Massoumeh Nahid Assemi - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Massoumeh Nahid Assemi

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Massoumeh Nahid Assemi

PhD student

Thesis: The Painted Tiles of Tekkiyeh Mu’aven ul-Mulk in Kermanshah

Supervised by Sussan Babaie

Ta’zieh (Passion play) is a traditional Persian theatre performed annually during the month of Muharram to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the third Shi’ite imam, at the battle of Karbala and was originally performed in open spaces such as streets or cross-roads. With the rise of its popularity in the 19th century, proper theatre buildings, known as tekkiyeh, were specifically erected for its performance.   The earliest of such buildings were simple structures erected by the communities within towns and were a phenomenon of the northern provinces of Iran. The popularity of the performance, however, prompted the court and the elites of 19th century to follow the example of common folks, building tekkiyehs of monumental proportions for the town’s people to attend the performances. The first of these proper structures was erected by Hadj Mirza Agasi, vizier in the reign of Muhammad Shah Qajar (1836-1848), who built the first one in Tehran in 1848 for performances attended by the court and foreign ambassadors.   The largest of these buildings was Tekkiyeh Daulat, built in 1874 by Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar (r. 1848-1896), the grandest theatre ever built in Iran, modelled on the Paris Opera House.   By the end of the 19th century the pride of any Iranian city was its tekkiyeh, be it a simple structure belonging to the community at large, or an elaborate structure built by wealthy private citizens, which also served as a symbol of piety and status. Tekkiyeh Mu’avin ul-Mulk in Kermanshah, is an example of a privately commissioned tekkiyeh in Iran and arguably the greatest example of such buildings. The tekkiyeh is entirely clad in under glazed painted tiles, nearly all figural representations.  Representations of the Imams and of scenes depicting the tragedy of Karbala is unusual decoration for a building specially one dedicated to religious use. Instances of religious painting not in private manuscripts but displayed publicly, before the Qajar era seem to be very rare and what there is constitutes to occasional portraits, usually of Ali and never include depiction of heroic battle of Karbala and the tragedy that ensued. However, since the Tekkiyeh was dedicated to the performance of Ta’zieh, the subject of which was the tragedy of Karbala, the same subject became the main decorative feature of the building. Through figural representation of holy subjects, the tragedy of Karbala, Quranic tales and depiction of the traditional mourning procession ceremonies of Karbala (i.e. sine zani (beating chest), shamshir zani (cutting the forehead with sword) and zanjir zani (self-flagellation), the Tekkiyeh Muavin ul-Mulk is distinct among examples of Iranian Shi’a architecture.


  • MA – Islamic Art & Archaeology – SOAS
  • BA – History of Art – Birkbeck College
  • MA – Fine Art – Beaux Arts – Paris
  • BA – French History & Civilization – Sorbonne
  • BA – English Language & Literature – Tehran University


Research interests

  • Art and Archaeology of Iran during the Qajar Period
  • Arts of the Book in Iran
  • Shi’ism art
  • Contemporary Iranian art

Conference papers and lectures

  • Simorgh in Iranian Art – International Society of Iranian Studies – 2014
  • The Kalila wa Dimna manuscript of Gulistan Palace – SOAS – 2012

Other academic activity

  • Organisation of conference on ‘Medicine in Iran’ – June   14, 2015
  • Organisation of conference on ‘The Centenary of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution 1906-1911’ - Oxford – 2006
  • attended workshop on codicology of Islamic manuscripts, 2012, cambridge
  • attended workshop on ‘The Study of Oriental Manuscripts’ Berlin, 2014


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