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
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
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
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.
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
printing was largely done at their Newcastle branch, where
all the images for publication were mounted and finished.
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 mount is in
excellent condition, with crisp edges and sharp corners.
Sent by Darius Kadivar
interesting old photos of ordinary people, places, political leaders,