In February 2009, the British Museum have opened the first major exhibition to explore the rule and legacy of Shah Abbas, one of the formative figures in the creation of modern Iran. Shah of Iran from 1587 1629 AD, he is remembered as one of the countrys most influential kings and a great military leader, ruling Iran at a time of political renewal, when it succeeded in positioning itself as a world power with a sharply defined national identity.
Shah Abbas came to the throne in 1587, the fifth ruler of the Safavid Dynasty. Through trade, patronage and diplomacy Shah Abbas fostered good relations with Europe and ushered in a golden period in the arts, commissioning beautiful works of art and grand architecture. He was a great builder and restorer of major monuments across the country and this architectural legacy will provide the context in which to explore the themes of his reign. The exhibition will feature luxurious gold-ground carpets, exquisite Chinese porcelains, illustrated manuscripts, watercolour paintings, metalwork and beautiful silks, objects similar to those Shah Abbas gave to important religious sites across Iran. The famous calligrapher Ali Riza Abbasi was a key figure throughout Shah Abbass reign and examples of his work will feature prominently in the exhibition.
Shah Abbas was a man with a strong sense of personal piety; though Shiism was declared the state religion of Iran in 1501, it was Shah Abbas who consolidated its preeminence through the rule of law and the suppression of heterodox Shi'i sects and extremist dervish orders. The clerics in the circle of Shah Abbas established the parameters of Shi'i orthodoxy and in so doing strengthened the role of the religious elite throughout Iran.
In association with The Iran Heritage Foundation, the exhibition will feature extraordinary loans, never before seen outside of Iran, alongside loans from Europe and the US. The exhibition is the third in a series examining empire and power in different parts of the globe and follows exhibitions on the First Emperor of China and the Roman emperor Hadrian.
"Shah Abbas was restless, decisive, ruthless and intelligent. This exhibition will provide a rare opportunity to learn about this important ruler. Shah Abbas was a critical figure in the development of Iran and his legacy is still with us today." Sheila Canby, curator of the exhibition
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