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Visual Vestiges of Travel: Persian Windows on European Weaknesses

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The increased presence of Europeans in Safavid Persia and especially in the capital city of Isfahan during the seventeenth century would imply the production of a kaleidoscope of observations of the foreigners. The scarcity of written Persian views on their European guests in contrast to the abundance of European chronicles about Safavid society has further fueled the expectation of 'oriental' apathy in modern historiography. In contrast to the discursive sources, Persian pictorial evidence of the European presence in Persia is surprisingly rich. This article focuses on a genre of Persian painting in which figural subject matter alludes to a sexual peculiarity of Europeans as observed by the people of Isfahan. The social agency of such pictures and their efficacy as historical sources allow us to tease out the different ways Safavid urban society observed the Europeans and lodged a cultural critique on aspects of their sexual behavior even before the emergence of Persian polemics on the Christian practice of celibacy.

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