UK show highlights Iran's "Golden Age"
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Shah Abbas was at times brutal and tolerant, ruthless and generous, and a new show at the British Museum in London seeks to explain the contradictions of one of Iran's most influential rulers.
"Shah Abbas: The Remaking of Iran" is the first major exhibition to explore his rule of the Safavid Dynasty from 1587 to 1629 which coincided with what is referred to as the "Golden Age" of Persian art.
It explores how the shah ruthlessly cemented his position as ruler, forged trade ties with Europe and India, commissioned grand architecture and repelled neighboring enemies like the Ottomans and the Uzbeks.
He consolidated Shi'ism as the state religion through the rule of law and sometimes violent suppression of radical dervish orders, turned Isfahan into an impressive capital and donated huge collections of art to important shrines.
"He's the man who reshapes Iran," said British Museum director Neil MacGregor at a press preview of the new exhibition which draws on artifacts seen outside Iran for the first time as well as on loans from Europe and the United States.
"He gives the Iranians security territorially, he gives the country legal systems and a firm footing in the Shia identity."
Iran, and more specifically Isfahan, placed itself at the "crossroads of the world" by exploiting its location along increasingly important trade routes linking Europe and Asia.
The shah forcibly relocated the population of the Armenian city of Julfa to Isfahan in order to expand the trade of silk, and allowed the settlers to continue to practice their Christian faith. Continued...