Various stages of the tragic encounter of two heroic figures, Rostam and Sorab, unaware of being father and son in the Ferdosi’s  Shanameh, and the final nurder of Soharb by Rostam  is depicted in this Ghahve-khaneh style painting.


Iranian folk art painting or Ghahve- Khaneh  painting (literally Coffee House Painting), like other forms of folklore, is an art form that  has emerged from the culture, customs,  and beliefs of the ordinary people. This art form, with its unique and attractive aesthetics  began as a way of decorating the coffee houses and  other public places since the Safavid era of the mid 16th century.


A comparison between this  Safavid era wall painting, with its graceful  floating of curved spaces in an harmonious composition, depicted on the royal palace of Alighapoo in Isfahan,  and the naive composition of Ghahve -Khaneh paintings  reveals a loose relationship between the two styles.


Ali Quli Jabbadar, Shepherds in a Landscape, Safavid era, c. 1675

The influence of the European painting on the Persian folk art can be traced back to Safavid era, and the paintings of    Ali Quli Jabbadar  who was a European convert to Islam. His name suggests that he was an official in the Safavid armory.   Jabbadar’s  naive style, with elements both from the European and Persian tradition, reveals that, like all folk artists, he was not a formally trained artist. ‘Ali Quli has painted both in ‘Qazvin’ and  in ‘Isfahan’, and a number of  his portraits of Shah Sulayman are in an album in St Petersburg with Georgian inscriptions, indicating that perhaps a Georgian official commissioned them. His son, Muhammad ‘Ali Beg, become head of the painters under Nadir Shah.


In general, folk artists were self-taught, without any theoretical training in art, and  they did not follow any of the classical perspective rules, or European  compositional conventions.  They produced  a kind of naive style of   painting  that illustrated various heroic scenes from Shahnameh, the Royal Book, the epic history of Iranian heroes, by Ferdosi,   the romantic scenes from the Khamseh of Nezami, which includes the tragedies such as  Shirin and Farhad;   the love story of a rock carver,  Farhad, and his beloved the beautiful Armenian Queen Shirin, or the tragedy of Leili and Majnoon, another epic love story.  A different source of inspiration for these painters were religious stories of various saints, including biblical stories such as the story of Joseph and his jealous brothers, or the story of martyrs of Karbala .

story of martyrs of Karbala

This Ghahve-Khaneh style painting depicts the story of Yusof-o-Zoleikha, based on the love story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife Zuleikha, by the poet Nezami.  In its semi-circular sitting arrangements of the female characters the artist leads the observers’ eyes to the the character of Joseph, the hero of the story. Zoliekha’s character, om the other hand is painted at a larger scale to distinguish her from the other ladies.


Siavash from Shahnameh

The story of prince  Siavash from Shahnameh, The Royal Book, by Ferdosi is depicted with vibrant colors in this painting. To prove his innocence, Siavash who is mischievously accused by his stepmother, queen Rudabeh, of committing indecent transgression against her, must ride through the blazing fire.  Of note is the scale of  women of the court observing this trial scene from their balcony on the right hand side.


The Karbala story of martyrdom  of Husein

The Karbala story of martyrdom  of Husein,  the grandson of prophet Mohammed is one of the favorite topics for the Ghahve-khaneh artists.


A naive depiction of hero

A naive depiction of hero’s powerful attack against his antagonist. Note how antagonist is weightlessly floating  in the air at the top of hero’s  spear.


Yusef with his brothers

Yusef with his brothers, Qajar era, late 19th century

Oil on canvas, Yusuf, depicted wearing gold embroidered red robes, stands at the centre of the composition as he is pushed into the well by his angry brothers, one of whom waves a pitchfork above his head, behind them a mountainous landscape.

It is remarkable, that the Ghahve-Khaneh artists inattentively employed various techniques of the modern art such as cubism, surrealism, symbolism and so on ; for instance, they looked at a perspective from a number of different viewpoints,  or broke the laws physics and gravity, or utilized various symbols. There is a compelling force of boldness and confidence, an exuberant sense of originality and openness, and a sincere desire to communicate on their part. The vibrant, decorative style of their work is unassuming and honest. The artists created their works  not only on canvases or wooden boards but also on interior wall surfaces, and books.

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