Erotic images and imagery in the early Qajar period

A study in projection, adaptation, adoption and appropriation

  • Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar
Keywords: Qajar era, Qajar art, erotica, religious art, Christian art, Islamic art, mythology, painting, photography, nineteenth-century Persia, Orientalism, colonialism, post-colonialism


This article problematizes five central themes regarding Qajar art in general and erotic representation in Qajar art in particular. It addresses the continued existence of the tropes that the Qajar era is not worthy of serious academic study; that concern with erotica at that time was a uniquely elite concern resulting from their debased morality; that erotica was a particularly Eastern, read Iranian, addiction in contradistinction to the morally superior West (the colonialist and orientalist thesis); that erotic representation in paintings and other media specific to the early nineteenth century was accessible to a wider population; and finally, that Qajar art is not high art, because it is a hybrid, not purely indigenous, art. Beyond addressing and countering these five themes, this article concludes with a series of ‘coincidences’ of artistic erotic representation between West and East (Europe and Qajar Iran), and suggests that these cannot be coincidental.