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Safavid Gardens as the Representation of their World and Culture

Mahvash Alemi, Rome, Italy, Fellow 2008–2009

During my fellowship I worked on the draft of my book Safavid Gardens As the Representation of their World and Culture. Its first chapter is a critique of the recent construction of the word chaharbagh as a garden with a four-fold plan. Chapter two offers an analysis of gardens in cities as described through restored Safavid maps, based on my critical study of sources, mainly Kaempfer's manuscripts. The third chapter is about gardens in the rural world, including productive, sacred, and hunting landscapes. Chapter four is on Navidi's poems and garden, revealing the essence of creation as mirrored in the heart of a Sufi. The remaining sections examine the representation of gardens in Safavid painting (relying particularly on the Houghton Shahnama, a recent Dumbarton Oaks acquisition), gardens represented in carpets and tents, and the use of inter-textuality to link the Safavids to ancient kings and rituals. I have finished the first and fourth chapters and made significant progress in the remaining chapters by refining the plan of the book, adding new ideas to the chapters on paintings, carpets, and tents, and updating my work on mausoleum gardens. This was possible thanks to the resources at Dumbarton Oaks, the generous assistance of librarians Sheila Klos, Linda Lott, Deborah Stewart and Bridget Gazzo, and the continuous work of Ingrid Gibson for interlibrary loans. The discussions on common cultural aspects of Chinese and Persian gardens with Xin Wu, the talks with the Director of Studies, John Beardsley, and the garden fellows Nina Gerlach, Jennifer Raab, and Eric MacDonald, and the fortunate presence of the distinguished fellow Stephan Bann opened new perspectives. I was also invited to give talks on my work at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and at the Middle East Center of the University of Pennsylvania.