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Vintage Photos of The Iranian Shah and His 84 Wives

1800s | January 20, 2017

In 1842, Queen Victoria of England handed out a present to a then 11 year-old Shah Qajar of Persia-- a camera. The heir to the Persian throne fell in love with this magical contraption and photography became one of his many passions. When he took over the throne, he organized the world’s first official photo studio at his court. In the next few years, he documented his life, exposing to the public eye things it was never supposed to see.

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Naser al-Din Shah Qajar

Russian photographer Anton Sevryugin started a workshop in Tehran during 1870s. Sevryugin was the official photographer to the Persian court who created a photographic record of Persia, and was awarded an imperial title for his works.

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Naser Al-Din Shah Qajar and the photographer Sevryugin before a photoshoot

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Anton Sevryugin was allowed to take pictures of the Shah himself and all his male relatives, courtesans and servants. However, the right to photograph the harem was exclusive for Qajar himself. Historians believe the Shah had approximately 100 concubines.

It is regarded that Naser al-Din Shah produce the pictures in a darkroom at the court and preserve them in large albums in the Golestan palace, which is a museum today.

Below: The main entrance to the palace of Gulistan.
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The reason these photographs are considered remarkable, is that Shiia custom of the time, photography of peoples’ faces, especially those of women, are prohibited. And only the most powerful man in the country could break this tradition.

Below: The exceptional Anis al-Doleh was the Shah’s favourite wife. (On the right)
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Plumpness was one of the primary criteria of beauty.
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Young concubine with a hookah.
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These pictures of women contradict the conventional image of life in a harem.

The Shah’s wives appears to be up to date for their time, and they stare calmly into the lens, without coquettishness or slavery.

Below: Anis al-Doleh, known as the Shah’s soulmate.
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The incomparable Anis al-Doleh (sitting).
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Below: The harem at a picnic.
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Naser al-Din Shah Qajar with few of his wives.
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Naser al-Din Shah Qajar with some of his wives.
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The wives of the Shah didn’t suffer from skinniness.
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You can deduce the Iranian monarch’s tastes from the photos. It’s apparent that the women didn’t suffer from emaciation and were not encumbered with physical work. Experts claim that the alleged nude photos in the Golestan collection have been well hidden.

Below: Ladies from the harem in ‘shaliteh’ skirts.
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Several photos will show the concubines in short, opulently designed skirts called ‘shaliteh’, identical to ballet tutus. Accordingly, it is no coincidence.

In 1873, on the invitation of Russian Tsar Alexander II, Naser al-Din visited Saint Petersburg . Subsequently, he visited the ballet and was supposedly charmed by the Russian dancers; that is why his women dressed in similar skirts. Naturally, the concubines only clear away their Muslim dress for the camera. Yet again, this may be just hearsay.

Below: Ladies from the harem in ‘shaliteh’ skirts.
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H/T Bright Side

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