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January 6, 2005

EBAY comment: The Shah of Persia Nasir-al-Din (1829-1896), 4th ruler of Qajar dynasty
A carte-de-visite showing the ruler of Persia (modern-day Iran) Nasir-al-Din, who ascended the Peacock Throne in 1848 at the age of eighteen and ruled as Shah-in-Shah (King of Kings) until he was assassinated in 1896.

Following his succession of his father Mohammed Shah, Nasir-al-Din initially followed a policy of reform but became increasingly conservative. Although he curbed the power of the clergy in secular affairs, introduced telegraph and postal services, opened the first school offering education along Western lines, opened the first railway and launched Persia's first newspaper, later in his reign he steadfastly refused to deal with mounting pressure for more far-reaching reform.

He was also the titular head of a considerable part of the Muslim world. In a country of eight million, nine-tenths of these were Shiite Muslims who looked to him as the legitimate successor and Vice-Regent of the Prophet. Demanding implicit obedience, it was on account of his religious position that the Shah was able to exercise despotic power as a temporal ruler.

An absolute ruler, as supreme master of the lives and property of all his subjects, the entire revenues of all the Empire were at his disposal. Since taxation was severe and arbitrary, he was able to amass a vast personal fortune, and an enormous collection of historic diamonds. Nevertheless, he still ran up a huge national debt, partly as a result of his expensive foreign tours.

Several of these were undertaken in an attempt to walk a diplomatic tightrope between Britain and Russia, although he is largely blamed for allowing the increased influence of both these countries in Persian affairs during his reign.

He paid his first visit to Europe in 1873, and there are many anecdotes recounting his autocratic and 'Oriental' ways. It is said that he offered to purchase a certain court beauty whose charms he admired. There is the tale of his astonishment on finding a picture of an ass priced at five hundred times the value of the animal itself.

On another occasion, when he was travelling by rail, he was shown the communication cord for stopping the train; he immediately made use of it, since he wished the train to remain stationary while he took a nap ˆ it was only with the greatest difficulty that he was made to understand that this couldn't be allowed, even for the 'King of Kings'.

The photographer of this portrait is the studio of W. and D. Downey. William and Daniel Downey are known principally for their portraits of celebrities and royalty, photographing Queen Victoria on many occasions throughout the last forty years of her life. They were, however, as the Photographic News pointed out, happy to photograph anyone willing to tender one guinea. For this sum, the subject got one pose printed on a dozen cartes.

The company occupied two modest houses in Ebury Street. Number 61 had two studios and number 57, which had only recently been completed, had a glasshouse specially designed for photography. The firm's printing was largely done at their Newcastle branch, where all the images for publication were mounted and finished.

One accessory employed by the firm, again according to the Photographic News of 16 September, 1881, was a trapeze, which was apparently used for posing ladies. Daniel Downey died in July 1881, but the firm continued operating well into the 20th century, finally closing their doors in the 1920's.

The print is in very fine condition (despite some slight unevenness to the tones in the area of the background). The mount is in excellent condition, with crisp edges and sharp corners.

Sent by Darius Kadivar

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