Works of Faizullah Khan Safdarzadeh Haghighi
The Naqsh-e Jahan Square Pictorial CarpetMeasuring 175 by 225 cm, the Naqsh-e Jahan Square pictorial carpet (tableau rug) was art directed by Feizollah Safdarzadeh Haghighi and woven with asymmetrical knots, using silk warp and cotton weft. The carpet’s border was designed by Rostam Shirazi, and the base artwork for the carpet was “pixelised” and coloured by Nowruz Hafizi. Woven by Ali Namdari, one of Isfahan’s eminent weavers. The pictorial carpet depicts the dome and the main portal of Isfahan’s Shah Mosque (Abbas Friday Mosque) as seen from the southern part of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, along with a row of shops adjacent to the mosque. Different trades, pedlars, tourists, and other people are also pictured: one pedlar sells watermelons from his cart, another sells other fruit from the back of his mule, and a third sells the kilims sitting on his shoulder; a man carrying a copper pot on his head appears to sell Isfahan’s famous phirni; coachmen drive their carriages; a tourist takes photos in front of the Shah Mosque portal; a dervish with his beggar’s bowl (kashkul) in hand sings a song; a cyclist pedals by the mosque portal; a woman in chador walks with her son and husband, while another, wearing green, walks hijab-free along the row of shops as her young son rides a carriage next to her; and a cloak-clad old man, signalled by his green turban to be a sayyid, rides by the portal on horseback—he is Isfahan’s famous Mohammad Samsum, whose dervish way of life and defiance of the social norms of his day inspired Feizollah Haghighi to make sure he is featured in the picture. The scene also includes a bicycle parked by a tree across from the Shah Mosque, an old man walking with a cane, a young girl about to enter the mosque with her father, and a man stepping into the same building. The stone water-bowl in the mosque’s front yard can also be seen, and the slogans “Long live Dr Ali Shariati,” “Long live Khomeini,” and “Long live Taleghani” are sprayed on the short stone wall bordering the mosque’s front yard.
Discussion and analysisOne of the Safavid dynasty’s main legacies for Isfahan was the construction of splendid works of architecture, making the city a treasury of some of the most ambitious and novel urban structures the Muslim world has ever seen. One of the world’s largest public squares at 159 by 512 metres, the Naqsh-e Jahan Square was commissioned when the Safavid capital had just been moved from Qazvin to Isfahan: Shah Abbas I wanted his new capital to be on par with that of Iran’s eastern and western neighbours, namely Fatehpur Sikri, the marvellous capital of the Mughal emperor Akbar’s India, and the Ottoman Empire’s Istanbul. Haghighi’s choice to portray the Shah Mosque was an incredibly smart one. The construction of the mosque, which sits along the southern side of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, began by the order of Abbas I in 1611—the 24th year of his reign—and was completed at the time of his successor with the addition of the final ornaments and components. While the square faces south—or, in the parlance of Iranian architecture, has an “Isfahan orientation”—the Shah Mosque is a southwest-facing building. The mosque’s northern iwan, situated behind the vestibule, is reoriented in such a way that it is possible to see the courtyard from the vestibule but impossible to enter it directly. This masterful Kaaba-wards reorientation of the building (from south-facing to southwest-facing) is the work of the architect Ali-Akbar Isfahani, and Feizollah Haghighi purposefully chose to depict the square and the mosque from an angle that showed the innovative reorientation. One of the most beautiful of its kind in Iran, the iwan leading to the dome chamber is also pictured in the tableau rug. Rising in the city landscape behind the carpet’s mosque is the turquoise-coloured dome of Imamzada Ahmad. The current building of the imamzada is located within the Hassan-Abad Bazaar and dates from the Safavid to the Qajar periods. The presence of the imamzada in the scene reflects the designer’s thorough knowledge of the history and identity of his hometown of Isfahan. Not only is the building the final resting place of the son of the Shia Imam Muhammad al-Baqir—according to Mohammad-Hashem Chaharsoghi, the author of Mizan ol-Ansab—but it also houses in its Qajar section the graves of Amir Kabir’s daughter and the wife of Zell-e Soltan, Isfahan’s incompetent governor at the time of Naser al-Din Shah. Farther in the background, we see the structure that was the tallest in the city at the time—the early years of post-revolution Iran— namely a silo erected by Russians for wheat storage. By choosing this view of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, the surrounding buildings, and Mount Soffeh, Feizollah Haghighi wanted to remind us that not so long ago, there were no high-rise buildings in the city of turquoise domes, and the horizon could be seen from any part of the city. Apart from its attention to architecture, the Naqsh-e Jahan Square pictorial carpet is also significant in its sociopolitical message. In the picture, a chador-wearing woman is depicted alongside a hijab-free one who walks down the row of shops, while a “Long live Taleghani” graffiti marks a wall; this suggests that the scene is set sometime between the 1979 Islamic Revolution and 1983, the year wearing a hijab in public was made mandatory in Iran. The exact year according to Haghighi’s oldest son is 1980; however, given that Dervish Samsum died on 15 November 1980 and the law making hijab mandatory was not passed by the Islamic Consultative Assembly until 1983, we can safely assume that the scene takes place sometime after the beginning of 1979 but before November 1980. Moreover, Ayatollah Taleghani died on 9 September 1979. If we assume the graffiti was made when Ayatollah Taleghani was still alive, then we can narrow down the timespan even further to the period from the victory of the Revolution to Ayatollah Taleghani’s death. Even so, considering that Dervish Samsum was alive until November 1980, that women still could appear in public without a hijab, and that the sprayed slogan may not have been removed for years after the Shia cleric’s death, it would be more reasonable to settle on the winter 1979–November 1980 timespan as the “when” of the scene. Another intriguing aspect of the carpet is its border, masterfully designed by Rostam Shirazi, as mentioned early in the article. Recalling classic Safavid-era Isfahan design styles, the border is composed of a wide sub-border sided by two thin ones. The wide sub-border is delicately intertwined with the other two to prevent it from appearing separate, reflecting Shirazi’s great finesse. Thanks to his innovative incorporation of Persian mural art and tilework into Isfahan-style carpets, Feizollah Safdarzadeh Haghighi has established a style of his own in the carpet-making tradition of not only Isfahan but also Iran. The Naqsh-e Jahan Square tableau rug is a definitive piece that bears witness to his genius as a designer. Negin Alsadat Tabatabaei
Islamic Archaeology PhD graduate, University of Tehran