Appearances can be so deceiving. I’ve been holding onto the image depicted above, not quite sure how to write about it. Finally, it has come to me. Three months ago I received an emailed copy of this 16th Century portrait of Shah Ismail I (1487-1524), founder of the Persian Safavid Dynasty. The striking portrait is on display at the Ulfizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. It is a fascinating work of art, worthy of prolonged study and deep contemplation. More on that below.
In his email to me, author and distinguished historian Andrew Bostom, M.D. included the Shah’s depiction with an excellent column he published on April 9, 2015. Ismail I’s portrait is also included in Dr. Bostom’s book, Iran’s Final Solution For Israel: The Legacy of Shi’ite Islamic Jew Hatred In Iran. You can read my review of that excellent, sobering book by clicking here.
But, now lets’ examine Ismail, as the 16th century artist painted him in life.
Notice the Shah’s extraordinarily handsome features. He had thick red hair and a full red beard. His nose was aquiline with finely shaped nostrils. The eyes were large, projecting foresight, strength and yet great sensitivity – revealing superior intellect and perceptive abilities much deeper than those found in ordinary men. His jawline was firm, the chin strong and prominent. The immense turban atop his head was befitting a man of such noble presence and power. He was by all appearances a heroic man – to be admired, loved and revered by all his subjects.
The portrait depicts the Shah’s entire persona as nothing less than one of absolute, unequivocal dignity and nobility. Had he lived in today’s world, with that physical appearance he could easily have been a movie star – or perhaps an idolized head of state.
So, what did contemporary eyewitnesses write about Ismail and his reign? How did this noble fellow conduct his business as the Muslim leader of his great empire?
Dr. Bostom’s research gives us two such accounts, as follows: