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British Museum to Exhibit Richness of Culture of Safavid Persia

By Ladan M. Sadeghioon

An exhibition of artifacts belonging to Safavid dynasty (1502-1736 AD) giving testimony to the richness of culture and power of Safavid Persia is to be launched in a near future at the British Museum.

Dr. Sheila Canby

Tehran, 28 March 2007 (CHN) -- Following the successful exhibition of the Achaemenid Empire (700-330 BC) at the British Museum entitled "Forgotten Empire: the World of Ancient Persia" which was welcomed by large numbers of people, an exhibition about Safavid dynasty (1502-1736) will be held at this museum in a near future.

In an exclusive interview with CHN, Dr. Sheila Canby, assistant keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities of the British Museum, said that the exhibition will mainly focus on the religious aspects including art and architecture applied to the mosques: "I am working on exhibiting the art applied in three shrines namely Ardebil, Mashhad and Qom during the period of Shah Abbas I. The objects which will be chosen for this exhibition will include those that were given as vaghf (donation) by Shah Abbas made to Ardebil Shrine, which are similar to things that he gave to Mashhad, and also things that were given to the shrine in Qom."

"I think they were probably not given by Shah Abbas himself. They were probably donated by women in Safavid family," she added.

Shah Abbas I was one of the prominent kings of the Safavid dynasty who strengthened his kingdom by expelling the Ottoman and Uzbek troops from Persia and created a standing army. "The attitudes of this important ruler towards religion and the shrines in Mashhad, Ardebil and Qom should be taken into consideration," added Canby.

Dr. Canby, who has studied Islamic Art History and had done a lot of research in this field and written books about Safavid dynasty, further explained about the different types of objects which will be selected to be put in display and said: "The objects which are chosen to be exhibited are of two types. First, these are things that Shah Abbas owned and gave in vaghf. Those things are chinaware, textiles and manuscripts. The others are furnishings that he gave when he refurbished the buildings at Ardebil and Mashhad. Those are carpets, doors and things like that."

According to her, since the exhibition is scheduled to be held in 2009, the list of the objects that are to be transferred to England is not finalized, but she said it would consist of one to two hundred pieces.

Explaining about some of the objectives behind holding an exhibition of Safavid Persian, she stated: "On the one hand, we want people to see these beautiful things in England and learn about Iranian cities of Ardebil, Mashhad, Qom and the Safavid King Shah Abbas in particular. The other thing is that there is a great deal of discussion in the world now about Shiites and Sonnies, but people really do not understand Shiite Islam at all. I hope this exhibition will help give a context to that."

She then considered the close relationship between Iran's National Museum and British Museum beneficial for both sides and said: "Holding such exhibitions helps people to understand what treasures exist in Iran, and I hope it attracts people to come to visit the exhibition."

Comparing the upcoming Louvre Museum exhibition about Islamic world to the one that is to be held in London, she said: "I think the Louvre Museum exhibition would mainly focus on style and art and less on religion and Shiite Islam as an official religion in Iran at the time of Safavid dynasty. People need to understand the history and the connection between politics and religion."

She further said that the exhibition will also display artistic contributions by Sheikh Bahaei who was the architect of Isfahan's Imam Mosque. Sheikh Bahaei who was very close to Shah Abbas was also a master in philosophy, logic, astronomy and mathematics.

Regarding the future plans of the British Museum for introducing Iran's rich cultural heritage, Dr. Canby said: "There are plans to incorporate more about Achaemenid kings Cyrus and Darius the Great into school programs. Of course there is an organization that is trying to convince the government to expand the curriculum for children."

... Payvand News - 3/31/07 ... --

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