Mirza Abol-Hassan Khan Ghaffari Kashani, known as Abol-Hassan the Second and entitled "Sani ol-Molk" , son of Mirza Mohammad Ghaffari, the talented painter and graphic artist of the early 19th century and, according to extant documents, was born in Kashan around 1814. After his elementary schooling, he was sent, at the age of fifteen or sixteen, to learn painting with Master Mehr-Ali Esfahani, the famous painter and naqqashbashi (grand painter) of Fath-Ali Shah of Qajar.
Mirza Abol-Hassan Khan, driven by his innate taste and inherited talent, and with the guidance and tutelage of his instructors, gradually attained the perfection of his art, and soon became a renowned artist of his time.
In 1842, during the reign of Mohammad Shah of Qajar , when only a young man of 29, he was allowed to paint a portrait of the monarch, thus becoming a court painter, and soon after was appointed naqqashbashi of Mohammad Shah's court. Mohammad Shah's oil portrait bears the signature "Chaker-e Jan-nesar Abol-Hassan-e Sani Ghaffari" and date "1258 (1842)" is considered his earliest painting.
Mirza Abol-Hassan Khan, prompted by his desire for improvement, near the end of Mohammad Shah's reign, decided to travel to Italy, then the artistic center of Europe, in order to see and study the works of the great and famous European artists, particularly those of Renaissance, and become acquainted with their painting methods. He spent some time in Italy visiting and studying in the academies and museums of Rome, Vatican, Florence and Venice, making copies of the works of Italian artists.
The result of his journey to Italy included copies of several European paintings, among which Raphael's famous Madona di Foligno in the Vatican. He was still in Europe when Mohammad Shah Qajar died and his young heir, Naser o-Din Mirza, who lived in Tabriz, came to Tehran and with the efforts of Mirza Taqi Khan Amir Nezam (Amir Kabir) acceding to the throne in 1848. Since only a few works made by Abol-Hassan Khan in 1848 and 1849 are available , and since the first work he made after returning to Iran is dated 1850-1, his homeward trip must have taken place two or three years after the accession of Naser o-Din Shah.
Naser o-Din Shah; (Watercolor on paper)
The One Thousand and One Nights
This is a superb book in terms of its paper, cover, calligraphy, number of pages and decoration. But its most important and interesting aspect concerns the number and quality of the illustrations it holds, which indeed make it a masterpiece of the Iranian miniature painting of its era.
In Kamol ol-Molk's words, this copy of the One thousand and One Nights contains 3600 different scenes in 1134 of its pages, executed in seven years by 42 artists working in various artistic fields. Besides their particular design, coloring, composition and refinement, the paintings are most instructive from the viewpoint of their depiction of the Iranian folklore in the mid 19th century.
In creating the scenes that illustrate this book (One Thousand and One Night), Abol-Hassan Khan has opted to depict the Iranian life in his own time, mid 19th century. Therefore, the illustrations of this book constitute authentic documents about Iranian life of mid 19th century.
For example, in one story the caliph of Baghdad is depicted as Naser o-Din Shah, and his minister, Jafar Barmaki, as Amir kabir in the last years of his life, and the streets and marketplaces of Baghdad are depicted as those of Tehran in early years of Naser o-Din Shah's reign.
On the whole, the numerous colorful, elaborate and refined paintings of this precious book reveal important and interesting cultural and ethnological aspects of Iranian society at that time. In these illustrations, one can, for instance, observe the configuration of houses, rooms, mantles, walls, windows, made in the recently imported French style, brick-paved courtyard, pools, arcade and elaborately planted gardens. One can also observe how a public bathhouse for men comprised a bineh, a dome, pillars, stairways and communal washing pools, and one can see what went on there, for example: how men had their heads shaved with razor, their bodies scrubbed with scrubbing gloves (kiseh), having henna applied to their beards, hands and feet; and how they would lie down on a spread loincloth (long) on the floor of bathhouse to have their bodies massaged.
Young Naser o-Din among the courtiers (Watercolor and Gouash on paper)
One can see that pupolar musical instrument in those days were the tar, the kamanch, the daf and the zarb (tonbak), that both men and women played these, and that young boys and girls performed solo or couple dances in the middle of rooms, accompanying their steps with cracking sounds from the fingers of both hands. The illustrations shows that people usually sat on the floor, on a carpet, a harami or a felt floor mat covered with a qazmaqazi lining, resting against cushions laid all around the walls and on the floor of rooms, and in the homes of princes, courtiers, aristocrats and wealthy people various pieces of imported European furniture were used.
An illustrations From "1001 Nights" by Sani ol-Molk
Indeed, every corner of those illustrations are full of surprises and are very useful reference in studying Iranian society of mid 19th century.
Mirza Abol-Hassan Khan due to some sickness in 1866 at the age of 52 passed away. But sadly after his death, no commemoration of the master appears either in the government gazette or in other publications. No bereavement is expressed and the matter is passed over in silence.