Isa Khan, Qurchibashi Of Shah Abbas I


By Bishn Das, Mughal Court Painter. Source: Aga Khan Museum.
This portrait, once identified as representing Shah 'Abbas I, is ascribed at the lower left to Bishn Das (“Bishndas”), a Mughal portraitist favoured at the court of Jahangir (r. 1605-27 CE). As foreign embassies often travelled with their own artists, it is possible that Bishndas accompanied the envoy of the Mughal Khan Alam, stationed in Iran from 1618-19 CE (Canby 1998, p. 139). In the late twentieth century, scholars suggested that the figure in the painting was Isa Khan (d. 1632 CE), the qurchibashi, or commander-in-chief, of the king’s royal guard. The justification behind this identification comes from a reading of the Persian inscription at the lower right of the painting as “shabih-i Isa Khan” (the likeness of Isa Khan). Appointed as qurchibashi in 1612-13 CE, Isa Khan is mentioned by Iskandar Beg Munshi in the latter’s history of Shah Abbas. His prominent status is underscored by the fact that the king’s successor, Shah Safi (r. 1629-42 CE), had Isa Khan executed three years after he ascended the throne (Eskander Beg Monshi 1978, vol. 2, p. 1309; Canby 1998, p. 140). It would therefore not seem unusual for Bishndas to record the likeness of a pre-eminent courtier as one of the portraits painted on his visit. On the other hand, however, the inscription appears more clearly legible as “shabih-i Ali Khan”, which encourages further research on the identity behind this name as well.


Persian Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers
Moghul Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers
Other 17th Century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers