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Reflections of Heaven on Earth


The Hermitage Rooms exhibition moves on to present art created for worldly palaces. In this section we show some of the palaces which would have contained, and been brought alive by, the sort of magnificent objects on display in the exhibition. The first three photographs were taken by Robert Byron, and show palaces in Isfahan in 1933/4. The last three photographs were all taken in the 19th century, and show palaces in Istanbul and Granada.

1. and 2. The first two photographs show the Pavilion of Chehel Sotun at Isfahan, built, probably by Shah Abbas I, in the early 17th century. Chehel Sotun means "Forty Columns", and the pavilion was so named because the 20 octagonal wooden columns of its portico are reflected in a great lake just in front of it, which meant that Byron had to photograph it from the side. The pavilion, elaborately decorated, and surrounded by gardens, seems to have been used to receive foreign embassies. Byron's second photograph shows the amazing mirrored stalactite vault of the main niche of the great hall behind the portico.

3. This shows the entrance front and terrace of the Pavilion of Ali Qapn at Isfahan, built by Shah Abbas around 1610. This splendid building was merely the gatehouse to Shah Abbas' main palace at Isfahan, but apparently he was fond of it, and used it often. The ground floor was given over to administration; he himself and his entourage occupied the upper floor with the vast terrace, from which he could survey the city.

4. The entrance to the Harem at the Imperial Palace at Istanbul. This evocative photograph, an albumen print, probably dates from around 1870, though we do not know the name of the photographer.

5. This photograph of the Sultan's newly-built kiosk (summer palace) on the Bosphorous at Istanbul was taken in the early 1850s by James Robertson and his partner and brother in law, Felice Beato. It is an albumen print taken from a wet collodion negative.

6. This photograph, also an albumen print, was probably taken in the 1880s. It shows the Patio de los Arrayanes in the Alhambra at Granada, which has often seemed the epitome of Islamic palace architecture to western eyes, though continual rebuilding and restoration make it very difficult to be sure what is original.

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