30 April 2024

Collective Mentality and Architectural Space:
The Narrative of Cannon and Square in the Development of the ‘Cannon Square’ in Qajar Iran

Shahid Beheshti University

Respondent: Damla Göre, ETH Zurich

A drawing of Cannon Square in Qajar Tehran by Franz Colombari, an Italian officer and painter who served in the Iranian army during 1833-48 (image from: Lynne Thornton, Images de Perse: le voyage du Colonel F. Colombari à la cour du Chah de Perse de 1833 à 1848).

An open space surrounded by cannons and cannoneers, without a public building around it, may look like a military field, but it is far from a thriving public space. In Qajar Iran, however, such a space was one of the city’s most important public spaces. The Cannon Square in Naserid Tehran, the famous square of the capital, was just such a square. How was such a spatial quality possible in this form and function, dedicated to the artilleries? How could daily life in the city thrive in a place dominated by artillerymen and characterized by the repressive power of the government? How did these two seemingly contradictory qualities, the martial and the public atmosphere, harmonize in the square?

In search of an answer to these questions, this investigation leads back to the Safavid era and Shah Square as one of the first public places where cannons were set up. It also made its way to Iran's western neighbors, who produced and supplied cannons as a new European invention. Additionally, it looks at a few other Qajar city cannon squares and traces the formation of Cannon Square as a model in this period. These studies demonstrate how Iranians' dramatic experience with cannons such as during the Battle of Chaldiran, the challenge of providing the Iranian army with cannons, and the long-term interaction between artillery and city life all contributed to a gradual transformation of the meaning of cannons in Iranian society. These developments gave cannons new roles in daily life and, consequently, created the conditions for the peaceful coexistence and harmony mentioned in Tehran's Cannon Square, the center of the Naserid capital city. The narrative of cannon and square connects the architectural history and the history of mentalities, illuminating the links between collective mentality and architectural space.


An Aesthetics of Transgression
– The Picturesque in British Bengal around 1780

University of Stuttgart

Respondent: Sonali G. Dhanpal, Princeton University

William Hodges, Natives Drawing Water from a Pond (1781).
Oil on Canvas, Private Collection.

With major military victories during the Seven Years’ War, the British East India Company was able to consolidate its presence in India and subsequently transformed its network of fortified trading posts into full-fledged territorial rule throughout the second half of the 18th century. Among the British public, this process was far from uncontroversial. Literary critic Sara Suleri highlights that colonization posed a threat to the identities of both colonizer and colonized and was linked to strong fears of transgression. One of her prime sources for scrutinizing the British public’s feeling of “terror” in the face of colonial expansion is the impeachment of Warren Hastings, Governor-General of Bengal from 1772–1785, which was led by Edmund Burke. Suleri shows how, rhetorically linking India to his concept of the Sublime, Burke aimed at constructing an imperative of a strict separation between Britain and Bengal predicated on a religious concept of sovereignty. I will argue that the ambivalent feelings about Empire among the British concurred with the specific tension between contemplation and intervention which characterizes the Picturesque. Within the context of colonial encounter, its symbolic placing of the beholder within the image space, its conflation of painting and architecture, garden and landscape, the Beautiful and the Sublime assumed a transgressive character. When during Hasting’s tenure artists like William Hodges, William and Thomas Daniell or Johan Zoffany first introduced the Picturesque into Bengal, they were very cautious in depicting the British presence. Their representations of colonial reality were nonetheless perceived as problematic and subsequent artists working in the same tradition tended to eliminate its traces entirely while a more nuanced depiction of the emerging Raj was left to other aesthetic frameworks. Before this backdrop, the images that I will discuss can be regarded as negotiating the cultural meaning, the possibilities and limitations of the Picturesque within the space of colonial encounter. The research presented is part of my ongoing PhD project which examines global dimensions of European architectural theory in the 18th century.

DocTalks is         Past Talks         Submit        Network