My research project centres on the olfactory experience of art and culture in Iran during the early-modern and modern periods, ca. 1500-1900. I look at the ways in which perfumed substances were widely used, from fashioning, curing and poisoning people, to surmounting spirits as well as exchanged in political relations. Perfumes imbued every aspect of daily life. Since Medieval times, it was clear to druggists and alchemists, that everything that was smelled and eaten had an impact on the body. It followed that perfumes and aromatics were widely used in medicinal practices, musk, for example, was used to strengthen the heart, but it was also used in daily life by kings, to perfume their clothes, and by women, when preparing as brides. Musk was the most precious aromatic of the time, imported from the Himalayas, it was extremely rare. This is why it was often gifted from kingdom to kingdom, as a precious and esteemed asset of courtly practice. Musk was also mentioned in the Qur’an, as the seal to the divine wine to be served in the Garden of Paradise. It, therefore, had strong religious associations, and finely perfumed people were considered holy. Indeed, mosques and holy places were often incensed inside out, and their walls imbued with perfumed oils, so much so that their visitors exited the holy places themselves scented.
My aim is to re-assess the Iranian history of art through the sense of smell and inquiry into how this new framework of knowledge can deepen our understanding of the art, life and culture from the Safavid to the Qajar epoch.
I have previously studied at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, for my MA degree, reading Dr Sussan Babaie's course on Safavid Art and Culture. An extract from my MA dissertation has been published in August 2021 by the journal LAPIS.
I received my BA degree in History of Art from Trinity College, Cambridge. My BA dissertation received the 2019 Best Undergraduate Dissertation Prize by the Association for Art History, UK.