History of Iranian Painting.

by Jacopo Feliciani

History of the Art of Painting

in Iran dates back to Palaeolithic Era (40.000-10.000 years ago).
In the caves of Doushe, in Lorstan province were discovered images of animals and hunting scenes dating back to 8000 BC. In Tall-i Malyan, eastern border of the Elamite Empire, today’s Anshan (40 km from Shiraz) situated in Baiza District of Fars Province, were found paintings dated around 3200 BC, Banesh.

Uno dei frammenti trovati a Maylan
One of the Archeological fragment discovered in Maylan

It is mainly geometrical drawings identified as scale motifs, stripes and swords. They used Hematite, limonite and carbon for red, yellow, black and grey on white plaster, covered by a thicker darker plaster.
Fine decorations of ceramics was descovered in Lorestan, Sialk and other archaeological sites.
From the Northern regions of the river Euphrates in Parthian era, were discovered some bearing wall paintings of hunting scenes. In the Achaemenid era paintings have perfect proportions and beauty in color. In the period between the 840 and 860 BC, in the desert of Torfan, in the province of Chinese Turkestan, were discovered some ancient paintings.

In the 3rd century AD we have paintings of Mani (216-277 a.d.) spiritual guide, miniaturist and painter who is considered the father of Iranian Miniature. The Persian miniature grew up thanks to the action of the Manicheans.
In the pre-Islamic period painting was used to decorate the walls of the residences of the Shah. From the 7th century, Chinese art has contaminated the art of painting in Iran especially for colors and design.
With the conquest of Islam we should rather speak of Tazhib (word derived from zahab, which in Arabic means gold, and then more generally, which added decoration to the miniature calligraphy) i.e. Islamic art that was to be used to decorate mosques, monuments and sacred books. Persia fell under Arab rule in the seventh century a.d. adopting 28-Letter of Arabic alphabet and adding additional 4 words to reproduce some language phonemes otherwise unplayable. The Arabian domination, and here we are talking about a fundamental issue little known, was a purely political-religious. Art and culture of Persia had only to teach all around the world, then the subsequent development of Islamic art is the evolution of Iranian Art and not vice versa. At this point we have to separate the painting or Negargarè from Naghashi or Miniature.
In the Islamic world it is necessary to understand the question of Unrepresentability* (1). In the Arab world, the figurative representation was practiced from the beginning of Islam, in monumental form, see the mosaics in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Umayyad mosque in Damascus. The figurative representation was practiced until the 7th century AD, as long as they had no contrasts on the interpretations of the Prophet Muhammad. With the prohibition that did some Hadith (Muhammad’s life stories contained in the Sunna) that comes after Koran, of the representation of the images of the Prophet, and thus formalising injury iconoclast, the Islamic painting underwent a significant blow. The Islamic Visual arts have been circulating especially thanks to Miniature. The Miniature is an integral part of a manuscript, constituting the graphic illustration of the contents, and with a limited circulation and limited compared to a painting.
Figurative art in Islam is not only tolerated among Shiite Muslims and therefore mainly in Iran and more specifically for the Miniature. When the Safavid dynasty came to power in the 16th century, Iran was Sunni. The Islamic prohibition of human and figurative representation applies only to the image of the deity and the places of prayer, and not to the images made for decorative purposes. Islam did not want therefore discourage creativity of artists; with the calligraphy, the stylization and abstraction, the artist was able to describe the spiritual values of man.
Decorated dishes and pots tell that Miniature in Persia dates back 2500 years ago. Illustrations of manuscripts were done by a painter or miniaturist who collaborated with the calligrapher who copied the text. As a means to illustrate manuscripts were used the calamus or Quill, the drawing and the brush for painting performed with the tempera technique. The colours were mixed with mineral organic Glue: the sulphur and mercury oxide for red, Lapis for blue, the gold leaf is applied.
Some painting techniques of early Islam is contained in the Treaty of optics by Ibn al-Haytham (995d. C.).
The processing work on a manuscript was a complex process and various specializations (Painters, copyists and calligraphers, bookbinders, paper manufacturers, leather workers) that could be produced only by a rich laboratory that only the courts could afford.
In 751 the paper* (3) became known in Islam after the capture of paper manufacturers* (2) in the battle of Samarkand. From that episode was founded the first Islamic factory started to produce the note paper as samarqandi.

In the West, the miniature technique arises during the Hellenistic period but the spread was the eleventh century, when they built the great Cathedrals and monasteries.
The appearance of the manuscript was done gradually between the 1st and 3rd centuries a.d. and was possible passing from roll to the code. Its publication was made possible by the advent of typographic printing. All manuscripts with illustrations and Browning the finest were miniati.
The term miniature comes from minium, red colour that was used in ancient times to draw the initial letter of the ancient manuscripts.
Preparation phases of the miniature: preparation of vellum; drawing; preparation of binders and pigments; application of gold; colour with pigments.
The calligrapher had the task of squaring and streak the parchment and deciding on the format, ornaments and initials. The width was determined by the column and the height of rows written. The template for the layout was to define the relationship between decoration and the page. After this, painter started the graphite design, gilding and color.
The color was often prepared to be laid out in all miniatures of the same manuscript to give uniformity.
The outline was then track where it was trimmed off the gold foil, profiles of the figures and the folds of the clothes to finish with polishing (painting or fixative to preserve colors).
The first decorations had monochrome background (purple-dyed parchment or other
colors or a single color pattern in tempera and subsequently went evenly browned). Afterwards there were widening the palette, more complex mixtures and assorted colors, gradient and a backhoe with a background color and two tone one darker and one lighter. For colors paint as soon was dry it passed with a brush a mixture of egg white, gum Arabic, water and honey.
Today as a homemade fixative for miniature using the following technique: wash the white wax with peroxide, dissolve in alcohol, strain and use in proportion 1/3 with distilled water.
The illustration often includes sketches and studies, and the fine coating to make the most of your miniature (you can imagine the various techniques dusting, sinopia, quadrellatura, drawings, sketches and other more).
The sketch is made with lead point (erasable with breadcrumbs), rehearsed with pen and ink, and watercolour brush, you traced line of drapery and shadows and light, and was completed with tempera paints. The facial was the first one to draw, that were established all other body proportions.
The classical Persian miniature contemplates a precise methodology for trace the design and use of very intense, vibrant color; does not provide the perspective and does not consider a light source.
Miniatures are classified to negargari for figures, tazhib for decorations, tashir for figures painted in monochrome, tarsi on stones, gaomorg employed in carpet decoration with flowers, birds and drawings.

Islamic aesthetics influence the painting because it is difficult that scenes they don’t like are depicted. The perso-Islamic aesthetics Theory bases its essence in complementarity between surat (shape-appearance) and ma’ni (meaning-interiority). Therefore there is a great deal of effort and study of miniaturist and painters in this field. The skill realization of an image according to the practical level is not perfectly possible for the limits of theoretical technical treaties of painting for the rhetorical plan described by the literature or poetry. The painter should make a two-dimensional image with such mastery to be confused with physical reality. The objective would be impossible, therefore we can have a generic individual prototype rather than portrait.

Persian Miniature
Persiana Miniature

In the past, the artist who illustrated the manuscript had the function to make the reader fall in love with the characters of the poem and the picture was a simple tool. With the Masnawi is the painter fond of its realization. The Masnawi of Nasir Ali Sirhindi contains the history of portrait entitled Naqqash u surat, “the painter and the shape” (Iran 2001).
The illustrator of the poet Nasir Ali creates even a work whose essence is life, that is equipped with jansirishta that have living essence. On the other hand, it is also theorized the prismatic relationship between God as beauty and God as architect of beauty and portrait-mirror is his clear example. Not all agree, arguing that the picture painted by painters or surat has the likeness or nishan, but no life or jan.
When it comes to handwritten text can not be treated the fundamental practice namely that calligraphy is a real art in Islam. Writing takes an artistic value because opportunities to paint are limited by God and prophets unrepresentability. For this, Islam have a strong exaltation for calligraphy.

Arabic Calligraphy, Persian and Ottoman Turkish has close ties with the Islamic geometric art Arabesque. Writing for Islam does not represent the reality of the word, but it’s real art of the spiritual world because it creates a kind of connection between all languages of Islamic countries.
There are two basic groups of Arabic calligraphic styles that are the kufic Scripture (with sharp characters) and cursive writings (with more rounded characters).
The ḥijazi writing is the oldest, dates back to the end of the seventh. The most widespread for three centuries starting from the 9th century is the calligraphy cufic. The most commonly used, for writing the current c. naskh, with round and thin strokes. Riq’a writing is widely used because it really simple and Basic.
In the 13th century writing spread thulth, a third, because the consonants which do not have vertical development are a third of those who have it.
With the Arab domination starting from 643-650, the Persians adopted the Arabic calligraphy creating Persian Scriptures ta’liq and nasta’liq which are very essential and calligraphy to fill three bands writing consonant central, upper and lower and catered to insert the harakat (vowel sounds) and signs accessories.

Persian calligraphy also introduced broken style called shekasteh. The diwani handwriting is a cursive script invented by Housam Roumi.
Suitably calligraphy made figurative aspects obtained with words or with the use of micrographics. You can make getting calligrams anthropomorphic figures, Zoomorphic, inanimate objects.
The Arabic calligrapher uses as a tool of dried reed pen called qalam with colored ink.
NAS ‘ taliq.
Since the introduction of the Arabic alphabet in Persia were listed six styles of calligraphy: major Iranian Tahqiq, Reyhan, Sols, Naskh, and Toqi Reqa for 4 centuries. In the 7th century of the Hegira calendar Hassan Farsi Kateb combined Naskh styles and Reqah coining the new Persian calligraphy style called Taliq. In the 14th century, Mir Ali Tabrizi combined the two major styles of Naskh and Taliq era by creating the new Nas ‘ Taliq style which became most wanted style.
The most important manuscript handwriting is often embellished with elaborate gold and color frames.

The History of Iranian Painting

provides these main periods: prehistoric art – Seleucid – Parthian – Achaemenid (1st century BC) – Sassanid – – Seljuk (Abbasid sec. XI and XII) – Safawide (sec. XV)-

The history of Iranian Islamic Miniature includes two major periods:
Teimurian period of Mongol contamination the occupants, which fascinated by Iran Persian art left ample room for expression; Abbassian period with the Shah Abbas that assembled the best artists at Court (darbar).
The oldest paintings of Islamic period were created in the first half of the 13rd century. Iranian Miniature spread after the fall of Baghdad (1285 CE).
With the beginning of the 14th century, the manuscripts were adorned by battlefield scenes, and hunting parties.
The most representative Master is Ahmad Mousa (1316-1336).

Tabriz school (13rd century) with the Armenian, Byzantine and Chinese influences. A miniature that uses a taste of Iran is the Asian influence with very bright colors and loads and revitalizes with perspective. A miniature it is not too much aesthetic but linked to the next period. At the same time in the South of Perisa remained develops autonomous school in Shiraz and Fars in which you still follow the settings of the Baghdad school and the evolution of Persian painting tradition, consisting of imposing figures, symmetry, more elaborate decorations and pure colours.
Herat School of the Timurid period (15th century) which Master is Kamal ud-Din BEHZAD that realizes ideal proportions of the miniature illustrating the action in large areas of the main characters that means leaving space for movement and also uses a sharp contrast to enhance color and shade; further enhances the naturalism and occurs very often in the Sufi Symbolism.
Esfahan school (16th century) or Safavid, further develop aesthetic miniature that is always sacrificed to content.

Talking about the miniature is not possible not to treat Iranian literature because the illustrations were specifically submitted to describe precisely the stories told therein.
The Modern Persian Literature includes a period of about 1000 years divided into three main periods: the period contemporary to the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad; the period of Mongol domination (1265-1405); the modern period from 500 to our days.
Under the Samanid Court have the first major notables from Rudaghi (first courtly poet died 954), Daqiqi, Kisai. The Kingdom followed Mahmud of Ghazni which gathered great poets like Asgiadi, Unsuri, Farrukhi, Minucihri, Asadi, Firdusi (Tus 935-1020) author of the Shahname (book of Kings, which narrate the heroic legends of ancient Iran, the national Poem for Excellence). In the eleventh century sees the light the first mystical poetry and prose with the Selgiucide Dynasty with Nizam ul-Mulk, Abu Said, Ansari, Sanai of Ghazna, Omar Khayyam. In the second half of the 12th century, followed by the period of the mystical-allegorical poem and the erotic-romance with Anwari, Khaqani, Suzani, Nizami, Attar.
During Mongol rule Rumi (1207-1273) author of the famous poem Mathnami verses Encyclopaedia of Sufism, Sadi (1184-1291), Nasir ad-din, Baba Afzel, Mohammed ad-din. From 1337 it had civil wars and the subsequent invasion of Tamerlane. We have therefore Zakani, Salman, Hafez of Shiraz. Under the reign of Timurids with Busciaq, Qari and Giami will have historical prose.
With Safawide dinasty we have Feghani, Hatifi. Under Sultan Abbas will have Saeed, Fasihi, Sahabi, Scifai.

Kamal ud-Din BEHZAD (Herāt 1440-1526) the Herat School Teacher (15th century) Orphaned parents was raised by the painter Mirak Naqqash, protected by Mir Ali Shir Nava’i. He was a member and Director of the Academy of Arts of the book in Herat. In 1506 will be at Court of Shah Ismail I in Tabriz. In 1521 he was appointed Director of the Imperial library and art workshops.
Behzad is the most famous of Persian miniaturists painters. In addition to the pictorial qualities was in charge of a laboratory that churning out manuscripts with a unique concept and characteristic with an arrangement of textual elements and representative geometries and original style. Very present naturalism. The scenes all have a very pronounced contrast and spaces, the illustrations are large to enhance the action with a stunning narrative description for effectiveness. Wide also the use of the Sufi symbolism which expresses very expressive with color. He had a major boost to the development of Safavid painting a few years later. Made free by the Mongolian style the Persian miniature.

Agha Reza Reza-e Abbasi (Kashan or Mashad – 1565 1635) the most important miniaturist, painter and calligrapher, Persian Isfahan School of the Safavid Period (16th century) under the Shah Abbas I.
He is considered the greatest master of miniature known especially for his albums and single figures of murraqqa of young female beauties.
He received education from his father, Ali Asghar, miniaturist of Prince Ibrahim Mirza and the Shah Ismail II at Qasvin.
Used to sign and date his works unlike many Persian artists before.
There are some works on Shahnameh incomplete of the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin and a copy of the dated 1628 work later (end of the reign of Abbas) at the British Library that are attributed to him even if without certainty. Topkapi Palace has kept his first drawing dated 1601. Probably it’s his own an 1601-2 miniature book in the National Library of Russia.
The speciality of Reza are single sheets for albums or muraqqas to private collectors that shows one or two figures with a slightly sketchy background garden, often in gold. The characters range from ink drawings or completely painted. The first works have more color as the next. Favorite subjects are figures of young men or women elegantly dressed.
The lines of his drawings in ink have personality, shape, movement, character, decision. Colored figures are more sober.
Reza style significantly influence on subsequent generations of Persian painters as Mu’in, Riza’s son and Muhammed Shafi Abbasi among the most distinguished.
In 1603 Reza has 38 years and the artist received the honorary title of Abbasi by Shah Abbas.
His style shows a noticeable change. Will follow the Shah Abbas in 1598 in his campaign of Khorasan and the new capital of Isfahan (1597-98). Riza will leave for the period employment with the Shah, seeking more independence and freedom to paint the most abject situations such as athletes, wrestlers. In 1610 he returned to court and continued collaboration with the Shah until his death.
The style in this period changing using more colors with dark palettes containing more lands and more pronounced lines; changing subjects, elderly men, Sufi scholars, pastors, birds. In 1618-25 was to visit to Ardabil where he copied some works by Bezad.
Are attributed with good security 128 miniature and sketches and “uncertain powers” for a total of 109. His works can be viewed in his Museum of Tehran Reza Abbasi, in the library at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, some Western museums, the Smithsonian, Freer Gallery of Art, the British Museum, the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

MIHR ‘ Ali (1795-1830) painter at the Court of the Shah Royal Qajar Fat’h Ali for his remarkable skills portraitist whose commissioned more than 10 for use in ceremonies and as gifts to other kings. In addition to this production you have other portraits of other Shah of the past and a few scenes of the Shahnameh, Imarat-Palace the Naw in Isfahan.

Mohammad Ghaffari (Kashan 1847-1940 Nishapur), known as the Michelangelo of Persia, and as Kamal-ol-Molk (perfection on Earth) Iranian painter coming from a family of artists, is the artist of the Qajar Period (post-Safavid 18 20th century). His father, Mirza Bozorg Ghaffari Kashani, was the founder of the Iranian School of painting as well as fine artist. His uncle, Mirza Abolhassan Khan Ghaffari, also known as Sanee-ol-Molk was unbeatable watercolor portrait.
At a young age, Mohammad developed interest in calligraphy and painting.
Finished primary education, Mohammad moved to Tehran by enrolling in high school, Dar-ul-Funun school where he studied with the painter Mozayyen-od-Dolehte already putting on display as an artist talented enough to be noticed by Naser al-Din Shah Qajar who wanted him in court. The Shah gave him the title of “Kamal-ol-Milk”.
These years are her most significant works (nearly 200 paintings) consisting of portraits of important personalities, landscapes, paintings of palaces and Royal gardens, hunting, using a technique of oil painting very bright colours and fine use of his own perspective.
In 1898 following the assassination of Nasereddin Shah, and at the age of 47 years, Mohammad moved to Europe for 4 years to acquire and debate artistic and Westerners.
He returned to Iran in 1902 but was forced to expatriate in Iraq for two years, given the opposition of the Court of Mazaffareddin Shah.
Back in Iran joined the Constitutional Movement, after a stay of two years in Iraq, Kamal-ol-Molk returned to Iran and joined the constitutionalists.
At this point he opened the Sanaye Mostazrafeh Art School, the school of Kamal-ol-Molk, aiming to discover new talent and educate them, not only in painting but also in other crafts like weaving carpets, mosaic design, woodworking. Kamal-ol-Molk died in Nishapur, Iran in 1940.

Read this Versione Italiana

PART II-the Iranian contemporary miniature Masters

* (1) talking about Unrepresentability in the West should mention Islamic iconoclasm. The Islamic Unrepresentability contaminate even the Western art and vice versa. The fight against the sacred representations in the West began in the 7th century to meet heresies that were spreading especially in Armenia and Syria with paulicianism, seen attacks and accusations of idolatry from Islam to Christianity.
The Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian joined the iconoclast conflict by issuing edicts (730) to ban the worship of sacred images (the goal was to bring under control the Imperial territories held by monasteries that were not subject to the laws of Imperial).
The Council of Hieria (754) we reach the utmost struggle to icons. The Council of Nicaea (787) puts a truce through the intervention of Saint Irene wife of Emperor. Leo V the Armenian restored the iconoclasm Synod of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (815), finally Pope Gregory IV will abolish the iconoclasm (843).
*(2) the scroll until the 4th century it was called in the Greek world dipthera and membrane in classical antiquity. The name derives from the parchment of Asia minor Greek city of Pergamon, when it was first used as a support for writing to the export prohibition on Papyrus or paper.
* (3) the paper was invented in China in the first century a.d. by Tsai Lun.


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