This small painting features ‘Ali (cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad and first Shi‘a imam) with his sons, Hasan and Husayn, and the leader of the Ni‘matullahi Sufi order Nur ‘Ali Shah. Sufis consider Muhammad and ‘Ali models of mystical insight, and ‘Ali is represented here as a symbol of mystical guidance. This connection is suggested by the sheepskin (pust) on which he sits, used to indicate the ritual space of a Sufi shaykh, as well as by the light radiating from his figure, which alludes to his spiritual enlightenment.
Representations of Sufi mystics and of members of the Ahl al-Bayt (“People of the Prophet’s House”) appear frequently in the work of Isma‘il Jalayir. Jalayir was among the most talented painters to graduate from the Dar al-Funun, the first Iranian polytechnic with a curriculum in visual arts, founded in 1851 by the Qajar ruler Nasir al-Din Shah.