes (qaliyan). The style and technique of these tile spandrels best compares with the Hasht Behesht palace, built by Shah Solayman (1666–94) in 1666.  We do not know exactly from which palace the dispersed tile arches came. Two possibilities are suggested by the records of the Hagop Kevorkian Foundation, which acquired most of these tiles in the early 20th century: the Talar-i Tavileh,  built by Shah Safi I around 1630 behind the Ali Qapu on the site of the former stables, but presumably later redecorated by Shah Solayman; or the group of palaces of the same period known as Haft Dast (Seven Pavilions), built on the south bank of the Zayandeh River that divides Isfahan.
— Lisa Golombek
 H. Luschey and I. Luschey-Schmeisser, “Kostüm, Waffen und Gerät auf den safavidischen Kachelbogen im Linden-Museum Stuttgart,” Tribus 30 (1981).
 I. Luschey-Schmeisser, The Pictorial Tile Cycle of Haŝt Beheŝt in Isfahān and its Iconographic Tradition (Rome: IsMEO, 1978).
 W. Floor, “The Talar-i Tavila or Hall of Stables, a Forgotten Safavid Palace,” Muqarnas 19 (2002), 149–63; S. Babaie, Isfahan and its Palaces (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), 160–6.
H. Luschey and I. Luschey-Schmeisser, “Kostüm, Waffen und Gerät auf den safavidischen Kachelbogen im Linden-Museum Stuttgart,” Tribus 30 (1981).
Luschey-Schmeisser, The Pictorial Tile Cycle of Haŝt Beheŝt in Isfahān and its Iconographic Tradition (Rome: IsMEO, 1978).
W. Floor, “The Talar-i Tavila or Hall of Stables, a Forgotten Safavid Palace,” Muqarnas 19 (2002) ISBN: 978900412593-3
Babaie, Isfahan and its Palaces (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008) ISBN: 9781474437196
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