Visualizing Kingship in a Time of Change

Lens-Based Royal Portraiture During Late Qajar Rule (1848-1925)

Keywords: Portraiture, Kingship, Revolution, Photography, Qajar Iran


Despite artistic engagement with photography in Iran almost immediately after the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, the field of Islamic art history has had difficulty accepting the modern period and the medium of photography as part of its discipline. Studies on painted Iranian portraiture have often stopped before the introduction of photography, and only in more recent years has photographic portraiture and its influence on painting been examined. Due to this nascent state of the field, large gaps exist even on more traditional topics, such as the question of royal portraiture. This article presents the first examination of photographic royal portraiture and the visualization of kingship during the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911). This topic, in comparison with earlier Iranian painted royal portraiture, has received considerably less attention. Photographic portraiture, together with printed and painted examples, from the reigns of the Qajar rulers Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848-1896), Muzaffar al-Din Shah (r. 1896-1907), Muhammad ʿAli Shah (r. 1907-1909), and Ahmad Shah (r. 1909-1925), will be analysed in connection with social and political developments in order to better understand the development of royal image making during a time of political turmoil.

Author Biography

Mira Xenia Schwerda, University of Edinburgh

Mira Xenia Schwerda holds a PhD (2020) from Harvard University and is a historian of global modern and contemporary art, visual culture, print and photography. Her book manuscript-in-progress, tentatively titled Between Art and Propaganda: Photographing Revolution in Modern Iran (1905-1911), focuses on the imagery of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution and presents a new history of the visual narratives of political violence brought about by the triad of the telegraph, printing press, and photography. She has previously worked at the Harvard Art Museums, where she curated the photography section of the exhibition Technologies of the Image: Art in 19th-Century Iran. Dr. Schwerda has taught courses in the history of photography, Islamic art history, and South Asian art history in the Department of Art History at the University of Edinburgh, and is currently a Getty/ACLS postdoctoral fellow and a honorary fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. She is the co-founder of the Virtual Islamic Art History Seminar Series as well as the managing director of Khamseen: Islamic Art History Online.

How to Cite
Schwerda, M. X. (2023). Visualizing Kingship in a Time of Change: Lens-Based Royal Portraiture During Late Qajar Rule (1848-1925). Manazir Journal, 5, 177–205.