Exhibitions: Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Arts of Islam

Family of Dervishes

A Family of Dervishes. Possibly Antoin Sevruguin (Armenian-Georgian, 1830s–1933). Iran, late 19th–early 20th century. Silver albumen photograph. Brooklyn Museum, Purchase gift of Leona Soudavar in memory of Ahmad Soudavar, 1997.3.139

A Sufi’s attributes and clothing indicate the mystical order to which he or she belongs and may also suggest rank and status within that order. Here, the patriarch’s black robe emphasizes his authority. The varied styles of the hats further delineated positions within the group. The central seated figure holds a tabar, a small ceremonial axe, while each of the remaining men holds a walking staff, another iconic Sufi attribute. The extremely long beards of the male members identify this group as part of the Ahl-i Haqq order of Sufis, whose practices are guarded with extreme secrecy. The photograph may have been taken by Antoin Sevruguin, who served at the court of the Qajar ruler Nasir al-Din Shah in the latter nineteenth century and who is known for his portraits of Iranian landscapes and subjects.