SHAFAQNA: Coffee-House painting is a traditional, narrative style of painting originating in Iran. It focuses on Persian folklore, epic stories as well as religious Shia Martyrology. These types of paintings started as an attempt to distance art from the royal courts bringing it closer to the people by decorating the walls of coffeehouses and other public places. Most of the coffeehouse painters were amateur self-taught artists who had no formal training.
The real origin and art history of Coffee House painting is not really known due to lack of documents. Despite that the remaining oil paintings and frescos takes it back to the Safavid era (16th century) with tile painting in Chehel Sotoun Palace in Esfahan (Isfahan) as a clear example.
Hossein Qollar-Aghasi and his loyal student-follower Mohammad Modaber who died in grave poverty are considered as the founders of the present style of Coffee House Painting.
Qollar-Aghasi, Karbala Tragedy, Oil painting, 130 in 241, Sa’dabad Cultural Center
Qollar-Aghasi, Bringing back Moslem to Imam Hossein, oil painting, 110 by 171, Reza Abbasi Museum
The photo below is a coffeehouse painting of a coffeehouse painting depicting a storyteller recounting the Battle of Karbala ‘pardeh style’.
In the following painting By Abbas Al-Musavi, the individual scenes from the battle and the life of Imam Husayn (as) are presented from left to right, but without logical progression. The central figure of the painting is Abbas (as)(Imam Husayns half brother and standard bearer), mounted on a white horse stabbing a member of Yazids army. Depicted on the left are scenes from the battle showing the agonies of Imam Husayn (as) and his followers. On the right are scenes from Paradise including Imam Husayn (as) and his followers above corresponding scenes from the underworld populated by Yazid and his supporters.
The expressive, charged scenes depicted in gory details with vibrant colors seek an emotional response from an audience at a taâzieh theatrical performance, where paintings such as this one served as pardeh (curtains or portable backdrop paintings) for a reenactment of the Karbala tragedy. The name of the patron and city of production (Darvish Abbas Uvaysi, Isfahan) as well as the artists name (Abbas al-Musavi) are found in two important inscriptions in the painting.