Dominicus Custos, a bust portrait of Shah 'Abbas I

From the Atrium Heroicum, Augsburg, Germany, 1602

This print, made in Europe, depicts Shah 'Abbas I (15711629), the fifth shah of the Safavid Dynasty and ruler of Iran for 42 years. It shows that by 1602, 15 years into his reign, Shah 'Abbas was well-known enough in Europe to be included in a series of prints depicting ‘heroes’. If these were made from life, it would be the earliest known portrait of Shah 'Abbas.

Iran under Shah 'Abbas was a cosmopolitan country. The ruler was tolerant of Europeans and encouraged them to come to his country. In particular his capital city, Isfahan, became a cultural crossroads where European and Indian traders, travellers and adventurers mixed with many levels of Safavid Iranian society. Shah 'Abbas saw the rulers of Christian Europe as potential military allies against his enemies, the Ottomans. They also became commercial partners, as luxury Iranian silk was exchanged for gold and silver, in short supply in Iran but plentiful in Europe thanks to new supplies from South America.

After the fall of his dynasty, Shah 'Abbas’s reputation declined in Iran. However, thanks to his economic reforms and artistic renaissance, his country was known in Europe and Mughal India. Indians placed images of him in albums alongside the great Mughal emperors, from Babur to Shah Jahan. European travellers’ accounts of journeys to Iran include illustrations of Shah 'Abbas, recognisable by the length of his moustache and his elaborate turban.

Find in the collection online

More information



Height : 180.00 mm
Width: 116.00 mm 

Museum number

PD 1873,0510.2788


Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore