Friday, 29 November, 2019


in fresco and the illumination of manuscripts (see Illuminated Manuscripts) were practiced in Iran at least as early as the Sassanian period, but only fragments of the work have survived. In Islamic Iran, painting was one of the most important arts. Manuscripts of the Qur’an (Koran) in the Arabic Kufic script were executed on parchment rolls at Al Başrah and Al Kūfah at the end of the 7th century. These manuscripts did not contain painted scenes but depended for their effect on the beauty of the calligraphy. Ornamental calligraphy was widely practiced in the 8th and 9th centuries. Painting and illumination became important elements in the decoration of manuscripts in the 9th century. With the introduction in the 10th century of paper for making books, the forms and varieties of religious and secular books increased greatly.

In the 12th century, a school of painting at Baghdād became known for its manuscripts of scientific works, fables, and anecdotes, illustrated with miniature paintings. In the 13th century the influence of Chinese landscape painting, introduced after the Mongols came to power in Iran, became apparent. Paintings of stories, legends, and historical events, often occupying whole pages and pairs of pages, illustrated books devoted to poems and world histories. The text was usually written in Persian rather than Arabic as had previously been customary. In the 14th century Baghdād and Tabrīz were the main centers for painting. Subsequently, Samarqand, Bukhara (Bukhoro), and Herāt also became important centers. In general the paintings consisted of figural scenes of hunting, warfare, or palace life and of landscapes of jagged rocks, single trees, and little streams bordered by flowers. At the beginning of the 14th century the backgrounds of the paintings were usually red; later they were more often blue, and at the end of the century gold backgrounds became common.






The best-known Iranian miniature painter was Bihzad, the greatest artist of the end of the Mongol and the beginning of the Safavid periods. He was head of the academy of painting and calligraphy at Herāt until 1506, when he went to Tabrīz and became the royal librarian. Bihzad’s paintings are characterized by rich color and realistic figures and landscapes. He differentiated the figures in group scenes, and his portraits are strongly individual. Many painters studied with him, including the celebrated artists Mirak and Sultan Mohammed, and his style was imitated throughout Iran, Turkistan, and India. Among the few extant manuscripts illustrated by Bihzad are the History of Tamerlane (1467), now in the Princeton University Library, and the Fruit Garden (1487), a book of poems now in the Egyptian Library, Cairo.


Portrait painting became an important art form during the 16th century. One of the most distinguished portraitists was Ali Reza Abbasi, who delineated his figures with spare but expressive brush strokes. Most of his paintings represent single figures, but he also painted realistic group scenes of pilgrims and dervishes. In the late 16th century and in the 17th century, monochrome ink drawings brightened with touches of red and gold replaced the jewel-like polychrome paintings of the earlier manuscripts. After the 17th century, Iranian artists copied European paintings and engravings, and the native traditions declined. Paintings of conventional Iranian themes in brilliant colors on lacquer boxes and book covers became a handicraft industry in the 19th century, and the lacquerware was exported in large quantities to western Europe. This industry was still flourishing in the late 20th century. Modern imitations of 16th-century miniature paintings were also common, but no contemporary national style of painting had emerged.


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