JALĀYER, ESMĀʿIL KHAN, a prominent painter of the Qajar era who lived during the reign of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96). He was particularly noted for his work in two popular though different genres of Qajar paintings of the period, irāni-sāzi (concentrating on Iranian subjects, drawing on facial features, make-up, costume, and relatively unaffected by European influences) and ṭabiʿat-sāzi (concentrating on fauna and flora in a European naturalistic mode, aiming at verisimilitude).

Life. He was the son of Ḥāji Moḥammad Khan Jalāyer Kalāti from an ancient and eminent family of Khorasan (Hedāyat, Majmaʿ al-foṣaḥāʾ IV, p. 429; Ḏokāʾ, p. 662) but there is no precise information about the dates of his birth and death or place of burial (for further information about his son and other descendants and his own lineage see Fatḥi, Rāhnemā-ye ketāb, pp. 655-56; Ḏokāʾ, p. 662). Moreover, only a few of his paintings bear a date: one is a portrait of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah in watercolor, dated Rabiʿ II, 1279 A.H./1862 C.E., others include a depiction of a scene from the battle of Herat (1856; see HERAT. vi) drawn by Esmāʿil Jalāyer to complete work originally begun by an earlier famous painter, Moḥammad-Ḥasan Afšār, on a pen-box (for further details, see below). The date inscribed on the box is 8 Šaʿbān 1296/17 May 1878 (Robinson, Muqarnas, pp. 131-46). Further information about his work and apprenticeship can be gleaned from accounts given by two of his contemporaries, Ḵalil Khan Ṯaqafi (Aʿlam-al-Dawla) and Dust-Moḥammad Khan (Mo ʿayyer-al-Mamālek). He was a student at the Dār-al-fonun (q.v.; Ṯaqafi, p. 163) during ʿAliqoli Mirzā Eʿteżād-al-Salṭana’s (q.v., 1822-80) long directorship of the college (1857-80). He was taught painting there by Monsieur Constant (Maḥbubi Ardakāni, I, pp. 283, 329, 331) and Mirzā ʿAli-Akbar Khan Kāšāni (Mozayyan-al-Dawla). He graduated as one of the top-ranking students (Irān newspaper, No. 55), his work attracting the attention and patronage of the Shah as well as some of his courtiers including ʿAli-Aṣḡar Khan Atābak-e Aʿẓam (q.v.), and Dust-Moḥammad Khan (Moʿayyer-al-Mamālek). As well as at the Dār-al-fonun itself, Jalāyer taught and worked at two other ateliers, one in the Atābak Park (Pārk-e Atābak), and the other in the public quarters (biruni, q.v.) of the Ferdows Garden (bāḡ-e ferdows), residence of Moʿayyer-al-Mamālek (Fatḥi, Rāhnemā-ye ketāb, p. 655). He must have continued with his artistic activities at least until 1307/1889 when reportedly the fifteen-year old Moʿayyer-al-Mamālek was taking lessons from him at his workshop in the Ferdows Garden (Moʿayyer-al-Mamālek, Yaḡmā 12, p. 74).

Esmāʿil Jalāyer was a most fastidious man with a pleasing countenance and a fondness for witty anecdotes and repartees. He led a frugal life and was a habitual smoker of opium. Because of his family background (his father belonged to the Ḏahabiya [q.v.] Order of Sufis; Ḏokāʾ, p. 662) as well as his own deep personal faith, many of his paintings represent religious themes and subjects, including the Prophet and his family and companions and those of the founders and luminaries of Sufi sects and dervishes.

Works. He was skilled in different techniques and branches of painting. His watercolors, pen-and-ink, and oil drawings, his work in portraiture and landscape, and his paintings on lacquered boxes and pen-cases, can all be regarded as masterpieces in their own right. However, his critical eye and perennial quest for perfection meant that once he detected the slightest flaw in one his canvasses, he would tear it up, and this explains why so few of his works have survived (Fatḥi Rāhnemā-ye ketāb, pp. 654-55). His work may be divided into different groups on the basis of their subject matter and style:

Portraits of royalty and notables. The list includes Nāṣer-al-Din Shah, Mirzā Ḥosayn Khan Sepahsālār, ʿAli-Aṣḡar Khan (Atābak-e Aʿẓam), and other courtiers and men of eminence. Oil, watercolor and pen-and-ink using the technique of noqṭa-pardāzi, a method that uses almost imperceptible dots to induce a chiaroscuro [sāya rowšan] effect while creating a meticulously detailed and realistic likeness of the subject. The portraits depict the sitters in different moods and bring out their personal traits; be it pensive, cheerful, or magnanimous, with a dignified and commanding aura. Those of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah himself include an undated but signed pen-and-ink drawing of the monarch on horseback in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Tehran, as well as a watercolor of the Shah seated on a chair in full regal attire with a bejeweled belt and sword and bearing the Sun decoration on his chest, with the inscription, “Esmāʿil Jalāyer; the month of Rabiʿ II of the year 1279.”

Portraits of notables include a 90 x 70 cm. oil portrait of Mirzā Ḥosayn Khan Sepahsālar with the signature “Work of the painter to the Exalted Government of Iran, Esmāʿil, son of the late Ḥājj Zamān Khan Jalāyer.” The subject is depicted astride a finely drawn horse with a garden and some rustic huts in the background.

There is also an oil painting of Mirzā ʿAli-Aṣḡar Khan Atābak (Amin-al-Solṭān), sitting on a chair, and wearing a jewel-studded medallion depicting the picture of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah. The room with its furniture and decorations are drawn in some detail. Colorful fruit trees fill the outer space and there is also an inscription in the nastʿaliq style (see CALLIGRAPHY) in black ink with white margins containing a line from Ḥāfeẓ, “If the grace of the Holy Ghost grants his aid anew/Others can achieve what the Messiah was accustomed to do” (Fayż-e ruḥ ol-qodos ar bāz madad farmāyad/digarān ham bekonand ānča Masiḥā mikard). In the background that displays a garden, there is a lion with a sword under an image of the sun, with the single word zamāmdāri (rule, sovereignty) inscribed on its sheath. In the foreground there is another piece of writing stating that “this single verse of Hafez has been inscribed by copying the handwriting of His Most Exalted Excellency Amin-al-Solṭān, may one be sacrificed for him!” This portrait too depicts the same person.

Paintings with religious and mystical subjects and themes. As already pointed out, these include images of the prophets and religious and mystical luminaries, and are mostly in watercolor or pen-an-ink, but occasionally also in oil. In some cases the result is a fusion of Persian traditional painting and European naturalistic style. Sometimes, as in the oil painting on canvas of Nur-ʿAli Šāh as a young dervish, presently in the Decorative Arts Museum of Tehran, despite the very Persian way the face is made up, and the Sufi garb donned by the subject, it is the European naturalistic aspect of the style that catches the eye (Figure 1). The young mystic has his long hair scattered over his shoulders, and sits in the middle of a garden, holding an ornate walking stick with one hand and the chain of a kaškul (a dervish’s begging bowl) in the other. This and other portraits of Nur-ʿAli Šāh by the painter have been copied on many a carpet from Kerman and in all sizes (Ḏokāʾ, p. 664).

Two other portraits of Nur-ʿAli Šāh deserve mention. One, in the Golestān Palace (q.v.) collection, has an autograph, “drawn by the humble Esmāʿil,” and another, in the private collection of Amir Bahman Ṣamṣām, also shows the young Sufi with all the trappings of a dervish (see Camb. Hist. Iran VII, pl. 37). It is also signed.

An album (moraqqaʿ) comprising of pictures of leading Sufi luminaries and masters belonging to the library of Golestān Palace, signed “Esmāʿil Jalāyer ebn al-Ḥāji Zamān Ḵan,” and dated 1286 A.H. with idealized depictions of Bāyazid Besṭāmi, Bābā Ṭāher, Awḥadi (qq.v.), Šams of Tabriz, Nur-ʿAli Šāh, Moštāq of Kerman, and Maʿṣum-ʿAli Šāh; as well as two paintings of flowers and grapes (Ātābāy, p. 386).

A painting inspired by the story of Yusof and Zolayḵā (Joseph and the Potiphar’s wife), in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and exhibited in the famous Burlington House exhibition of 1931, though misdated there (Robinson, Camb. Hist. Iran VII, p. 887, n. 57) with a group of Zolayḵā’s female companions in Persian costumes sipping tea by a samovar. Yusof and Zolayḵā stand amongst them with the former accepting a cup offered to him by Zolayḵā. Other details include a young woman smoking a water pipe (ḡalyān, q.v.), and another playing a stringed instrument (tār). On the upper part of the painting there is a brief inscription and signature in nastaʿliq with the name Esmāʿil and an often repeated tag on Persian artifacts to the effect that the work should be considered a memento to commemorate its maker (“Esmāʿil; ḡaraż naqšist k’az mā bāz mānad.”)

There is a painting with the approximate dimensions of 220 x120 cm. in the Decorative Arts Museum of Tehran depicting Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, surrounded by angels, one of whom holds the sacrificial ram (Figure 2). It is painted in the siāh qalam manner, a method using mostly black watercolor with tiny touches of white here and there. Traditionally, in the city of Isfahan, they used soot and other products to make little grains that were then ground and mixed with water. Sometimes oil paint was also used. The technique produced a good quality texture unaffected by humidity and could evoke an atmosphere imbued with spirituality.

A horizontally rectangular painting exists in the collection of Mr. Adib Borumand, depicting Imam ʿAli, his sons Imam Ḥasan and Ḥosayn, as well as one of the most celebrated Companions of the Prophet, Salmān-e Fārsi. The painting also contains images of cherubs in the European style.

Paintings with a variety of subjects. A painting approximately 50 x 80 cm., commissioned by the merchant Ḥāji Mirzā ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb and now in the Decorative Arts Museum of Tehran, copies using a brush, the calligraphy of the famous calligrapher Āqā Mirzā Ḡolām-Reżā of a verse from the poet Saʿdi (for the text see Ḏokāʾ, p. 663), with scenes from a traditional coffee–house, a festive gathering of women musicians, and other scenes including the athletes of a zurḵāna (the traditional Persian gymnasium). It too bears the signature “the work of Esmāʿil Jalāyer” in a fine nastaʿliq hand and is dated 1284 A.H.

A pen-box that was completed by the painter has already been referred to above. It had begun as the work of the celebrated painter Moḥammad Beg Afšar of Urmia (sometimes referred to as “the mute master painter,” Naqāšbāši-e lāl) who showed the unfinished work to the French traveler Xavier Hommaire de Hell (q.v.) in Tabriz on November 15, 1847 (see Khalili, Robinson et al, Lacquer of the Islamic Lands, p. 149, for a long extract from Hommaire de Hell who provides a detailed description of the encounter and the illustrations on the pen-box). The box was exhibited in Cairo in 1935 (Wiet, Exposition d’art persan, p. 87) and appeared twice at Sotheby’s auctions in London (9 October 1978, lot no. 187; and 12 October 2000, lot no. 89). There is a long inscription by Jalāyer in nastaʿliq script on the base clarifying which parts were the original work of “Naqāšbāši-e lāl” and which were Jalāyer’s own. More comprehensive lists and descriptions of his paintings are to be found in the works by Mohammad-ʿAli Karimzāda-Tabrizi, ʿAbbās Sarmadi and Yaḥyā Ḏokāʾ, cited in the bibliography.



Badri Ātābāy, Fehrest-e moraqqaʿāt-e Ketābḵāna-ye Salṭanati, Tehran, 1974.

Yaḥyā Ḏokāʾ, in “Esmāʿil Jalāyer,” The Great Islamic Encyclopaedia, VIII, Tehran, 1998, pp. 662-65.

Naṣr-Allāh Fatḥi, Negin, 59, 1970; repr. as “Naqāšihā-ye Esmāʿil-e Jalāyer,” Rāhnemā-ye ketāb 15, 1972, pp. 653-57.

Reżāqoli Khan Hedāyat, Majmaʿ al-foṣaḥā, ed. Maẓāher Moṣaffā, 6 vols. Tehran 1957-61.

Xavier Hommaire de Hell, Voyage en Turquie et en Perse . . . , compiled Jules Laurens, Paris, 1854-60, vol. 3, p. 18.

Irān newspaper, no. 55, 17 Ramażān 1288/30 November 1871.

Nasser D. Khalili, B. W. Robinson et al., Lacquer of the Islamic Lands, II, The Nasser Khalili Collection of Islamic Art XXII, London, 1997.

Ḥosayn Maḥbubi Ardakāni, Tāriḵ-e moʾassasāt-e tamaddoni-e jadid dar Irān I, Tehran, 1975, pp. 283, 329, 331.

Dust-ʿAli Khan Moʿayyer-al-Mamālek, “Rejāl-e ʿaṣr-e nāṣeri,” Yaḡmā 10, 1957, pp. 168-75.

Idem, “Haštād o panj sāl zendegi dar čand ṣafḥa,” (part one) Yaḡmā 12/2, April-May 1959, pp. 78-83.

Basil William Robinson, “Qajar Lacquer,” Muqarnas VI, 1989, pp. 131-46; repr. in Idem, Studies in Persian Art, I, London, 1993.

Moḥammad-ʿAli Karimzāda-Tabrizi, Aḥwāl wa āṯār-e naqqāšān-e qadim-e Irān, 3 vols., London, 1983, I, pp. 77-81.

ʿAbbās Sarmadi, Dāneš-nāma-ye honarmandān-e Irān o Islām, Tehran, 2000, pp. 83-84.

Sotheby’s Catalogue, “Arts of the Islamic World,” 12 October 2000, No. 89.

Ḵalil Khan Ṯaqafi Aʿlam-al-dawla, Maqālāt-e gunāgun, Tehran, 1943, pp. 163-66.

Gaston Wiet, Exposition de d’art persan, Société des Amis de l’Art, Cairo, 1935.

(Manouchehr Broomand)

Originally Published: December 15, 2008

Last Updated: April 10, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIV, Fasc. 4, pp. 413-415