A Meeting of Cultures

A new installation of art at the British Embassy in Tehran evokes the historic relationship between Britain and Iran. In this series of podcasts, our historical curator speaks to academics, diplomats and architects about these art works and how they represent that history.

Episode 1: London to Isfahan


The Safavid dynasty (1501-1722); rituals and banquets at the court of Shah Abbas I (1571-1629); the architecture of Isfahan, and British travellers to that city. This episode includes a discussion with Dr Sussan Babaie, Andrew W. Mellon Reader in the Arts of Iran and Islam, Courtauld Institute of Art; and Dr Jan Loop, Professor in Early Modern History at the University of Kent.

painting of a half length portrait of a man with long hair and moustache

Unknown, British 17th century, Sir Thomas Herbert, 1st Baronet (1606-1682), 1642

Episode 2: London to Tehran


The appointment of the first permanent British Ambassador to Tehran; the history of the British Embassy building in that city; the portraits of Fath Ali Shah, 2nd Qajar ruler (1772- 1834); and the European tour of Naser al Din Shah (1831-1896). This episode also features a discussion with Dr Moya Carey, Curator of Islamic Collections at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin; and Mark Bertram CBE RIBA, author of Room for Diplomacy, Britain’s Diplomatic Buildings Overseas 1800-2000.

a view of the British Embassy Tehran from the garden

The exterior of the British Embassy, Tehran from the garden © Crown Copyright

Episode 3: ‘When the body is shattered’

I think it’s an important message for all of us in diplomacy: not to be captured too much by the moment and become, as it were, prisoners of immediate events, and to try and hold on to a longer view

Sir Dominick Chilcott, British Ambassador to Turkey, and Ambassador to Iran in 2011

The attack on the British Embassy in Tehran in 2011; the damage caused by the mob to a number of art works from the Government Collection; and an interview with Sir Dominick Chilcott, ambassador to Iran at the time of the attack and currently British Ambassador to Turkey.

The Dining room in the British Residence, Tehran

The dining room in the British Residence, Tehran © Crown Copyright

Episode 4: ‘The spirit lifts up its head’

The art reminds us … of the depth of that history … It’s a reminder of how long the diplomatic engagement has existed.

Rob Macaire, Ambassador to Iran

The return of the damaged artworks to London for conservation; their journey back to Tehran; and the re-installation of the works in February 2019. Our curator speaks to Alejandra Echenique de Hopton; Rob Macaire, British Ambassador to Iran; and Andrew Parratt, Head of Collection Care at the Government Art Collection.

The Fath'Ali Shah Room in the British Residence, Tehran

The Fath’Ali Shah room in the British Residence, Tehran

Cultural diplomacy can take place in a private place, but at its best it should be in as open a space as possible

Rob Macaire, British Ambassador to Iran


Take a closer look

A series of short videos on the conservation of the four 19th-century Iranian paintings of the Qajar period, that are installed at the British Residence in Tehran.


This series was developed by Dr Laura Popoviciu, Curator (Historical) at the Government Art Collection. It has been supported by an educational programme grant from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. Consultant and producer, Lisa O’Sullivan. Interviews were recorded at Soho Radio London and soundtrack licensed from www.pond5.com © Gary Ames