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Arts of Asia

The MFAH collections of art from China, India, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia reflect Houston’s diverse communities. Ancient and contemporary works are displayed together to create innovative juxtapositions.


A Portrait of 'Ali, Hasan, Husayn, and Nur ‘Ali Shah Ni‘matullahi
Iran, second half of the 19th century
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

6 x 5 1/8 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of James and Franci Crane, Rania and Jamal Daniel,
Matt and Jennifer Esfahani, Nijad and Zeina Fares,
Lily and Hamid Kooros, Cathy and Vahid Kooros,
Sima and Masoud Ladjevardian, Behrooz Ramesh,
Sabiha and Omar Rehmatulla, Aziz Shaibani,
and Monsour Taghdisi

Arts of Asia

This small painting features ‘Ali (cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad and first Shi‘a imam) with his sons, Hasan and Husayn, and the leader of the Ni‘matullahi Sufi order Nur ‘Ali Shah. Sufis consider Muhammad and ‘Ali models of mystical insight, and ‘Ali is represented here as a symbol of mystical guidance. This connection is suggested by the sheepskin (pust) on which he sits, used to indicate the ritual space of a Sufi shaykh, as well as by the light radiating from his figure, which alludes to his spiritual enlightenment.

Representations of Sufi mystics and of members of the Ahl al-Bayt (“People of the Prophet’s House”) appear frequently in the work of Isma‘il Jalayir. Jalayir was among the most talented painters to graduate from the Dar al-Funun, the first Iranian polytechnic with a curriculum in visual arts, founded in 1851 by the Qajar ruler Nasir al-Din Shah.