Archive for the ‘Persia’ Category

Cultural cross-dressing

November 1, 2011

Portrait of Sir Robert Shirley, by Sir Anthony van Dyck. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

I recently spotted this extraordinary pair of portraits by Van Dyck at Petworth. They show Sir Robert Shirley (?1581-1628) and his wife Teresia, he in Persian costume, she in her native Circassian dress.

The portraits were probably painted in Rome in 1622, where Sir Robert was acting as ambassador for Shah Abbas the Great of Persia.

Portrait of Teresia, Lady Shirley, by Sir Anthony van Dyck. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Sir Robert had gone to Persia with his equally adventurous elder brother Anthony to promote trade between England and Persia and to solicit the support of the Shah against the Ottoman Empire.

He stayed there for a number of years, married Teresia, and was then sent back by Shah Abbas to tour a number of European courts in order to cement the alliance against the Ottomans.

These portraits are a wonderful evocation of Sir Robert’s pride in his acquired identity as a Persian grandee.