A Meeting of Cultures

This series presented by Dr Laura-Maria Popoviciu marks a new installation of works of art from the Government Art Collection at the British Ambassador’s Residence in Tehran. The podcasts evoke the story of the long relationship between the two countries through works of art from the Collection and through conversations with curators, academics, diplomats and architects.

two people recording a podcast

Dr Jan Loop and Dr Laura Popoviciu recording the podcasts © Crown Copyright

Episode 1: London to Isfahan

When you come out of the cavernous bazaar alleyways and suddenly you have this massive, amazing, open Maidan, public square in front of you, what do you see, how do you see, what do you feel, really?

Dr Sussan Babaie, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

This episode focuses on the early modern period exploring the history of the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722); rituals and banquets at the court of Shah Abbas I (1571-1629); the architecture of Isfahan and English travellers to Isfahan. It features 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.

An almost magical mixture of dignity and size and space

Mark Bertram CBE RIBA

This episode centres on the 19th century, covering the appointment of the first permanent British Ambassador to Tehran, Sir Gore Ouseley; the history of the British Embassy building in Tehran; the portraits of Fath Ali Shah, 2nd Qajar ruler (1772- 1834); and the European tour of Naser al Din Shah (1831-1896). It 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, the kind of prisoners of immediate events, and try and hold on to a longer view

Sir Dominick Chilcott, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Ankara and former British Ambassador to Tehran in 2011

The third episode recounts the dramatic attack on the British Embassy in Tehran in 2011, when a number of works of art from the Government Collection were damaged. It features an interview with Sir Dominick Chilcott, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Ankara and former British Ambassador to Tehran in 2011.

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, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Tehran

The fourth episode follows the journey of the Government Art Collection artworks from the moment of the attack in 2011 to their return to London for conservation and then back again to Tehran where they were re-installed in February 2019. It features discussions with Alejandra Echenique de Hopton (FCO); Rob Macaire, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Iran; and Andrew Parratt, Head of Collection Care (GAC).

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, Her Majesty’s Ambassador Ambassador to Tehran

 

two people in a recording studio

Andrew and Laura recording at the studio © Crown Copyright

Take a closer look

These short videos look at the conservation of four 19th century Iranian paintings of the Qajar period, installed at the British Residence in Tehran.

Acknowledgements

This series 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 recorded at Soho Radio London, soundtrack licensed from www.pond5.com © Gary Ames