Riza 'Abbasi and the Embedded Image — Lecture with Dr. Michael Chagnon

A luminary of the Persian painting tradition, Riza ‘Abbasi (fl. 1590–1635) is best known for his portrait-like, single-figure paintings and drawings, considered emblematic of the arts of Isfahan, the cosmopolitan final capital of Iran’s Safavid dynasty (1501-1722). In several of Riza’s works—including Lady with a Mirror (1627) and Young Portuguese Man (1634), both in the DIA collection—the main figures are accompanied by ancillary objects that are themselves adorned with figural decoration. Such secondary, “embedded” figures often appear to actively engage with the primary subjects, directing their gestures and gazes toward them. This talk explores how such puzzling activity may relate to concepts of the image in Persian and Islamic thought.  

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. In addition to curatorial and museum work, Dr. Chagnon has taught courses on Persian painting and Islamic art at Columbia University (2019), the New York Public Library (2018), City College of New York (2009-10), and other institutions. Dr. Chagnon received his Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, in 2015.