Sussan Babaie
Food and Art; seeing the taste of Persian rice

Page from a copy of the Intikhāb-i Ḥadīqah, Safavid, 16th century, Or 122 Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

This talk is about rice. Thanks largely to the Mongol rule in West Asia, rice from the far east was made a widespread agricultural product in Iran, just as Persian spread across West, Central and South Asia as the language of literary high culture, and being a shah, and not a caliph, gained ascendency as the legitimate mode of rulership. Rice, however, does not command its central role as a marker of Iranian cuisine and a source of affect in food until the early modern period and especially in Persianate Asia. Cookbooks written by chefs in 16th century Safavid Persia/Iran indicate a codification of courtly cookery crafts while special vessels— large, wide, shallow glazed ceramic platters—were crafted for serving rice dishes in a particularly ‘artistic’ manner. The cooks write how to arrange food in a dish and the dishes carry epigraphic sayings about specific functions of the vessels and the food they were to serve. Focusing on the recipes, the objects for food, and the visual representations of foodways, I explore in this talk the ways the rice dish and its dish mediate an art historical opportunity to access the multisensory but ephemeral experience of seeing and tasting Persian rice as art.


Sussan Babaie was trained as a graphic designer before she went on to study Art History and to receive her PhD from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. Since 2013, she has been the Professor of the Arts of Iran and Islam at The Courtauld, University of London. She has curated exhibitions on Persian and Islamic arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at Harvard, and with her students at Smith College, University of Michigan Museum of Art, and at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. Among her publications are the award-winning Isfahan and Its Palaces: Statecraft, Shi‘ism and the Architecture of Conviviality in Early Modern Iran (2008, PB 2018), and the co-edited Persian Kingship and Architecture (2015). A Safavid specialist, she also writes on contemporary arts of Iran and the Middle East, including Shirin Neshat, Honar: The Afkhami Collection of Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art, and Geometry and Art in the Modern Middle East. Sussan is currently working on a book about Persian art and food and on a co-curated exhibition about arts of the Great Mongol State for The Royal Academy of Art in London.

06. Juli 2023, 11:00 Uhr

This will be a hybrid event.

Palazzo Grifoni Budini Gattai
Via dei Servi 51
50122 Firenze, Italia

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