عنوان مقاله [English]
Portraiture and making portraits of kings and others in a position of power have, for long, been considered to be an old tradition in human history. Generally speaking, in Iran, portraiture has always had a definite framework that originated in the world view and epistemology of Iranians. As of the mid-Qajar era, during their encounters with the West, Iranians’ epistemological framework underwent drastic changes due to global and regional developments at the time. This period marks the beginning of the so-called ‘discursive turn’. Modernism, as a form of discourse, introduced new terms and concepts into the Persian language, which in turn, brought about big changes in several fields.
From Laclau and Mouffe’s perspective, social affairs serve as discursive structures which are fathomable but unstable and come with other potential meanings capable of challenging or transforming the structure of discourse. Inventing new terms such as ‘articulation’, ‘nodal point’, ‘floating signifier’, ‘element’, ‘moment’, and ‘chains of equivalence and difference’, Laclau and Mouffe showed how a cluster of signs with fixed meanings are formed into a network within a discourse, and therefore, create a unified meaning.
The second Qajar era witnessed a social conflict between two macro discourses over fixing the meaning. Signifiers of modern discourse were in inherent conflict with those of nodal discourse. Modern discourse appeared in the margins of nodal discourse and reached its climax during the Naseral-Din Shah era; ultimately, it was transformed into hegemony in the form of a political-social movement called ‘constitutionalism’. A question arises here: what is the effect of the changes made in the macro discourse dominating the society on the portraiture of Qajar kings and others holding a position of power?
The main issue in a theory of discourse is that how people in societies come to perceive themselves. In other words, how people in different societies define themselves, and, consequently, of what nature their behavioral pattern is. In hegemonic systems, there is no mutual relationship between the king and peasants. They are innately separated from each other. In hegemonic governments based on the coalition between religion and the royal court, ‘sacredness’ is a tool to legitimize the authoritative nature of the government. In such an authorial discourse, the king is the only competent authority who can establish laws, and since the institution of power is relying on the hegemonic signifier ‘Islam’, any opposition to the king is considered to be opposition to God and Shari'a. In accordance with the system of belief in this semantic structure, belief in religion and the unseen contributes to inherent inequality among humans. Reasoning has no function in this system.
Artistic production cannot be investigated out of the context of social discourses. During the Qajar era, nodal discourse gained legitimacy through possession of sources of producing culture and art. What was authorized to be represented had to be in accordance with legitimizing the government of the time. Nodal discourse, by nature, always selects the kind of media which are traditionally-oriented and have repetitive criteria. Such a discourse always tries to preserve its stability which puts it in a defensive position with fewer changes. The court intends to promote a kind of art that comes with fixed, established, and high norms.
As is observed, dictated orders by royal court discourse to the king’s identity have been portrayed. In his way, the function of the king’s portraits is to strengthen such ruling norms. Due to the gap in the epistemological framework of Iranians living during the second Qajar era, micro-and macrosocial relations between the king and the society kept a distance from symbolism and mythology. The king was no longer a sacred epic figure to be multiplied in impressionistic portraits. Although Fath-Ali shah must be portrayed with pure authority, the ideal representation of the king no longer bears importance in the new semantic system.
With discursive turn and establishment of such signifiers as ‘law’, ‘equality, and ‘justice’ as the most important signifiers of the marginalized discourse during the Naser al-Din shah era, degraded under the influence of the world view and the norms ruling over classic art, individuality and individual portraits gained ground and influenced, in turn, the nodal discourse in Iran. In portraits, faces kept a distance from ideals.
Evolving around such concepts as law, justice, and equality, a special kind of discourse penetrated the highest discursive levels in Iran as a result of which access to the king as an authority holding the highest position of power was made possible. With the king being in access more than before, he became smaller and smaller; in this way, his portraits became more realistic, more tangible, and more materialistic. with the establishment of laws, patriarchal interpretations of the king and his sacredness were marginalized and challenged, respectively, and the fact was differently articulated. As we move towards the hegemony of modern discourse, we witness a new representation of monarchy which is a result of developments like discourses intervening with the representation. Portraits attempting to renew the damaged legitimacy of the monarchy are signs of transcendental power and sacredness of the marginalized king. The elements of the portraits are material and the portrait maker had adopted a realistic manner towards the representations of the objects.
Modern discourse increased the king’s availability, with the halo around his head getting smaller, him becoming more real, and reality being differently articulated. An ideal representation of the king lost its legitimacy. Moving closer to harmonization of the signifier ‘law ‘, we experience growing changes.
To sum it up, it can be claimed that a study of portraiture in the first and second Qajar era shows changes in representation. Symbolism and sacralization of the king are increasingly marginalized, with the king dethroned; this is caused by factors accounted for by the change in the nature of discourses.
Portrait analysis reveals that a representation of the king as an existence dominating that of his audience is far from probable out of the context of discourse. In the portraits, the king keeps his social distance from the audience, in such a way that the distance is not an obstacle to him being easily recognized by the audience, nor is the nearness blurring the distinction between him and his audience. However, the situation is not the same as far as portraits made of common people are concerned. A most realistic representation of their faces is made in the center of the portrait with a direct look into the eyes of the audience, who may recognize such common faces as ‘insiders’.