Emily Hannam (Curator of South Asia, British Museum)
Coming to Isfahan Lecture Series
400 years ago, the twenty-three-year-old Anthony van Dyck encountered a strange vision: an Englishman dressed from head to foot in Persian court dress. The artist, the son of a silk merchant, was enthralled, and hastily sketched the man’s lavishly embroidered cloak and bulbous silk turban, making notes of their textures and colours. Van Dyck went on to paint the man and his wife in larger-than-life portraits which, along with his sketches, still survive today as a testament to van Dyck’s curious Eastern encounter.
The man in question was Sir Robert Shirley, one of many Englishmen who had travelled to Safavid Iran, where he learnt Persian, embraced local customs, and made himself useful to the Shah. But what were the English doing in the 17th century Iran and what, as well as their dazzling new clothes, were the outcomes of their Iranian adventures? This talk will follow the journeys of three 17th century Englishmen in Iran: Sir Robert Shirley (1581–1628), Sir Thomas Herbert (1606–1681), and Thomas Murray (c.1605-82), exploring the motivations behind their travels, their experiences of Isfahan and their varied impressions its inhabitants. It will also investigate the cultural impact their travels had, both in England and in Iran, and why diplomatic relations between the Stuart and Safavid courts eventually came to an untimely end.
About the Speaker:
Emily Hannam is a curator of South Asia at the British Museum and the curatorial lead for Manchester Museum’s South Asia Gallery, a Partnership Project with the British Museum. Emily was previously assistant curator of Islamic and South Asian Collections at the Royal Collection Trust where she led research into three newly identified Safavid oil paintings from 17th century Isfahan and curated exhibitions including Splendours of the Subcontinent (2018) at The Queen’s Gallery, London. She is the author of Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent and featured on the 2018 BBC series Art, Passion and Power.
Onsite Lecture will be delivered in person in the museum’s Lecture Theatre, followed by Q&A and an optional exhibition tour.
For guests attending the lecture onsite, the Silk Road Café will serve hot food beforehand and until 7.00 pm, and then drinks and desserts only until 7.30 pm. Each Coming to Isfahan lecture will also be followed by a short tour of Meeting in Isfahan with the Curator of Islamic Collections, Dr Moya Carey.