Youth Holding a Candle and an Incense Burner

Period: Safavid period, Iran
Date: ca. 1640
Material and Technique: Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Dimensions: 7 3/8 x 4 1/2 inches (18.7 x 11.4 cm)
Kept in the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, NY, USA
Source: [1]
جوان صفوی شمع به دست در حال سوزاندن عنبر - موزه هنر جانسون، دانشگاه کورنل، آمریکا
Persian painting began to shift in the sixteenth century from manuscript illustrations to the predominance of single-page paintings that were compiled into albums. Many of these depicted a solitary figure, or amorous couples standing or sitting alone. The celebrated artist Riza Abbasi (ca. 1565–1635) is considered the great master of this genre. The Johnson Museum’s painting is close in style to the work of his student Muhammad Yusuf al-Husayni.

The idealized youthful figure, whose gender seems ambiguous, wears a hat that suggests he is male. He is shown holding a burning candle and a censer from which thick smoke rises. A slight breeze blows his flowing garments and long, wispy locks of hair. A delicate background pattern of landscape elements and clouds, all painted in gold, creates an otherworldly setting. All of these features characterize the conventionalized images that were so popular during this period. Such depictions have strong poetic connotations, many related to Sufism (Islamic mysticism), that heightened the spiritual content of poetry and contributed new levels of meaning. In this context a painting of a youth could be a metaphor for earthly or divine beauty or love.