Persian exhibition - Expo Paris 1867

Persian exhibition at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

When, leaving for a few moments the spectacle of these human anthills presented by the West, when, abandoning these territories so populated, covered by numerous constructions, rich harvests, vast forests, which industry comes to fertilize every day, and where culture competes every parcel of land with sterility, the mind goes to these immense solitudes of Asia, it remains confounded before this strange contrast of the prodigious activity of the human race, and where culture competes with sterility for every piece of land, the mind wanders to the immense solitudes of Asia, and is confounded by the strange contrast between the prodigious activity of the West and the sort of sleep in which millions of men are immersed.

The great problem of the destiny of nations then naturally presents itself to the mind, and one wonders whether these immense unoccupied, sterile territories, a thousand times too vast for the populations that vegetate there, are not fatally predestined to become in a more or less distant future the property of more active, more industrious, more lively peoples.

Repelled by the difficulties of existence which are increasing every day with the spread of enlightenment and education, competition, the more widespread professional skill, and the excessive development of the population, numerous caravans of emigrants have left Europe, to the coasts of America, Africa, and Oceania, carrying the civilisation, the arts, and the industry of the old world, and creating on these deserted beaches cities, humble in their origin, flourishing today, and which, by their laborious activity, are becoming the powerful rivals of our old capitals.

It is true that the deserted territories of the three continents I have just mentioned are far from having entirely disappeared, and the day has not yet come when the descendants of the first settlers will find themselves embarrassed in these ancient solitudes.

But that day will come. And then, is it not possible to believe that, for a long time attached to Africa, Oceania and America, the eyes of Europe will one day turn to Asia and that these beautiful sun-drenched lands, watered by large rivers, will tempt the spirit of conquest and civilisation?

The piercing of the Isthmus of Suez will give considerable importance to all the countries bordering the Indian seas. Bathed by the Persian Gulf, will Persia not become one of the most important stations, and will its advantageous position not arouse the covetousness of Turkey and even of Russia?

The government of Persia does not seem to be concerned with these very serious eventualities, and the shah who was to come to Paris to get a glimpse of our manners, our civilisation, our customs, missed the great meeting of peoples and sovereigns. The sight of our factories, our arsenals, our building sites would have taught him modern history,' and would perhaps have enabled him to guess the history of the future. The spectacle of our activity, a visit to the Exhibition would have been for him a revelation rich in various teachings.

He would certainly have seen in the limited space occupied by his country's exhibition a proof of weakness, which would have been highlighted by the developments that the secondary nations of Europe have given to their exhibition.

Persia occupies, in fact, only two rooms in the bays reserved for the fourth group, between China, Lapland, Turkey, and Romania - two rooms almost lost in the Palace, and which visitors do not even think of attributing to Persia. Do we think of Persia? Who can imagine that Persia, breaking, in honour of our Exhibition, with its nonchalance, its ordinary apathy, I would willingly say, its climate, is going to wake up from its long sleep to bring to the Champ de Mars the products of its industry, the masterpieces of its artists?

If you want to pay serious attention to Persia, you must forget Europe and its gigantic works, its creations of all kinds, its machines and statues, its fabrics and paintings, its arts and industry, and stop, free of all preconceived ideas, all parallels, all comparisons, in front of the two halls reserved for his highness, the Shah of Persia, or for his subjects - for I will not tell you precisely whether the Shah of Persia knows that his subjects are exhibiting!

The first of these rooms is devoted to the various luxury industries of this singular country. The eye first sees a collection of gold, silks, weapons, and bright fabrics, and the visitor enters without realizing what country he is visiting. For the European, there is always a memory of the Thousand and One Nights in everything that comes from the vicinity of Baghdad. - The visitor's gaze has become accustomed to this magic of colours, and he can see an ebony table preserving, under a protective glass, ravishing inlays of ivory and coloured wood, on boxes whose material is reminiscent of tuya. Next to it, under the same glass, are exhibited bindings of unprecedented richness. Gold is used with a rare profusion. Here is how these gold threads, these flowers, these arabesques which give so much value to the skins or the cartons are obtained. The artist takes a gold coin and by beating it into a sheet of varying thickness according to the needs of the design, which he applies with an appropriate tool. The colours are applied with a brush and a very sticky gum which, on drying, gives a very shiny varnish.

In a corner of this room, a Persian warrior stands on a pedestal. His costume is more or less that of Schamyll's companions. First of all, there is the copper helmet decorated with two white aigrettes, and armed with a mesh fabric that protects the cheeks, neck and shoulders. A sort of chain mail shirt tightly closes the chest, and goes down to mid-thigh. The arms are protected up to the elbow by this shirt. The left arm, which carries the shield, remains free. The right arm, which carries the sword, is defended by a damascene iron armband, and the hand is covered by a mesh gauntlet. Over the shirt, the warrior wears a cuirass composed of four thick steel plates, connected by straps, which allow the movements of the body all their freedom and play. -A striped silk scarf supports the sword scabbard at the waist. The legs are protected by shorts and leggings which carry a copper plate armed with a steel point six or seven centimetres long at the knee. Boots with a slightly raised toe, like the old foal shoes, minus the exaggeration, complete the costume. I have forgotten an unbraided woollen rope slung over the shoulder to support the shield when the warrior needs to use both arms. As he is, this brave Persian, with his sabre, his compartmented cuirass and his shield, gives me the impression of one of those Persians whom Alexander defeated at Ypsus, and who, resurrecting today, would find intact, at a distance of twenty-two centuries, their weapons, their manners, their laws and their customs.

Before leaving this room, we should take a look at some quite successful ceramic experiments, whose shape and designs are reminiscent of Egyptian vases; at some remarkable embroidery on linen, of a finesse and lightness that visitors appreciate; at the carved wooden boxes that are recommended by a great delicacy of execution; and finally, at the two panoplies that decorate the back of this room and surmount a large tapestry couch. The panoplies contain the offensive and defensive weapons of Persia, the helmet and the butcher, the two-edged knife and the curved sabre; I look for the javelin and the bow, finding neither the pistol nor the rifle. This, then, is the state of this people, and this is the primitive weaponry with which they can contend, if at all, with the inventions of M\l. Armstrong and Chassepot!

In the second room, Persia exhibits some rather remarkable fabrics, carpets whose designs cannot perhaps compete with the fantasies of our artists, but which indicate a great deal of taste and skill on the part of Persian manufacturers! Alongside these tapestries are the painted canvases so widespread in France today, and which, under the name of Persian fabrics, form an important branch of our fabric factory, and supply several considerable factories. The designs of these cloths imitate perfectly those of tapestries, and one must approach them, almost touch them, to see that these doors and carpets are only made of printed cloth.

Persia still exhibits hand-embroidered sheets, woollen fabrics embroidered with a rare perfection, silk fabrics which
which remind us that the silkworm and the mulberry tree are native to these beautiful regions loved by the sun.

Why is it that, in a people, the blessings of nature, the riches of the soil and of the climate almost always destroy energy, weaken initiative, and often become a cause of degradation, of moral and physical collapse, when they should be a source of emulation and progress!

Here is Persia, whose history, climate and size make it one of the leading nations of Europe. From north to south, it measures 600 leagues of territory, its soil is fertile and naturally produces all the fruits that the patient work of our horticulturists has acclimatised here. - What space did it occupy at the 1867 Exhibition? Fifty square metres! -What did it exhibit? A few fabrics, a few luxury items_ Industry?

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée