The contextual recognition of the painted tile-works embedded in the historical public bath of Nobar in Tabriz

Document Type : Research Article



Contextually, the unique collection of ten Qajarid painted tile-works embedded in the historical public bath of Nobar in Tabriz, in conformity to their historical and literal narrations, royal badges and some of European artistic elements as landscape give the impression that originally they had not been designed for the decoration of a public bath. Basically, this article, therefore, quests on the original context of these painted tile-works. The theoretical principals of this essay are derived from the key concept of artifact’s context in archaeology and the authenticity in conservation of monuments. The historical method of the essay have studied the authenticity of these painted tile-works in the context of historical public bath of Nobar in Tabriz and its effectiveness on the conservation process of this monument. Finally, it has culminated that these painted tile-works have off situ position all detached from their original context in the historical House of Farshi (Shakilli) where the family of Senator Prof. Sadegh Reza Zadeh Shafagh Tabrizi resided during the resignation of Muzaffar Al-din Shah of Qajar by the late 19th century. The contextual detachment of this collection from the house of Farshi and its placement in the bath of Nobar has resulted in meaninglessness of the artwork, dehistoricization and decrease of cultural-historical and economic values of the house of Farshi, its deregistration in the national list of Iranian law of antiquities, and eventually the introduction to destruction and transformation process of such monument. Archaeologically, in situ context means a socio-cultural/environmental place wherein authenticity, dating and function of an artifact could be determined. In situ context, in other words, defines that how an artifact has been made and why it has been used for. In addition to archaeology, in situ context of artifacts plays a key role in the processes of conservation and restoration further. Conservators, according to Venetian (1964) and Nara (1994) protocols of conservation, emphasize more on the authenticity of monuments on the basis of their solidarity of in situ context of attached artifacts; for example: decorative elements of a historical house. This means that off situ elements and artifacts of a monument should be recognized and re-attached to their basic context of monument. The unique collection of Qajarid painted tile-works are embedded in the main corridor of the historic public bath of Nobar in Tabriz. These painted tile-works have been embedded in ten brick-worked symmetric panels, all in 320x160x20 cm dimensions. Of these, six panels have been keeping right side whilst other group are on the left. Every scene (300x140 cm) is formed by 7x15 pieces (20x20 cm) of polychrome (Haft Rang) painted tile-work. These scenes depict various historical events and mythological and literal narrations. Two painted tile-worked panels present two Qajarid army officers in European blue uniforms, armed with a rifle, badged hats, and particularly, decorated by British Royal order of Garter. Historically, Muzaffar Al-din Shah of Qajar and brigadier general Abdul-Hussein Mirza Farmanfarma had been decorated by the royal order of Garter. Consequently, these personalities have been recognized as Muzaffar Al-din Shah of Qajar and Abdul-Hussein Mirza Farmanfarma by the authors. Two painted tile-worked panels depict battle of a dragon and a lion whilst a sun rising from the back of the lion. Historically, Lion and Sun is the royal badge of Qajarid Iran. Moreover, two Nikes, painted in the European style, present a royal crown. The authors do realize that these panels should have been detached from a royal context. Another Two painted tile-worked scenes show a young noble man, riding a horse and accompanied with hunting dogs and servants, in a meadow and hunting ground. This scene is encircled by a Roman style arch and two Nikes present a royal crown further. Iconographically, these signs prove the idea that they had a legislative context too. In addition to the above mentioned panels, two tile-worked tableaux present side whiskers, horse riding, and lion hunting by a dagger, probably depict Kör Oğlu a famous heroic character in Azerbaijani folklore. These tableaux also are interesting as they introduce Ustad Taghi Kashi Paz (Taghi the Master of tile- working) who has made these art works. The ninth scene depicting a European battlefield deployed five rows of cavalries and artilleries and a fortress in siege. Historically, some of Qajarid princes, in particular, Prince Abdul-Hussein Mirza had been educated in the European military academies. Finally, the tenth panel shows the divine court of King Solomon the prophet equipped with a sword, seating on the royal throne, supported by two lions, two angles and a giant monster, and a hoopoe giving him a divine message; whilst the throne is encircled by nobles and court men. King Solomon the prophet has a key setting in the Persian classical literature, Azerbaijani folklore and sometimes is presented in the royal Qajarid painted tile-works in Tehran and Shiraz.