Isfahan became the capital of Iran around 1600. A huge palace complex was built here. Two of the best-preserved buildings stand close to one another. One building is the Ali Qapu or High Gate. The lower part of the building has a brick faç ade with areas of coloured tilework. There is a great arched entrance at the centre. Above it is a large balcony, the roof of which is supported by slender wooden columns. The Ali Qapu looks out on to a vast square now called the Maydan-i Imam.
Today an enormous rectangular pool dominates the square, surrounded by formal gardens. At the top of the Ali Qapu is the Music Room. The curving upper walls are pierced by rows of small niches, some shaped like bottles with long necks. The room is lit from above by windows set just below the elaborate ceiling. Beyond the Ali Qapu is another long pool, lined with trees on either side. At the far end of the pool is the pavilion of Chihil Sutun, its image reflected in the still clear water. At the front of the pavilion is a large and impressive portico, its high roof supported by tall wooden columns. At the centre of the portico are four stylised lions carved in stone. They form the basis of four more columns which surround a shallow pool set into the marble floor. Beyond the portico is a magnificent central hall. Here, almost every inch of the walls and vaulted ceiling has fine painted decoration.
On the walls there are large scenes with figures. These include depictions of court receptions. In one, the king sits at the centre, flanked by the male members of his court. The courtiers, some with beards and some with impressive moustaches, sit on carpets while dancers and musicians perform for their pleasure. Wine and fruit will soon be served for their refreshment.
26 October 2013 - 19 January 2014. Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 - 1900 brings together the finest examples of Chinese painting from the beginning of the 8th to the end of the 19th century, from small-scale intimate works by monks and literati through to scroll paintings over 14 metres long, many of which have never before been seen in the UK.