Persian Art

Persian Art

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Images of Persian art accompanied by a poem by Rumi (1207 - 1273 CE) and Persian music.

Medieval Persian Art

The Persian Empire, centered in modern-day Iran, was exhausted by 600 CE. After decades of war with the Byzantine Empire, Persia was financially and militarily vulnerable, and in 651 the powerful Muslim caliph Umar planned and executed a decisive conquest. And so Persia was subsumed into the massive Islamic Empire. However, unlike other Islamic territories, including former Byzantine states, Persian culture and language was not Arabized, instead it subtly evolved and influenced the entire Islamic culture, from Iran to Central and Southern Asia, for the next 1400 years.

How does art and culture to triumph over politics and power? In this case, through stories. One of the defining moments of Persian influence came in the form of a book written in 1010. The Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, a 50,000 verse epic poem written by the author Ferdowsi, so persuasively described the Persian history of honorable, moral Kings that it was adopted by the Islamic ruling classes as a manual for ethical leadership. Century after century, power changed hands in Iran, and the Persian culture only grew richer — the Mongol invasions of the 13th and 14th centuries drove Indian scholars, poets, and musicians to Iran, and the 14th century Ottoman dynasties were devoted to Persian literature.

So what are the arts of this Persian culture? Poetry was a mainstay for Persian artists — as Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, developed in the Muslim world as a counterpoint to the more formal and legalistic forms of Islam, Persian lyrical poetry became a primary expression of the new theology of mystic devotion and love. Painting too was evolved by Persian artists, including the ‘Persian School of Herat’ who developed the finely-detailed style of miniature painting that would become a staple of the later Mughal arts.

So dig in, read about the honorable Persian Kings, and explore their delicate artworks, perhaps our contemporary culture needs a little Persianizing.

Reed Enger, "Medieval Persian Art, Persia brings a wealth of art, poetry, and mysticism to Islam.," in Obelisk Art History, Published July 20, 2017 last modified July 20, 2019,

Bowl with Arabic Proverb

The honorable Kings of Persia are an example to us all

The Epic of Kings

Wake! For the Sun, who scatter'd into flight The Stars before him from the Field of Night,

The Rubaiyat

Zodiac Ewer

Exploring the poetry of ideas

The Gulistan of Sa'di

Mihrab — Prayer Niche

Islamic Dynastic Art

When you don't paint people, things get beautifully, powerfully decorative.

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Art of Ancient Persia (from 3,500 BCE)

The art of ancient Persia includes architecture, painting, sculpture and goldsmithing from the early kingdom of Iran in southwest Asia. The term "Persia" derives from a region of southern Iran previously known as Persis, or Parsa, which itself was the name of an Indo-European nomadic people who migrated into the region about 1000 BCE. The ancient Greeks extended the use of the name to apply to the whole country. In 1935, the country officially changed its name to Iran. From its earliest beginnings, ancient art in Persia was a major influence on the visual arts and culture of the region.

Horse Head in gilded silver (350 CE)
Example of Sassanid metalwork
from Kerman. Louvre, Paris.

Persian Art: Introduction (3500-1700 BCE)

Persia, one of the oldest countries in the world, and one of the earliest civilizations in the history of art, occupies the Persian plateau, bounded by the Elburz and Baluchistan mountains in the north and east. In ancient times, during the first Millenium BCE, Persian emperors like Cyrus II the Great, Xerxes and Darius I extended Persian rule into Central Asia and throughout Asia Minor as far as Greece and Egypt. For much of Antiquity, Persian culture intermingled continuously with that of its neighbours, especially Mesopotamia (see: Mesopotamian art), and influenced - and was influenced by Sumerian art and Greek art, as well as Chinese art via the "Silk Road". For more about this, see also: Traditional Chinese Art: Characteristics.

Early Persian artworks include the intricate ceramics from Susa and Persepolis (c.3500 BCE), as well as a series of small bronze objects from mountainous Luristan (c.1200-750 BCE), and the treasure trove of gold, silver, and ivory objects from Ziwiye (c.700 BCE). Most of this portable art displays a wide variety of artistic styles and influences, including that of Greek pottery. Items of ancient Persian art are exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and the British Museum, London.

Achaemenid Era (c.550-330 BCE)

The first upsurge of Persian art occurred during the Achaemenian Dynasty era of the Persian Empire, under the influence of both Greek and Egyptian art. Persian art was exemplified in a series of monumental palace complexes (particularly at Persepolis and Susa), decorated with sculpture, especially stone reliefs, and the famous "Frieze of Archers" (now in the Louvre Museum in Paris) created out of enameled brick. The city gate at Persepolis was flanked by a pair of huge bulls with human heads, while in 515 BCE, Darius I ordered a colossal relief and inscription to be carved out of rock at Behistun. The sculpture portrays shows him vanquishing his enemies watched by the Gods. Persian sculptors influenced and were influenced by Greek sculpture. Other artworks from this period include dazzling gold and silver swords, drinking horns, and intricate jewellery. See also the History of Architecture.

Parthian Era (c.250 BCE)

Persian art under the Parthians, after the death of Alexander the Great, was a different story. Parthian culture was an unexciting mixture of Greek and Iranian motifs, involving visible on monuments and in buildings decorated with sculpted heads and fresco wall painting.

Sassanid Era (226-650 CE)

The second outstanding period of Persian art coincided with the Sassanian Dynasty, which restored much of Persia's power and culture. Sassanid artists designed highly decorative stone mosaics, and a range of gold and silver dishes, typically decorated with animals and hunting scenes. The biggest collection of these eating and cooking vessels is displayed at the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

As well as mosaic art and metalwork, frescoes and illuminated manuscripts were two other art forms which thrived during this period. In addition, crafts like carpet-making and silk-weaving were also strongly encouraged. Persian carpets and silks were exported as far as Byzantium (present-day Istanbul) to the west and Turkestan to the east.

However, the most striking relics of Sassanian art are rock sculptures carved out of steep limstone cliffs (eg. at Taq-i-Bustan, Shahpur, Naqsh-e Rostam and Naqsh-e Rajab) which depict the victories of the Sassanid leaders.

The influence of Sassanian artists extended to Afghanistan (a Persian colony of the time), where excavations at monasteries at Bamian have revealed frescoes and huge Buddhas. The Sassanian Empire collapsed after being defeated by the Byzantine Roman Emperor Heraclius.

After being overrun by the Arabs in 641, Persia became part of Islam and its visual arts developed according to Islamic rules. One of these - the ban on three-dimensional portrayal of living things - led to an immediate decline in Persian sculpture and forced fine art painting to become more ornamental and adopt the flat traditions of Byzantine art. However, in decorative art, like ceramics, metalwork and weaving continued to flourish, especially from the time of the Abbasid Dynasty (750-1258) in the eighth century. Ornamentation of Islamic temples like the Mosque of Baghdad (764), the Great Mosque at Samarra (847), the tenth-century mosque at Nayin, the Great Mosque at Veramin (1322), the Imam Riza Mosque at Meshad-i-Murghab (1418), and the Blue Mosque at Tabriz. Mosaics and other decorations were widely used in mosques and other buildings. Coloured roofs, using ceramic tiles in blues, reds and greens were also a popular part of Persian architecture.

Illumination and Calligraphy

With the decline in figure drawing and figure painting, one popular Islamic art form which developed in Persia was Illumination - the decoration of manuscripts and religious texts, especially the Koran. Iranian illuminators were active during the Mongol takeover of the country during the late Middle Ages, and the art of illumination reached its heyday during the Safavid Dynasty (1501-1722). The copying of religious works also stimulated the development of ornamental writing like calligraphy. This grew up during the eighth and ninth centuries, roughly concurrent with the era of Irish illuminated manuscripts and became an Iranian speciality.

Painting was regarded as an important art under Islam. Around 1150, several schools of religious art emerged which specialised in the illustration of manuscripts of various types, all illustrated with miniature paintings. This art form, in combination with illumination, grew into a significant artistic tradition in Iran. The most famous Persian miniature painter was Bihzad, who flourished at the end of the fifteenth century, becoming the head of the Herat Academy of Painting and Calligraphy. His landscape paintings were executed in a realistic style using a vivid colour palette. Among his pupils were several noted painters of the day, including Mirak and Sultan Mohammed. Bihzad's paintings are represented in the University Library at Princeton, and the Egyptian Library in Cairo.

Other painting styles, such as mountain-scapes and hunting scenes became popular during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries with Baghdad, Herat, Samarqand, Bukhara and Tabriz becoming the main art centres. Later, portrait art became fashionable. From the late 1600s, Persian artists imitated European painting and engraving, leading to a slight weakening of Iranian traditions.

Ancient Persian Art & Culture: Summary

Surviving remains of ancient Persia were first brought to notice by Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela in the 12th century, and subsequently by Sir John Chardin (l7th century), Karsten Niebuhr (18th century), Sir Henry Rawlinson and Sir Henry Layard (19th century) and by the many travellers to Persia. E. Flandin and P. Coste were commissioned to make drawings of these remains in 1839. Investigation began only in 1884-86, when M. and Mme M. Dieulafoy settled in Sus a (identified by W. K. Loftus) where J. de Morgan began systematic excavations in 1897 this work was carried on by R. de Mecquenem and later by R. Ghirshman, while the Oriental Institute in Chicago and the Department of Iranian Antiquities concentrated their efforts on Persepolis.

Persia assumed the name of "Iran" under the Sassanids. It is bounded by Armenia, the Caspian Sea and Russia to the north, Afghanistan to the east, the Persian Gulf to the south and Iraq to the west. The country is made up of a very high plateau with a central salt desert. To the west this plateau runs into the mountains of Armenia and, along the eastern side of Mesopotamia, matches the plateau of Asia Minor which borders Mesopotamia to the north-west. These two plateaux, cut by small valleys, form the extreme edges of the central Asian plateau known as the 'great steppes'. The empire of the Achaemenid Persians extended far beyond these boundaries, stretching from the Indus to the Aegean Sea and the Nile.

Civilisation grew up in this part of the world at a very early date. Its existence during the age of Neolithic art, possibly from the 5th millennium, is borne out by the excavated sites at Tepe Hissar, Tepe Sialk (pre-'Ubaid culture) and, a little later, at Tepe Giyan ('Ubaid culture). The excavation of Susa, the capital of the country of Elam bordering on lower Mesopotamia, has shown that the growth of this civilisation was to be closely dependent on the development of Mesopotamian civilisation.

For details of contemporary culture in Ancient Egypt, please see: Egyptian Architecture (c.3000 BCE - 200 CE), notably the eras of Early Egyptian Architecture (3100-2181) Egyptian Middle Kingdom Architecture, and the prolific Thebean temple-building period of Egyptian New Kingdom Architecture (1550-1069).

The great Indo-European migrations of the 3rd millennium brought Aryans, on their way to India by way of Turkestan and the Caucasus, to the Iranian plateau. Some of them intermarried with the people of the Zagros Mountains, where they took control soon after, they swept down into Babylonia, and this was the beginning of the Kassite domination that was to last almost until the end of the 2nd millennium. (See also: Hittite art 1600-1180 BCE). The Assyrians, in a few centuries, were to reverse the situation. The Medes, a young Iranian warrior tribe like the Scythians and brought up in their tradition, had selected Ecbatana as their capital, while the Persians, members of the same race, descended the slopes of the Iranian plateau.

About the 9th century B.C. the Assyrians began to move southwards and came into conflict with the Medes and Persians in the Zagros Mountains in the 8th century Sargon smashed the alliance of Median leaders. Phraorte then became the leader of the Medes, Mannaeans and Cimmerians, and conquered the Persians. The Scythians, who had taken control of Media, were governed by Cyaxares he reorganised the army and, following his alliance with Nabopolassar, founder of the Chaldean dynasty in Babylon, and with the help of nomadic tribes, he destroyed Nineveh in 612, thereby avenging the Assyrian sack of Susa in 640.

Prior to the Scythian invasion the Persians had established a sovereign state under Achaemenes, which was to be reunited under Cambyses I his marriage to the daughter of the Median king produced Cyrus, who conquered Media in 555, then Lydia in 546 and lastly, in 538, Babylon. He was succeeded by Cambyses in 529. Cambyses had his brother Smerdis put to death, conquered Egypt and proclaimed himself king and conquered Ethiopia, but because of the Phoenician sailors' lack of cooperation, he was unable to reach Carthage. On his death a pretender claiming to be Smerdis stirred up the people. Darius I deposed the usurper, crushed the rebellion and launched out to conquer India (512). Later, turning to the north and Europe, he marched as far as the Danube. The rest of the story belongs to Greek history: the Ionian rebellion, the burning of Sardis (499), the fall of Miletus (494) and finally the first Persian War and the battle of Marathon (490). Darius, who had recognised his son Xerxes as heir to the throne, died at the age of thirty-six. None of his successors came near to matching his greatness,with the exception of Artaxerxes II (Mnemon) who signed the peace of Antalcidas (387), a compensation for Marathon and Salamis. He was the last of the great kings Artaxerxes III (Ochus) and Darius III (Codamannus), the ill-starred opponent of Alexander, were both unfit to rule.

For a comparison with the history and evolution of Asian art and culture, see: Chinese Art Timeline (c.18,000 BCE - present).

Little has survived of the art of the Medes, and the most important remains come from the Sakkez treasure found to the south of Lake Urmia. It could just as well be the treasure of a Scythian king. The objects belonging to it can be divided into four groups which reveal the various influences affecting Median art: in the first group can be put a typically Assyrian bracelet adorned with lions carved in relief the second group, identified as Assyro-Scythian, includes a breast-plate on which a procession of animals is making its way towards a cluster of stylised Sacred Trees. In actual fact, except for one or two animals in the Scythian style, this shows entirely Assyrian influence. The last two groups are Scythian (scabbard and dish decorated with Scythian motifs, notably the lynx) and native (which can be related to bronzes like those from Luristan).

There are two conflicting theories regarding the various features of this treasure. Godard dates this Assyrian art from the reign of Assurnasirpal (9th century) whereas Ghirshman attributes them to the time of Esarhaddon (7th century). According to the first theory the objects must be attributed to local Mannaean workshops, and it must be assumed that while the Scythians were in this area they adopted certain features out of which they developed their own style. If we follow Ghirshman's idea, these specimens can be properly attributed to 7th-century Scythians and would thus be the first known examples of their work.

Achaemenian art, the youngest art of the ancient Orient, covers two centuries (from the middle of the 6th to the middle of the 4th). Examples can be seen in the ruins of Pasargadae, Persepolis and Susa.

Ancient Persian City of Pasargadae

This was the first settlement on the plateau for which Cyrus was responsible. The palace and various other buildings were set among gardens, and the many columns, surmounted by bulls' heads, show that the ideas behind the apadana were already in full force. Pasargadae can be described as the forerunner of Achaemenian architecture, but the terrace near Masjid-i-Sulaiman, with its gigantic walls and the ten flights of stairs leading up to it, can be attributed to the Persians and to a period prior to the building of Pasargadae and Persepolis.

At Pasargadae there is also a fire temple. These temples were square towers, built of well-bonded stone with mock loopholes and windows in dark materials inside, the sacred fire was kept alight by the Magi, who belonged to a Median tribe specially trained in the study and practice of religious ritual. At one time these buildings were thought to be 'towers of silence'. Similar structures can be found near Persepolis and at Naksh-i-Rustam, along with four-sided monuments having ornamental bas-relief battlements, that have been identified as fire altars.

Not far from Pasargadae, at Meshed-i-Murgad, stands the tomb of Cyrus, a rectangular building set on a base of seven stone-courses, with a gabled roof made of flat stone slabs. It can be compared with monuments in Asia Minor. At Naksh-i-Rustam, near Persepolis, are the royal rock-tombs standing one beside the other. The tomb of Darius Codamannus at Persepolis was never finished. The tombs are hollowed out of the rock on the pattern of the tomb of Da-u-Dokhtar in the province of Fars. The architects carved from the rock itself an imitation of a palace facade with four engaged columns, crowned by 'kneeling bull' capitals which support an entablature decorated with a Greek moulding above this is carved a line of bulls and lions, on which rests a dais held up by Atlantes the king, turning towards a fire altar, stands on steps beneath the emblem of Ahura Mazda whose face is inside the circle.

Private tombs have been discovered (like the one at Susa) in which a woman of high rank, adorned with jewels, was laid in a bronze receptacle.

Ancient Persian City of Persepolis

It was here that the Achaemenian genius developed to the full. The barracks and citadel were built on a mountain overlooking a wide plain in the direction of Shiraz. The lower slopes were levelled off for an esplanade on which a virtual city of palaces was built. Although excavations have now uncovered almost all the buildings, we still have no very clear idea of the purposes for which they were intended, although it would seem that the buildings in question are almost exclusively state or ceremonial edifices. From the walled esplanade a great stairway with a double ramp leads down into the plain opposite the highest landing are the propylaea of Xerxes, a massive four-sided structure open at each end and along the sides and decorated with colossal human-headed winged bulls. Around the entrance, spaces left empty with regular hollows cut out of the rock were intended for terrace gardens.

What is left of the palace is a veritable skeleton structure of doors and windows hewn from great blocks of stone that served as supporting props for walls that have long since vanished. Here the Egyptian gorge was used, and the king was portrayed on the lateral blocks of stone inside the doorways. On the right side a stairway, decorated with bas-reliefs, led to the apadana of Darius and Xerxes. The apadana, used as an audience chamber, was a typically Achaemenian structure. Its roof was supported by columns about seventy feet high-fluted, slender shafts that were mostly set on a bell-shaped base and were crowned by typically Achaemenian capitals like the one from Susa which is now in the Louvre. The lower part of these eighteen-foot-high capitals was made up of volutes, like C's set back to back, which supported the main part of the capital - the forequarters of two kneeling bulls, joined together. Beams rested on the saddle and in turn supported the larger beams of the roof so that some weight was taken by the bulls' heads. The apadana at Susa had thirty-six columns and covered an area of almost two and a half acres. This chamber at Persepolis had the same number of columns and was surrounded by a single peristyle that had two rows of six columns on three sides.

Ancient Persian City of Susa

The old royal cities continued to be important alongside the new capitals. At the ancient Elamite capital of Susa, on a hill, Darius I built his winter residence, with its vast apadana which was restored by Artaxerxes II (Mnemon). It was explored by M. Dieulafoy, who retrieved some of its glazed ornamentation, and then by J. de Morgan in 1908, who uncovered the building's plan by tracing cuttings in the ground pavements (made of a sort of concrete composed of chalk and pounded baked clay) which corresponded to the baked-brick walls dating from 440. The palace was planned on similar lines to the one in Babylonia, with chambers arranged around a rectangular court.

Plastic Arts (Sculpture)

The plastic arts were primarily devoted to the ornamentation of the palaces. Bas-reliefs formed the main part of the Persepolis ornamentation: the double stairway which led on to the terrace and into the palace chambers was decorated with two kinds of bas-relief. The motif of the lion attacking a bull, a familar device since the earliest period of Mesopotamian art, appeared on the triangular panels of the balustrades elsewhere, the king 'in majesty' was found. On a dais shaped like a throne, a colossal prototype of the royal Persian throne (the Peacock Throne), the king sits in a great chair. Beneath the dais, lines of figures are carved, whose dress indicates that they belong to the various satrapies. The second type of bas-relief depicts processions of guards, courtiers and tribute-bearers. The artist has taken immense trouble to differentiate the characteristic features of their dress. The Persians wear a single or embattled tiara and long robes whose wide sleeves are adorned with symmetrical folds in imitation of drapery (a concession to Greek influence) but of a completely uniform treatment. Over one shoulder they carry a quiver holding a bow and arrows. The Medes, wearing caps, have a short tunic, and trousers, entirely free of folds, caught in at the ankle. They carry daggers with scabbards of the same shape as those of Scythian origin. The tribute-bearers are distinguished more by the nature of their gifts than by their costume and are preceded by a chamberlain.

Along the great routes of the empire, even in the most outlying regions, artists carved bas-reliefs in the king's glory, like the one carved on the rock at Behistun, which accompanies Darius' proclamation and portrays him as a conqueror in an already familiar pose, with the defeated enemy beneath his foot.

Graeco-Persian reliefs from the end of the 5th century have been discovered in the region of Dascyleium in Bithynia, depicting a procession of men and women on horseback and a Persian sacrifice with two priests (Magi), the lower half of their faces veiled, carrying a mace in their hands, nearing an altar, with the heads of a ram and a bull on a brushwood stake at their feet.

At Susa, glazed bricks, copied from Babylonia, took the place of the marble ornamentation of Persepolis. The Achaemenians, howewer, used a different method from that of by their teachers. Instead of clay they used chalk and sand. The bricks were first baked in a moderate heat and then the outline of the figures was added in blue glaze and the bricks were returned to the oven finally the areas outlined in blue were filled in with chosen colours and received one last baking to complete the process.

The ornamentation of the staircase balustrades at Susa drew its inspiration from the Theban tombs with their superimposed lotus flowers, and from Aegean art with its alternating volutes. The gates were adorned with lions, their coats dappled grey-green or blueish, set in a framework of zigzags and palmettes interspersed with scallops and rosettes. The palace walls were embellished with mythological beasts, whose origins can be traced back to Babylonia, with scallop-edged wings and breasts coloured alternately yellow and green. Elsewhere, as at Persepolis, there were robes of lavish embroideries on material of white or yellow ground, adorned with three-towered castles and eight-pointed stars, the folds indicated in dark colours these garments had wide yellow or purplish-brown sleeves the shoes of the guards were yellow, their quivers made of panther skin and their hair held back by a bandeau. Between the gateways sat sphinxes wearing the horned tiara head-dress, their heads turned to look behind them in an inscrutable attitude but one which adds a great decorative appeal to this motif which recurs on the seal of Darius' chancellery, where the sphinxes turn to face towards each other.

Metal-work, of the utmost importance to an equestrian people, suffered no decline under the Achaemenids. Bronze was used for the facing of certain parts of buildings, such as doors. For work in gold and silver an especially elaborate technique was employed, with silver dishes in repousse (foreshadowing Sassanian plate with its rosette and boss-beading ornamentation), angled rhytons whose bases are formed by the head of a goat or an ibex, vases with handles ending in an animal's head or else made to represent an animal's body (like the two handles of the same vase, one of which is in Berlin and the other in the Louvre, depicting a winged silver ibex incrusted with gold), a triangular stand from Persepolis composed of three roaring lions, the realistic treatment of which contrasts with that of the bronze lion found at Susa, comparable in pose to the lion from Khorsabad but far more stylised and suggestive of the monsters of the Far East.

Jewellery shows a wide variety of influences. Some ornaments from the Oxus treasure in the British Museum - gold plaques, bracelets and rings - indicate the same Scythian influence that can be found in other treasures. Gems from the Susa sepulchre - crescent-shaped earrings decorated with coloured stones set in gold, and bracelets with no clasp but tipped with a lion's headand incrusted with turquoise and lapis lazuli, illustrate a technique which was to be adopted by the 'barbarians'. (See: Jewellery: History, Techniques.)

Achaemenian glyptics surpassed in refinement anything hitherto known: one of the finest intaglios shows the king in his chariot out hunting with bow and arrow, his horses at full gallop. A plaque used as a mould for inlaid gold leaf has been found, as well as a small head of extraordinary delicacy - all that remains of a statue, for after the looting by Alexander's soldiers statuary, like everything else, survived only in a mutilated condition. On the obverse side of the gold coins called darics, the Achaemenid kings, kneeling on one knee, are depicted as archers.

Ancient Persia: Art and Architecture
During the Persian Empire: Achaemenid Era (c.550-330 BCE)

Greek civilisation owed a great deal to that of Asia Minor at a very early date, contact between the two was established along the shores of the Aegean. This lasting contact developed, little by little, into a formidable struggle against the Persian empire, whose history was closely linked with an Oriental civilisation that the West was for ever to be confronted with and that it was never able to escape.

The Medes and Persians were part of the tide of Aryans who, taking advantage of the upheaval produced by the Indo-Europeans throughout the entire ancient world, came to settle on the Iranian plateau. The Medes, like both the Cimmerians - who came from Thrace and Phrygia - and the Scythians, were a race of horsemen possessing no other riches beyond objects that could be carried with them, such as weapons, metal vessels and ornaments. Median art, of which the Sakkez treasure is the main example, combined the influence of the Medes' northerly neighbours the Scythians with that of their opponents the Assyrians.

The Persians, who settled farther south, spent some time, however, in northern Iran where they came under Median domination. Their art, consequently, from the time they were firmly established on the Persian plateau presents an everlasting dualism springing from this mixture of influences, from the north and from the south with its echoes of Mesopotamian traditions. The union of these two basic factors was strengthened by the marriage of the Persian king Cambyses to the daughter of the Median king. It also incorporated elements of foreign arts in the expansion of that vast empire that one day was to extend from the Indus to the Nile thus a composite art was created which was typically Achaemenid but of which only a few works, created for the court, remain.

The Achaemenids - The Builder-Kings

When Cyrus captured Babylon in 538 and the Achaemenid Dynasty took the place of Babylonian rule, the capitals of the new empire were brought farther east to the Persian plateau and to Susa, bordering on the plains of lower Mesopotamia, thus reducing the great cities of the Tigris and Euphrates basin to the state of mere satellites. This kind of upheaval was inevitably bound to carry the art of this region in new directions.

We should always take into account the factors at work in the creation of every art: that is, on the one hand the world of reality, and on the other the world of suggestion. The first is influenced by physical environment and conditions: climate and materials the second is bound up with society, religion and social customs. The nature of the country is of vital importance in its influence on an emerging art. The country of Sumer was entirely without stone or any wood really suitable for building, and it made up for this by the use of clay on a large scale, 'which gave its architecture a massiveness that had profound effects on every interdependent art. But the Persian plateau offered quite different opportunities: there was no shortage of stone (of a slightly softer variety than that used for the decoration of the Assyrian palaces). This completely changed architecture. Building in clay would have been as difficult in this area as building in stone in the Tigris-Euphrates basin. While they were in the north, in Urartu, the Persians learned how to build surrounding walls intended to protect the villages and the chiefs' residences against the raids of mountain peoples, who were notorious brigands the man-made terrace backing on to the mountain near Masjid-i-Sulaiman represents an earlier stage in technical progress than that shown by the building of Pasargadae. Incidentally, there is still disagreement over the etymology of the word 'Pasargadae', read by some as 'Parsagadae', which would mean 'camp of the Persians' and would tie in very well with this type of town.

Achaemenid architects were to build 'royal cities', just as the Assyrian kings, like Sargon II at Khorsabad, had done before them but the Achaemenian cities were to be on a grandiose scale worthy of a monarch who ruled from the Indus to the Nile, and the decorative artists, in their turn, were to try to provide him with fitting surroundings. Persepolis is the supreme example of a royal Achaemenian town. There we are really faced with a state art, created for the court. (Compare: Roman Architecture.)

There is a kind of disconcerting effrontery about this art where architects showed no hesitation in building a forest of colonnades against a mountain-side which was quite overwhelming in comparison. It is a bewildering sight, this architecture, with its columns with slender seventy-foot-high shafts topped with colossal capitals - an architecture so unrelated to human proportions that men were to wander like dwarfs at its feet. It was an art that was not on a human scale. Nowhere else had this ever found such complete expression. But by the early days of the empire architectural design had been settled once and for all and was to remain unchanged: the column, the chief feature in building and the one which inspired the audience chamber or apadana was to become an obsession. The Persian era was the time when the column, from Greece to Asia, reigned supreme, but the Achaemenids were particularly extreme in their use of it, which they carried even to Delos in the Thesmophorium which Charles Picard has compared in design to Darius' Tachara (composed of a central chamber with three rows of four columns and two matching rooms with two rows of four columns). At Persepolis all the halls and chambers had columns (like the audience chamber or apadana), and when we think of the staggering number of more than 550 columns erected in that limited space, we inevitably react against such an excess. We cannot assimilate this extreme profusion, but we must remember that to all Oriental minds it is entirely acceptable. Persian artists wanted to achieve a majestic grandeur and could only do this by impressing the mind with the repetition of a single motif, something that we shall find again in their ornamental sculpture.

Art and Symbolic Meaning

When we come to consider the number of columns generally used in buildings we find that it is always connected with the number 4 and its multiples: 4, 8, 12, 16, 36, 72,100. It could very well be that here as in Mesopotamia we are faced with a law that obeys the 'symbolism of numbers'. From the very earliest times, the Sumerian goddess Nisaba was thought to be versed in the meaning of numbers, and the Tower of Babel and the Great Temple provide us with typical examples of the architectural application of sacred numbers. The preponderance of the number 4 at Persepolis corresponds to some new conception did it perhaps symbolise the four elements of fire, air, water and earth? The number 12, that was soon to be endowed with a quite special significance, was also used a great deal. In more ways than one the influence of Europe was already making itself felt among the Persians. This is borne out if we look at certain themes such as the king battling with a fantastic beast, where it is now no longer a question, as it was with the Assyrian king, of exalting his bravery in a hunting exploit: the king is at grips with a demon, plunging his dagger into its body. Now it has become a conflict between the spirit of good (Ahura Mazda) and the spirit of evil (Ahri-man). This theme came to symbolise the victory of the Aryan god of light, who was depicted in the act of killing a dragon. It seems likely, nevertheless, that the Persians were responsible for the introduction of a new type - the 'horseman-god' - who became an accepted iconographical figure he recurs in Egypt in Coptic art with the god Horus on horseback (in Christian iconography identified with St George) crushing the crocodile. This conception of the conflict between good and evil was developed and spread by the Persians. Before this, it seems to have been touched on in Babylon with the victory of the god Marduk over Tiamat - the victory of order over chaos, an idea which might possibly stem from an earlier period.

Persian religious thought, governed by the idea of the polarity of good and evil, penetrated the entire ancient world of that time. Mostly artists drew upon local portrayals of gods and malevolent or guardian djinns. They dominated a people who went on seeing them as they had always been, and the Persian artist, using scenes that were already well known, elaborated them not only in the way they were depicted but also in the purpose for which they were intended. Their treatment is disturbingly cold and detached, and the protagonists seem totally unconcerned with whatever they are doing. On the other hand, if we look at these scenes from another point of view we shall see that the artist invariably produced set pieces that were extremely fine as architectural ornamentation, as, for example, the motif of the lion attacking a bull, which had possibly been chosen because it could symbolise one of the religious themes that was later to take root: Mithra the sun god slaying the bull.

It was at this time that the idea of survival after death, and the mediation of a spirit or a god that was the guide of souls, took a firm hold. Royal tombs, far from being concealed as they had been in Babylonia or in Egypt, stood proudly beneath the sky like the mausoleum thought to be the tomb of Cyrus. The royal rock-tombs at Naksh-i-Rustam and Persepolis were very well known, a fact which explains why they were plundered. On the tomb at Naksh-i-Rustam the king, standing on a dais, towers above a facade (carved out of the rock) in imitation of his earthly home he is alone before a fire altar under the
protection of the god Ahura Mazda whose face, surrounded by a circle (symbol of eternity), hovers above. We have seen that the Persians readily took over the religious symbols of neighbouring peoples, but it appears that the Egyptian winged sun-disc (set in the uraeus), adopted in the Near East (with the exception of Babylonia) during the 2nd millennium, was altered in Persia and became a disc set in a circle. This emblem was already known to the Persians, as it was used in Assyria for the god Assur. It seems, then, very likely that the Persians did not think of portraying their god in image form before they had come into contact with the peoples around them, but we should remember that the ancient Mesopotamians, too, never made a figurative representation of their great god of heaven An or Anu.

The Splendour of Persian Art

The artist had also to create for the world some impression of that vast state which was the Persian empire and of the tens of thousands of subjects living under its sway. This he tried to do in the bas-reliefs which adorned the palaces, exploiting to the full all the splendour and magnificence of the court and the surroundings in which the king lived. The Assyrian kings had surrounded themselves with scenes of atrocious barbarity, like the banqueting scene where Assurbanipal and his queen feast before the head of a defeated enemy that hangs from a hook, the bas-reliefs showing heaps of enemy heads cut off at the neck and meticulously counted by the scribes, the impaled bodies standing out against the landscape (a universal reminder of the fate awaiting rebels), battle scenes with their horrifying confusion of mangled bodies and appalling atrocities, and, lastly, the hunting scenes which acclaimed the courage of the king. The Persians portrayed nothing like this on their palace walls. The stairway balustrades, like the palace halls, were decorated with great ornamental friezes whose chosen theme was a feast where a crowd of courtiers press round the king to pay him homage while a line of tribute-bearers approaches.

The artist was able to produce a series of the most vivid tableaux, fascinating in the variety of people and tributes depicted, that far and away surpassed King Shalmaneser's timid attempt on the Black Obelisk at Nimrud.

The figures grasp each other by the hand some turn to talk to the person behind, or hold the shoulder of the man in front, just as in some fabulous procession which at night by the flickering light of torches could leap into life on the walls. But finally we are overcome by a feeling of weariness and monotony when faced with these scenes which recur in everyone of the palaces and sometimes even several times over in the same palace. We must set aside, then, our own opinions if we are to understand this art that does not fit in with Western attitudes, for a Persian artist, if he had not penetrated to their deeper significance, could make just the same complaint of our cathedrals with their Nativities and Crucifixions. What the Persian artist wanted to produce was a great, uniformly decorated, frieze. We watch a procession in stone where almost all the figures are shown strictly in profile, standing out from the wall.

It is when we come to Susa, the ancient Elamite capital which became a royal city, that we begin to realise the importance of the physical environment and the pervading influences shaping an art. The absence of stone, which had to be transported at great expense, and the closeness of Mesopotamia were both factors that gave Susa its unique and individual character.

At Susa we are no longer presented with sober processions as we were at Persepolis here we are spectators in a fairyland of light and colour. The walls of the palace - on which we find episodes from the story of Esther - are decorated with iridescent and lavish colour they are adorned with glazed brick, with archers and fantastic animals springing from the same root as the naturistic ideas that were fundamental to the Asian religions. Babylonian artists, some time earlier, had been unrivalled in the way they managed to produce harmonious forms from these heterogeneous creatures evolved from the combination of features from different species during the course of thousands of years.

The fantastic colours used by the artists for the bodies and wings of these djinns, possibly with some magical purpose, seem to have been inspired by a world of dreams where fancy rules supreme: such, for example are the glazed panels where we see two sphinxes turning their heads backwards towards the doorways (for they were set between the entrances so that no person coming in could pass unnoticed before their brown, inscrutable, mysterious faces. Similarly, the innumerable archers at the king's side had a magic significance, almost a security against any possible desertion on the part of the actual guard, who had, in fact, given the monarch such poor protection. At Susa, as at Persepolis, there are friezes wholly devoted to lines of guards, but in glazed bricks, vivid and glowing warmly in this light, with all the rich ochres and yellows and, as in Babylon, invariably standing out from a blue ground, the forerunner of the incomparable blues of the Ispahan mosques. The artist has paid 'attention to racial differences among the archers by distinguishing the swarthy complexioned southerners from the fair-skinned men of the north. The lavish magnificence of their embroidered silk robes appears to be exactly matched by the description of the immortals crossing the Dardanelles by a bridge of boats, crowned with flowers and with myrtle branches beneath their feet and we can understand how these archers, though of unsurpassed skill as marksmen, should have been so hampered by their clothes when it came to a hand-to-hand tussle with the well-armed Greek infantry. It is not difficult to imagine the envy of the Greeks, a young and poor people then, as they gazed at the splendour and wealth of Asia.

The Cosmopolitan Empire

Persia then appeared to be the country that was potentially a centre for every kind of activity: in 512 Darius ordered Scylax of Caryonda, the Carian captain, to sail down the Indus. The Greek doctor Ctesias lived at the court of Darius II and Telephanes of Phocaea worked for the King of Kings for the greater part of his life. This in part explains the infiltration of Greek and other foreign influences, along with the use of foreign labour with which the foundation charter of the palace of Darius at Susa (translated by Father Scheil), is very much concerned this charter is, in this respect, one of our most useful and instructive sources. There the king lists all the materials required, from. India to Greece, for the building of his palace: they came accompanied by craftsmen experienced in working with these materials.

Cedarwood was brought from Lebanon brick walls were built by Babylonians. There was continual contact between all the different regions of the empire and the neighbouring countries ambassadors, scholars and artists travelled from one country to another and the fame and reputation of the East, with the Persians as its representatives, spread far and wide. So the Greeks came to be acquainted with the sciences of ancient Babylonia (handed down by initiation ceremonies) and it has been pointed out that Pythagoras' headgear was, in fact, that worn by the initiated. But these interchanges often produced clashes. Trade was made considerably easier by the adoption of the daric (which can be traced back in origin to Croesus) and was backed up by the great banks established in Babylonia by Murashu and his sons. The ancient great highway - the old Semiramis road - was extended to Susa, and at intervals along it monuments were set up in honour of the King of Kings, like the Behistun rock where it was a feat of daring for sculptors to climb up (and this was repeated in modern times by archaeologists) and to carve bas-reliefs to the glory of Darius and engrave his address from the throne in three languages (Babylonian, Elamite and Persian). The fact that the Achaemenids were compelled to make use of other languages besides Persian in order to communicate with all the subject peoples of the empire has enabled scholars to decipher cuneiform script - with the help, too, of a successful reading of an Egyptian cartouche on an oil-bottle where the name of Xerxes appears.

When they came to power the renown of the Persians spread throughout the ancient world before this, Nabonidus had been told by the god Marduk, who had appeared to him in a dream, of Astyages' downfall and the coming of Cyrus. We have a typical example of the infiltration of Medo-Persian influence in Babylon, where Nebuchadnezzar II had built the hanging gardens, to delight his wife Amytis, the grand-daughter of Astyages who remembered with longing the gardens or 'paradises' which were part of every Achaemenid palace, those
gardens that are still part of Iran's enchantment today. Even in Babylon buildings were to be found termed 'appa dana'. A palace in Sidon (then a Persian capital), burnt during the insurrection of the satrapies, illustrates well enough how the Persian style, both in dress and architecture, had everywhere taken root.

The Magnificence of the "King of Kings"

Many new characteristic features came into being under Persian rule. After the Sumerian patesis, the viceroys of the gods, after the rulers of Babylon and Assur, kings of 'everything that was', the Persian king appeared as something quite different from now on, royal protocol conferred upon him the title of King of Kings. He was created by Ahura Mazda to govern that vast land, entrusted by him with that great kingdom with its fine warriors and 'excellent horses', in recognition of the fact that his forebears had
been a race of horsemen. Now this was no longer an art like that practised in Assyria, exclusively dedicated to the honour and praise of a military leader's courage, nor like that of Babylon put at the service of a devout king intent upon the worship of his god, but an art which celebrated the 'superman', a conception that is a very early foreshadowing of Nietzsche's ideas.

But even more than this, the ruler was not a monarch whom the gods had made an instrument of fear, as he had been in Assyria, but a righteous king, elected by all the gods. The prophet Isaiah was to be able to write: "Thus spake the Lord to his annointed, to Cyrus whose right hand I have holden . to subdue the nations before him . I will go before thee that thou mayest know that I am the Lord which calls thee by thy name I have surnamed thee though thou hast not known me . I am the Lord and there is none else . I form the light and create darkness . " (Isaiah 45, 1-7). We could imply, it seems, from this, that it was, in fact, precisely the God of Light whom Cyrus worshipped and it shows what links there were between beliefs at this time. This same king Cyrus speaking to the Babylonians tells them on his cylinder: "The god Marduk considered all the countries of the earth. He scanned them in search of a righteous king . whom he would lead by the hand. He called his name "Cyrus, King of Anshan" . The god Marduk looked with pleasure upon his pious acts and his righteous heart . and like a friend and companion, he walked by his side." Cyrus concludes with these words: "The god Marduk inclined the great heart of the Babylonian people towards me . and each day I remembered to pay it homage". (Cylinder of Cyrus V. R. 35, 11- 25).

The Achaemenid kings had filled their palaces full of treasures, and Plutarch tells how ten thousand mules and five hundred camels were employed by the Greeks in the sack of Persepolis. The Greeks carried off from Susa about forty-nine thousand gold and silver talents, which, considering the value of gold at this time, would nowadays represent an impressive sum of several millions.

Texts and monuments alike have nothing to say of the Persians' religion, which we can only begin to appreciate by its contribution to culture - so unlike anything that happened in Greece - as its light shone throughout the ancient world long after the collapse of the Achaemenid empire. Crystallised within the Persian civilisation was an Oriental civilisation many thousands of years old but a new spirit had swept across the great plateau in the tracks of those audacious horsemen, and when Alexander embarked on his conquest of Asia he followed the routes taken before him by the King of Kings.


The beginning of carpet weaving remains unknown, as carpets are subject to use, deterioration, and destruction by insects and rodents. Woven rugs probably developed from earlier floor coverings, made of felt, or a technique known as "flat weaving". [4] Flat-woven rugs are made by tightly interweaving the warp and weft strands of the weave to produce a flat surface with no pile. The technique of weaving carpets further developed into a technique known as loop weaving. Loop weaving is done by pulling the weft strings over a gauge rod, creating loops of thread facing the weaver. The rod is then either removed, leaving the loops closed, or the loops are cut over the protecting rod, resulting in a rug very similar to a genuine pile rug. Hand-woven pile rugs are produced by knotting strings of thread individually into the warps, cutting the thread after each single knot.

The Pazyryk carpet: Earliest pile-woven carpet Edit

The Pazyryk carpet was excavated in 1949 from the grave of a Scythian nobleman in the Pazyryk Valley of the Altai Mountains in Siberia. Radiocarbon testing indicated that the Pazyryk carpet was woven in the 5th century BC. [5] This carpet is 183 by 200 centimetres (72 by 79 inches) and has 36 symmetrical knots per cm 2 (232 per inch 2 ). [6] The advanced technique used in the Pazyryk carpet indicates a long history of evolution and experience in weaving. It is considered the oldest known carpet in the world. [7] Its central field is a deep red color and it has two animal frieze borders proceeding in opposite directions accompanied by guard stripes. The inner main border depicts a procession of deer, the outer men on horses, and men leading horses. The horse saddlecloths are woven in different designs. The inner field contains 4 × 6 identical square frames arranged in rows on a red ground, each filled by identical, star-shaped ornaments made up by centrally overlapping x- and cross-shaped patterns. The design of the carpet already shows the basic arrangement of what was to become the standard oriental carpet design: A field with repeating patterns, framed by a main border in elaborate design, and several secondary borders. [8]

The discoverer of the Pazyryk carpet, Sergei Rudenko, assumed it to be a product of the contemporary Achaemenids. [9] [10] Whether it was produced in the region where it was found, or is a product of Achaemenid manufacture, remains subject to debate. [11] [12] Its fine weaving and elaborate pictorial design hint at an advanced state of the art of carpet weaving at the time of its production.

Early fragments Edit

There are documentary records of carpets being used by the ancient Greeks. Homer, assumed to have lived around 850 BC, writes in Ilias XVII,350 that the body of Patroklos is covered with a "splendid carpet". In Odyssey Book VII and X "carpets" are mentioned. Pliny the Elder wrote (nat. VIII, 48) that carpets ("polymita") were invented in Alexandria. It is unknown whether these were flatweaves or pile weaves, as no detailed technical information is provided in the Greek and Latin texts.

Flat-woven kilims dating to at least the fourth or fifth century AD were found in Turfan, Hotan prefecture, East Turkestan, China, an area which still produces carpets today. Rug fragments were also found in the Lop Nur area, and are woven in symmetrical knots, with 5-7 interwoven wefts after each row of knots, with a striped design, and various colours. They are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. [13] Other fragments woven in symmetrical as well as asymmetrical knots have been found in Dura-Europos in Syria, [14] and from the At-Tar caves in Iraq, [15] dated to the first centuries AD.

These rare findings demonstrate that all the skills and techniques of dyeing and carpet weaving were already known in western Asia before the first century AD.

Early history: circa 500 BC – 200 AD Edit

Persian carpets were first mentioned around 400 BC, by the Greek author Xenophon in his book "Anabasis":

"αὖθις δὲ Τιμασίωνι τῷ Δαρδανεῖ προσελθών, ἐπεὶ ἤκουσεν αὐτῷ εἶναι καὶ ἐκπώματα καὶ τάπιδας βαρβαρικάς", (Xen. anab. VII.3.18)

Next he went to Timasion the Dardanian, for he heard that he had some Persian drinking cups and carpets.

"καὶ Τιμασίων προπίνων ἐδωρήσατο φιάλην τε ἀργυρᾶν καὶ τάπιδα ἀξίαν δέκα μνῶν." [Xen. anab. VII.3.27]

Timasion also drank his health and presented him with a silver bowl and a carpet worth ten mines. [16]

Xenophon describes Persian carpets as precious, and worthy to be used as diplomatic gifts. It is unknown if these carpets were pile-woven, or produced by another technique, e.g., flat-weaving, or embroidery, but it is interesting that the very first reference to Persian carpets in the world literature already puts them into a context of luxury, prestige, and diplomacy.

There are no surviving Persian carpets from the reigns of the Achaemenian (553–330 BC), Seleucid (312–129 BC), and Parthian (ca. 170 BC – 226 AD) kings.

The Sasanian Empire: 224–651 Edit

The Sasanian Empire, which succeeded the Parthian Empire, was recognized as one of the leading powers of its time, alongside its neighbouring Byzantine Empire, for a period of more than 400 years. [17] The Sasanids established their empire roughly within the borders set by the Achaemenids, with the capital at Ctesiphon. This last Persian dynasty before the arrival of Islam adopted Zoroastrianism as the state religion.

When and how exactly the Persians started weaving pile carpets is currently unknown, but the knowledge of carpet weaving, and of suitable designs for floor coverings, was certainly available in the area covering Byzance, Anatolia, and Persia: Anatolia, located between Byzance and Persia, was ruled by the Roman Empire since 133 BCE. Geographically and politically, by changing alliances and warfare as well as by trade, Anatolia connected the East Roman with the Persian Empire. Artistically, both empires have developed similar styles and decorative vocabulary, as exemplified by mosaics and architecture of Roman Antioch. [18] A Turkish carpet pattern depicted on Jan van Eyck's "Paele Madonna" painting was traced back to late Roman origins and related to early Islamic floor mosaics found in the Umayyad palace of Khirbat al-Mafjar. [19]

Flat weaving and embroidery were known during the Sasanian period. Elaborate Sasanian silk textiles were well preserved in European churches, where they were used as coverings for relics, and survived in church treasuries. [20] More of these textiles were preserved in Tibetan monasteries, and were removed by monks fleeing to Nepal during the Chinese cultural revolution, or excavated from burial sites like Astana, on the Silk Road near Turfan. The high artistic level reached by Persian weavers is further exemplified by the report of the historian Al-Tabari about the Spring of Khosrow carpet, taken as booty by the Arabian conquerors of Ctesiphon in 637 AD. The description of the rug's design by al-Tabari makes it seem unlikely that the carpet was pile woven. [21] [22]

Fragments of pile rugs from findspots in north-eastern Afghanistan, reportedly originating from the province of Samangan, have been carbon-14 dated to a time span from the turn of the second century to the early Sasanian period. Among these fragments, some show depictions of animals, like various stags (sometimes arranged in a procession, recalling the design of the Pazyryk carpet) or a winged mythical creature. Wool is used for warp, weft, and pile, the yarn is crudely spun, and the fragments are woven with the asymmetric knot associated with Persian and far-eastern carpets. Every three to five rows, pieces of unspun wool, strips of cloth and leather are woven in. [23] These fragments are now in the Al-Sabah Collection in the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait. [24]

The carpet fragments, although reliably dated to the early Sasanian time, do not seem to be related to the splendid court carpets described by the Arab conquerors. Their crude knots incorporating shag on the reverse hints at the need for increased insulation. With their coarsely finished animal and hunting depictions, these carpets were likely woven by nomadic people. [25]

The advent of Islam and the Caliphates: 651–1258 Edit

The Muslim conquest of Persia led to the end of the Sasanian Empire in 651 and the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion in Persia. Persia became a part of the Islamic world, ruled by Muslim Caliphates.

Arabian geographers and historians visiting Persia provide, for the first time, references to the use of carpets on the floor. The unknown author of the Hudud al-'Alam states that rugs were woven in Fārs. 100 years later, Al-Muqaddasi refers to carpets in the Qaināt. Yaqut al-Hamawi tells us that carpets were woven in Azerbaijān in the thirteenth century. The great Arabian traveller Ibn Battuta mentions that a green rug was spread before him when he visited the winter quarter of the Bakhthiari atabeg in Idhej. These references indicate that carpet weaving in Persia under the Caliphate was a tribal or rural industry. [26]

The rule of the Caliphs over Persia ended when the Abbasid Caliphate was overthrown in the Siege of Baghdad (1258) by the Mongol Empire under Hulagu Khan. The Abbasid line of rulers recentered themselves in the Mamluk capital of Cairo in 1261. Though lacking in political power, the dynasty continued to claim authority in religious matters until after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt (1517). Under the Mamluk dynasty in Cairo, large carpets known as "Mamluk carpets" were produced. [27]

Seljuq invasion and Turko-Persian tradition: 1040–1118 Edit

Beginning at latest with the Seljuq invasions of Anatolia and northwestern Persia, a distinct Turko-Persian tradition emerged. Fragments of woven carpets were found in the Alâeddin Mosque in the Turkish town of Konya and the Eşrefoğlu Mosque in Beyşehir, and were dated to the Anatolian Seljuq Period (1243–1302). [28] [29] More fragments were found in Fostat, today a suburb of the city of Cairo. [30] These fragments at least give us an idea how Seluq carpets may have looked. The Egyptian findings also provide evidence for export trade. If, and how, these carpets influenced Persian carpet weaving, remains unknown, as no distinct Persian carpets are known to exist from this period, or we are unable to identify them. It was assumed by Western scholars that the Sejuqs may have introduced at least new design traditions, if not the craft of pile weaving itself, to Persia, where skilled artisans and craftsmen might have integrated new ideas into their old traditions. [21]

Carpet fragment from Eşrefoğlu Mosque, Beysehir, Turkey. Seljuq Period, 13th century.

Seljuq carpet, 320 by 240 centimetres (126 by 94 inches), from the Alâeddin Mosque, Konya, 13th century

The Mongol Ilkhanate (1256–1335) and Timurid Empire (1370–1507) Edit

Between 1219 and 1221, Persia was raided by the Mongols. After 1260, the title "Ilkhan" was borne by the descendants of Hulagu Khan and later other Borjigin princes in Persia. At the end of the thirteenth century, Ghazan Khan built a new capital at Shãm, near Tabriz. He ordered the floors of his residence to be covered with carpets from Fārs. [26]

With the death of Ilkhan Abu Said Bahatur in 1335, Mongol rule faltered and Persia fell into political anarchy. In 1381, Timur invaded Iran and became the founder of the Timurid Empire. His successors, the Timurids, maintained a hold on most of Iran until they had to submit to the "White Sheep" Turkmen confederation under Uzun Hassan in 1468 Uzun Hasan and his successors were the masters of Iran until the rise of the Safavids.

In 1463, the Venetian Senate, seeking allies in the Ottoman–Venetian War (1463–1479) established diplomatic relations with Uzun Hassans court at Tabriz. In 1473, Giosafat Barbaro was sent to Tabriz. In his reports to the Senate of Venetia he mentions more than once the splendid carpets which he saw at the palace. Some of them, he wrote, were of silk. [31]

In 1403-05 Ruy González de Clavijo was the ambassador of Henry III of Castile to the court of Timur, founder and ruler of the Timurid Empire. He described that in Timur's palace at Samarkand, "everywhere the floor was covered with carpets and reed mattings". [32] Timurid period miniatures show carpets with geometrical designs, rows of octagons and stars, knot forms, and borders sometimes derived from kufic script. None of the carpets woven before 1500 AD have survived. [26]

The Safavid Period (1501–1732) Edit

In 1499, a new dynasty arose in Persia. Shah Ismail I, its founder, was related to Uzun Hassan. He is regarded as the first national sovereign of Persia since the Arab conquest, and established Shi'a Islam as the state religion of Persia. [33] He and his successors, Shah Tahmasp I and Shah Abbas I became patrons of the Persian Safavid art. Court manufactories were probably established by Shah Tahmasp in Tabriz, but definitely by Shah Abbas when he moved his capital from Tabriz in northwestern to Isfahan in central Persia, in the wake of the Ottoman–Safavid War (1603–18). For the art of carpet weaving in Persia, this meant, as Edwards wrote: "that in a short time it rose from a cottage métier to the dignity of a fine art." [26]

The time of the Safavid dynasty marks one of the greatest periods in Persian art, which includes carpet weaving. Later Safavid period carpets still exist, which belong to the finest and most elaborate weavings known today. The phenomenon that the first carpets physically known to us show such accomplished designs leads to the assumption that the art and craft of carpet weaving must already have existed for some time before the magnificent Safavid court carpets could have been woven. As no early Safavid period carpets survived, research has focused on Timurid period book illuminations and miniature paintings. These paintings depict colourful carpets with repeating designs of equal-scale geometric patterns, arranged in checkerboard-like designs, with "kufic" border ornaments derived from Islamic calligraphy. The designs are so similar to period Anatolian carpets, especially to "Holbein carpets" that a common source of the design cannot be excluded: Timurid designs may have survived in both the Persian and Anatolian carpets from the early Safavid, and Ottoman period. [34]

The "design revolution" Edit

By the late fifteenth century, the design of the carpets depicted in miniatures changed considerably. Large-format medaillons appeared, ornaments began to show elaborate curvilinear designs. Large spirals and tendrils, floral ornaments, depictions of flowers and animals, were often mirrored along the long or short axis of the carpet to obtain harmony and rhythm. The earlier "kufic" border design was replaced by tendrils and arabesques. All these patterns required a more elaborate system of weaving, as compared to weaving straight, rectilinear lines. Likewise, they require artists to create the design, weavers to execute them on the loom, and an efficient way to communicate the artist's ideas to the weaver. Today this is achieved by a template, termed cartoon (Ford, 1981, p. 170 [35] ). How Safavid manufacturers achieved this, technically, is currently unknown. The result of their work, however, was what Kurt Erdmann termed the "carpet design revolution". [36]

Apparently, the new designs were developed first by miniature painters, as they started to appear in book illuminations and on book covers as early as in the fifteenth century. This marks the first time when the "classical" design of Islamic rugs was established: The medaillon and corner design (pers.: "Lechek Torūnj") was first seen on book covers. In 1522, Ismail I employed the miniature painter Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād, a famous painter of the Herat school, as director of the royal atelier. Behzad had a decisive impact on the development of later Safavid art. The Safavid carpets known to us differ from the carpets as depicted in the miniature paintings, so the paintings cannot support any efforts to differentiate, classify and date period carpets. The same holds true for European paintings: Unlike Anatolian carpets, Persian carpets were not depicted in European paintings before the seventeenth century. [37] As some carpets like the Ardabil carpets have inwoven inscriptions including dates, scientific efforts to categorize and date Safavid rugs start from them:

I have no refuge in the world other than thy threshold.
There is no protection for my head other than this door.
The work of the slave of the threshold Maqsud of Kashan in the year 946.

The AH year of 946 corresponds to AD 1539–1540, which dates the Ardabil carpet to the reign of Shah Tahmasp, who donated the carpet to the shrine of Shaykh Safi-ad-din Ardabili in Ardabil, who is regarded as the spiritual father of the Safavid dynasty.

Another inscription can be seen on the "Hunting Carpet", now at the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, which dates the carpet to 949 AH/AD 1542–3:

By the diligence of Ghyath ud-Din Jami was completed
This renowned work, that appeals to us by its beauty
In the year 949

The number of sources for more precise dating and the attribution of provenience increase during the 17th century. Safavid carpets were presented as diplomatic gifts to European cities and states, as diplomatic relations intensified. In 1603, Shah Abbas presented a carpet with inwoven gold and silver threads to the Venetian doge Marino Grimani. European noblemen began ordering carpets directly from the manufactures of Isfahan and Kashan, whose weavers were willing to weave specific designs, like European coats of arms, into the commissioned peces. Their acquisition was sometimes meticulously documented: In 1601, the Armenian Sefer Muratowicz was sent to Kashan by the Polish king Sigismund III Vasa in order to commission 8 carpets with the Polish royal court of arms to be inwoven. The Kashan weavers did so, and on 12 September 1602 Muratowicz presented the carpets to the Polish king, and the bill to the treasurer of the crown. [37] Representative Safavid carpets made of silk with inwoven gold and silver threads were erroneously believed by Western art historians to be of Polish manufacture. Although the error was corrected, carpets of this type retained the name of "Polish" or "Polonaise" carpets. The more appropriate type name of "Shah Abbas" carpets was suggested by Kurt Erdmann. [37]

Masterpieces of Safavid carpet weaving Edit

A. C. Edwards opens his book on Persian carpets with the description of eight masterpieces from this great period:

  • Ardabil Carpet - Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Hunting Carpet - Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna
  • Chelsea Carpet - Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Allover Animal and Floral Carpet - Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna
  • Rose-ground Vase Carpet - Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Medaillion Animal and Floral Carpet with Inscription Guard - Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan
  • Inscribed Medaillon Carpet with Animal and Flowers and Inscription Border - Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 32.16
  • Medaillon, Animal, and Tree Carpet - Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris

Safavid "Vase technique" carpets from Kirmān Edit

A distinct group of Safavid carpets can be attributed to the region of Kirmān in southern Persia. May H. Beattie identified these carpets by their common structure: [38] Seven different types of carpets were identified: Garden carpets (depicting formal gardens and water channels) carpets with centralized designs, characterized by a large medallion multiple-medaillon designs with offset medaillons and compartment repeats directional designs with the arrangements of little scenes used as individual motifs sickle-leaf designs where long, curved, serrated and sometimes compound leaves dominate the field arabesque and lattice designs. Their distinctive structure consists of asymmetric knots the cotton warps are depressed, and there are three wefts. The first and third weft are made of wool, and lie hidden in the center of the carpet. The middle weft is of silk or cotton, and passes from the back to the front. When the carpets are worn, this third weft evokes a characteristic, "tram line" effect.

The best known "vase technique" carpets from Kirmān are those of the so-called "Sanguszko group", named after the House of Sanguszko, whose collection has the most outstanding example. The medallion-and-corner design is similar to other 16th century Safavid carpets, but the colours and style of drawing are distinct. In the central medallion, pairs of human figures in smaller medallions surround a central animal combat scene. Other animal combats are depicted in the field, while horsemen are shown in the corner medallions. The main border also contains lobed medallions with Houris, animal combats, or confronting peacocks. In-between the border medallions, phoenixes and dragons are fighting. By similarity to mosaic tile spandrels in the Ganjali Khan Complex at the Kirmān bazaar with an inscription recording its date of completion as 1006 AH/AD 1596, they are dated to the end of the 16th or the beginning of the 17th century. [39] Two other "vase technique" carpets have inscriptions with a date: One of them bears the date 1172 AH/AD 1758 and the name of the weaver: the Master Craftsman Muhammad Sharīf Kirmānī, the other has three inscriptions indicating that it was woven by the Master Craftsman Mu'min, son of Qutb al-Dīn Māhānī, between 1066-7 AH/AD 1655–1656. Carpets in the Safavid tradition were still woven in Kirmān after the fall of the Safavid dynasty in 1732 (Ferrier, 1989, p. 127 [39] ).

The end of Shah Abbas II's reign in 1666 marked the beginning of the end of the Safavid dynasty. The declining country was repeatedly raided on its frontiers. Finally, a Ghilzai Pashtun chieftain named Mir Wais Khan began a rebellion in Kandahar and defeated the Safavid army under the Iranian Georgian governor over the region, Gurgin Khan. In 1722, Peter the Great launched the Russo-Persian War (1722-1723), capturing many of Iran's Caucasian territories, including Derbent, Shaki, Baku, but also Gilan, Mazandaran and Astrabad. In 1722, an Afghan army led by Mir Mahmud Hotaki marched across eastern Iran, and besieged and took Isfahan. Mahmud proclaimed himself 'Shah' of Persia. Meanwhile, Persia's imperial rivals, the Ottomans and the Russians, took advantage of the chaos in the country to seize more territory for themselves. [40] With these events, the Safavid dynasty had come to an end.

Gallery: Persian carpets from the Safavid Era Edit

Zayn al-'Abidin bin ar-Rahman al-Jami - Early 16th century miniature, Walters Art Museum

The Emperor's Carpet (detail), second half of the 16th century, Iran. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

"Vase technique" carpet, Kirmān, 17th century

Safavid Persian carpet "Mantes carpet" at The Louvre

Detail of a Persian Animal carpet, Safavid period, Persia, 16th century, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Detail of a Persian Animal carpet, Safavid period, Persia, 16th century: Lion and Qilin, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

The Afsharid (1736–1796) and Zand (1750–1796) dynasties Edit

Iran's territorial integrity was restored by a native Iranian Turkic Afshar warlord from Khorasan, Nader Shah. He defeated the Afghans, and Ottomans, reinstalled the Safavids on the throne, and negotiated Russian withdrawal from Irans Caucasian territories, by the Treaty of Resht and Treaty of Ganja. By 1736, Nader himself was crowned shah. There are no records of carpet weaving, which had sunk to an insignificant handicraft, during the Afsharid and Zand dynasties. [26]

The Qajãr dynasty (1789–1925) Edit

In 1789, Mohammad Khan Qajar was crowned king of Persia, the founder of the Qajar dynasty, which provided Persia with a long period of order and comparative peace, and the industry had an opportunity of revival. The three important Qajãr monarchs Fath-Ali Shah Qajar, Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, and Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar revived the ancient traditions of the Persian monarchy. The weavers of Tabriz took the opportunity, and around 1885 became the founders of the modern industry of carpet weaving in Persia. [26]

The Pahlavi dynasty (1925–1979) Edit

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Persia had become a battleground. In 1917, Britain used Iran as the springboard for an attack into Russia in an unsuccessful attempt to reverse the Revolution. The Soviet Union responded by annexing portions of northern Persia, creating the Persian Soviet Socialist Republic. By 1920, the Iranian government had lost virtually all power outside its capital: British and Soviet forces exercised control over most of the Iranian mainland.

In 1925 Rezā Shāh, supported by the British government, deposed Ahmad Shah Qajar, the last Shah of the Qajar dynasty, and founded the Pahlavi dynasty. He established a constitutional monarchy that lasted until the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Reza Shah introduced social, economic, and political reforms, ultimately laying the foundation of the modern Iranian state. In order to stabilize and legitimate their reign, Rezā Shāh and his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi aimed at reviving ancient Persian traditions. The revival of carpet weaving, often referring to traditional designs, was an important part of these efforts. In 1935, Rezā Shāh founded the Iran Carpet Company, and brought carpet weaving under government control. Elaborate carpets were woven for export, and as diplomatic gifts to other states. [41]

The Pahlavi dynasty modernized and centralized the Iranian government, and sought effective control and authority over all their subjects. Reza Shah was the first Persian monarch to confront this challenge with modern weapons. Enforced by the army, nomadism was outlawed during the 1930s, traditional tribal dresses were banned, the use of tents and yurts was forbidden in Iran. Unable to migrate, having lost their herds, many nomadic families starved to death. A brief era of relative peace followed for the nomadic tribes in the 1940s and 1950s, when Persia was involved in the Second World War, and Rezā Shāh was forced to abdicate in 1941. His successor, Mohammed Reza Shah consolidated his power during the 1950s. His land reform program of 1962, part of the so-called White Revolution, despite obvious advantages for landless peasants, destroyed the traditional political organization of nomadic tribes like the Qashqai people, and the traditional way of nomadic life. The centuries-old traditions of nomadic carpet weaving, which had entered a process of decline with the introduction of synthetic dyes and commercial designs in the late nineteenth century, were almost annihilated by the politics of the last Iranian imperial dynasty. [42]

Modern times Edit

After the Iranian Revolution, little information could at first be obtained about carpet weaving in Iran. In the 1970s and 1980s, a new interest arose in Europe in Gabbeh rugs, which were initially woven by nomadic tribes for their own use. Their coarse weaving and simple, abstract designs appealed to Western customers.

In 1992, the first Grand Persian Conference and Exhibition in Tehran presented for the first time modern Persian carpet designs. Persian master weavers like Razam Arabzadeh displayed carpets woven in the traditional technique, but with unusual, modern designs. [43] As the Grand Conferences continue to take place at regular intervals, two trends can be observed in Iranian carpet weaving today. On the one hand, modern and innovative artistic designs are invented and developed by Iranian manufacturers, who thus take the ancient design tradition forward towards the twenty-first century. On the other hand, the renewed interest in natural dyes [44] was taken up by commercial enterprises, which commission carpets to tribal village weavers. This provides a regular source of income for the carpet weavers. The companies usually provide the material and specify the designs, but the weavers are allowed some degree of creative freedom. With the end of the U.S. embargo on Iranian goods, also Persian carpets (including antique Persian carpets acquired at auctions) may become more easily available to U.S. customers again.

As commercial household goods, Persian carpets today are encountering competition from other countries with lower wages and cheaper methods of production: Machine-woven, tufted rugs, or rugs woven by hand, but with the faster and less costly loop weaving method, provide rugs in "oriental" designs of utilitarian, but no artistic value. Traditional hand woven carpets, made of sheep wool dyed with natural colours are increasingly sought after. They are usually sold at higher prices due to the large amount of manual work associated with their production, which has, essentially, not changed since ancient times, and due to the artistic value of their design. Thus, the Persian carpet retains its ancient status as an object of luxury, beauty, and art.

Wool Edit

In most Persian rugs, the pile is of sheep's wool. Its characteristics and quality vary from each area to the next, depending on the breed of sheep, climatic conditions, pasturage, and the particular customs relating to when and how the wool is shorn and processed. [45] Different areas of a sheep's fleece yield different qualities of wool, depending on the ratio between the thicker and stiffer sheep hair and the finer fibers of the wool. Usually, sheep are shorn in spring and fall. The spring shear produces wool of finer quality. The lowest grade of wool used in carpet weaving is "skin" wool, which is removed chemically from dead animal skin. [26] Higher grades of Persian wool are often referred to as kurk, or kork wool, which is gained from the wool growing on the sheep's neck. [45] Modern production also makes use of imported wool, e.g. Merino wool from New Zealand, because the high demand on carpet wool cannot be entirely met by the local production. Fibers from camels and goats are also used. Goat hair is mainly used for fastening the borders, or selvedges, of nomadic rugs like Baluch rugs, since it is more resistant to abrasion. Camel wool is occasionally used in Persian nomadic rugs. It is often dyed in black, or used in its natural colour. More often, wool said to be camel's wool turns out to be dyed sheep wool. [26]

Cotton Edit

Cotton forms the foundation of warps and wefts of the majority of modern rugs. Nomads who cannot afford to buy cotton on the market use wool for warps and wefts, which are also traditionally made of wool in areas where cotton was not a local product. Cotton can be spun more tightly than wool, and tolerates more tension, which makes cotton a superior material for the foundation of a rug. Especially larger carpets are more likely to lie flat on the floor, whereas wool tends to shrink unevenly, and carpets with a woolen foundation may buckle when wet. [45] Chemically treated (mercerised) cotton has been used in rugs as a silk substitute since the late nineteenth century. [45]

Silk Edit

Silk is an expensive material, and has been used for representative carpets. Its tensile strength has been used in silk warps, but silk also appears in the carpet pile. Silk pile can be used to highlight special elements of the design. High-quality carpets from Kashan, Qum, Nain, and Isfahan have all-silk piles. Silk pile carpets are often exceptionally fine, with a short pile and an elaborate design. Silk pile is less resistant to mechanical stress, thus, all-silk piles are often used as wall hangings, or pillows.

Spinning Edit

The fibers of wool, cotton, and silk are spun either by hand or mechanically by using spinning wheels or industrial spinning machines to produce the yarn. The direction in which the yarn is spun is called twist. Yarns are characterized as S-twist or Z-twist according to the direction of spinning (see diagram). [46] Two or more spun yarns may be twisted together or plied to form a thicker yarn. Generally, handspun single plies are spun with a Z-twist, and plying is done with an S-twist. Like nearly all Islamic rugs with the exception of Mamluk carpets, nearly all Persian rugs use "Z" (anti-clockwise) spun and "S" (clockwise)-plied wool.

Dyeing Edit

The dyeing process involves the preparation of the yarn in order to make it susceptible for the proper dyes by immersion in a mordant. Dyestuffs are then added to the yarn which remains in the dyeing solution for a defined time. The dyed yarn is then left to dry, exposed to air and sunlight. Some colours, especially dark brown, require iron mordants, which can damage or fade the fabric. This often results in faster pile wear in areas dyed in dark brown colours, and may create a relief effect in antique oriental carpets.

Plants Edit

Traditional dyes used in Persian rugs are obtained from plants and insects. In 1856, the English chemist William Henry Perkin invented the first aniline dye, mauveine. A variety of other synthetic dyes were invented thereafter. Cheap, readily prepared and easy to use as they were compared to natural dyes, their use is documented since the mid 1860s. The tradition of natural dyeing was revived in Turkey in the early 1980s. Chemical analyses led to the identification of natural dyes from antique wool samples, and dyeing recipes and processes were experimentally re-created. [47] [48]

According to these analyses, natural dyes used for carpet wool include:

  • Red from Madder (Rubia tinctorum) roots,
  • Yellow from plants, including onion (Allium cepa), several chamomile species (Anthemis, Matricaria chamomilla), and Euphorbia,
  • Black: Oak apples, Oak acorns, Tanner's sumach,
  • Green by double dyeing with Indigo and yellow dye,
  • Orange by double dyeing with madder red and yellow dye,
  • Blue: Indigo gained from Indigofera tinctoria.

Some of the dyestuffs like indigo or madder were goods of trade, and thus commonly available. Yellow or brown dyestuffs more substantially vary from region to region. Many plants provide yellow dyes, like Vine weld, or Dyer's weed (Reseda luteola), Yellow larkspur, or Dyer's sumach Cotinus coggygria. Grape leaves and pomegranate rinds, as well as other plants, provide different shades of yellow. [45]

In Iran, traditional dyeing with natural dyes was revived in the 1990s, inspired by the renewed general interest in traditionally produced rugs, but master dyers like Abbas Sayahi had kept alive the knowledge about the traditional recipes. [44]

Insect reds Edit

Carmine dyes are obtained from resinous secretions of scale insects such as the Cochineal scale Coccus cacti, and certain Porphyrophora species (Armenian and Polish cochineal). Cochineal dye, the so-called "laq" was formerly exported from India, and later on from Mexico and the Canary Islands. Insect dyes were more frequently used in areas where Madder (Rubia tinctorum) was not grown, like west and north-west Persia. [26]

Synthetic dyes Edit

With modern synthetic dyes, nearly every colour and shade can be obtained so that without chemical analysis it is nearly impossible to identify, in a finished carpet, whether natural or artificial dyes were used. Modern carpets can be woven with carefully selected synthetic colours, and provide artistic and utilitarian value. [49]

Abrash Edit

The appearance of slight deviations within the same colour is called abrash (from Turkish abraş, literally, “speckled, piebald”). Abrash is seen in traditionally dyed oriental rugs. Its occurrence suggests that a single weaver has likely woven the carpet, who did not have enough time or resources to prepare a sufficient quantity of dyed yarn to complete the rug. Only small batches of wool were dyed from time to time. When one string of wool was used up, the weaver continued with the newly dyed batch. Because the exact hue of colour is rarely met again when a new batch is dyed, the colour of the pile changes when a new row of knots is woven in. As such, the colour variation suggests a village or tribal woven rug, and is appreciated as a sign of quality and authenticity. Abrash can also be introduced on purpose into a newly planned carpet design. [50]

Indigo, historical dye collection of the Dresden University of Technology, Germany

Section (central medallion) of a South Persian rug, probably Qashqai, late 19th century, showing irregular blue colours (abrash)

The process of weaving a rug Edit

The weaving of pile rugs is a time-consuming process which, depending on the quality and size of the rug, may take anywhere from a few months to several years to complete.

To begin making a rug, one needs a foundation consisting of warps and wefts: Warps are strong, thick threads of cotton, wool or silk which run through the length of the rug. Similar threads which pass under and over the warps from one side to the other are called wefts. The warps on either side of the rug are normally plied into one or more strings of varying thickness that are overcast to form the selvedge.

Weaving normally begins from the bottom of the loom, by passing a number of wefts through the warps to form a base to start from. Knots of dyed wool, cotton or silk threads are then tied in rows around consecutive sets of adjacent warps. As more rows are tied to the foundation, these knots become the pile of the rug. Between each row of knots, one or more shots of weft are passed to keep the knots fixed. The wefts are then beaten down by a comb-like instrument, the comb beater, to further compact and secure the newly woven row. Depending on the fineness of the weave, the quality of the materials and the expertise of the weavers, the knot count of a handmade rug can vary anywhere from 16 to 800 knots per square inch.

When the rug is completed, the warp ends form the fringes that may be weft-faced, braided, tasseled, or secured in other ways.

Looms Edit

Looms do not vary greatly in essential details, but they do vary in size and sophistication. The main technical requirement of the loom is to provide the correct tension and the means of dividing the warps into alternate sets of leaves. A shedding device allows the weaver to pass wefts through crossed and uncrossed warps, instead of laboriously threading the weft in and out of the warps.

Horizontal looms Edit

The simplest form of loom is a horizontal one that can be staked to the ground or supported by sidepieces on the ground. The necessary tension can be obtained through the use of wedges. This style of loom is ideal for nomadic people as it can be assembled or dismantled and is easily transportable. Rugs produced on horizontal looms are generally fairly small and the weave quality is inferior to those rugs made on a professional standing loom. [26]

Vertical looms Edit

The technically more advanced, stationary vertical looms are used in villages and town manufactures. The more advanced types of vertical looms are more comfortable, as they allow for the weavers to retain their position throughout the entire weaving process. The Tabriz type of vertical loom allows for weaving of carpets up to double the length of the loom, while there is no limit to the length of the carpet that can be woven on a vertical roller beam loom. In essence, the width of the carpet is limited by the length of the loom beams. [26]

There are three general types of vertical looms, all of which can be modified in a number of ways: the fixed village loom, the Tabriz or Bunyan loom, and the roller beam loom.

  1. The fixed village loom is used mainly in Iran and consists of a fixed upper beam and a moveable lower or cloth beam which slots into two sidepieces. The correct tension of the warps is obtained by driving wedges into the slots. The weavers work on an adjustable plank which is raised as the work progresses.
  2. The Tabriz loom, named after the city of Tabriz, is used in Northwestern Iran. The warps are continuous and pass around behind the loom. Warp tension is obtained with wedges. The weavers sit on a fixed seat and when a portion of the carpet has been completed, the tension is released and the carpet is pulled down and rolled around the back of the loom. This process continues until the rug is completed, when the warps are severed and the carpet is taken off the loom.
  3. The roller beam loom is used in larger Turkish manufactures, but is also found in Persia and India. It consists of two movable beams to which the warps are attached. Both beams are fitted with ratchets or similar locking devices. Once a section of the carpet is completed, is rolled on to the lower beam. On a roller beam loom, any length of carpet can be produced. In some areas of Turkey several rugs are woven in series on the same warps, and separated from each other by cutting the warps after the weaving is finished.

Tools Edit

The weaver needs a number of essential tools: a knife for cutting the yarn as the knots are tied a heavy comb-like instrument with a handle for packing down the wefts and a pair of shears for trimming the pile after a row of knots, or a small number of rows, have been woven. In Tabriz the knife is combined with a hook to tie the knots, which speeds up work. A small steel comb is sometimes used to comb out the yarn after each row of knots is completed.

A variety of additional instruments are used for packing the weft. Some weaving areas in Iran known for producing very fine pieces use additional tools. In Kerman, a saber like instrument is used horizontally inside the shed. In Bijar, a nail-like tool is inserted between the warps, and beaten on in order to compact the fabric even more. Bijar is also famous for their wet loom technique, which consists of wetting the warp, weft, and yarn with water throughout the weaving process to compact the wool and allow for a particularly heavy compression of the pile, warps, and wefts. When the rug is complete and dried, the wool and cotton expand, which results in a very heavy and stiff texture. Bijar rugs are not easily pliable without damaging the fabric.

A number of different tools may be used to shear the wool depending on how the rug is trimmed as the weaving progresses or when the rug is complete. Often in Chinese rugs the yarn is trimmed after completion and the trimming is slanted where the color changes, giving an embossed three-dimensional effect.

Knots Edit

Persian carpets are mainly woven with two different knots: The symmetrical Turkish or "Giordes" knot, also used in Turkey, the Caucasus, East Turkmenistan, and some Turkish and Kurdish areas of Iran, and the asymmetrical Persian, or Senneh knot, also used in India, Turkey, Pakistan, China, and Egypt. The term "Senneh knot" is somewhat misleading, as rugs are woven with symmetric knots in the town of Senneh. [26]

To tie a symmetric knot, the yarn is passed between two adjacent warps, brought back under one, wrapped around both forming a collar, then pulled through the center so that both ends emerge between the warps. [26]

The asymmetric knot is tied by wrapping the yarn around only one warp, then the thread is passed behind the adjacent warp so that it divides the two ends of the yarn. The Persian knot may open on the left or the right. [26]

The asymmetric knot allows to produce more fluent, often curvilinear designs, while more bold, rectilinear designs may use the symmetric knot. As exemplified by Senneh rugs with their elaborate designs woven with symmetric knots, the quality of the design depends more on the weaver's skills, than on the type of knot which is used. [26]

Another knot frequently used in Persian carpets is the Jufti knot, which is tied around four warps instead of two. [45] A serviceable carpet can be made with jufti knots, and jufti knots are sometimes used in large single-colour areas of a rug, for example in the field, to save on material. However, as carpets woven wholly or partly with the jufti knot need only half the amount of pile yarn compared to traditionally woven carpets, their pile is less resistant to wear, and these rugs do not last as long. [26]

Persian (asymmetric) knot, open to the right

Variants of the "Jufti" knot woven around four warps

Weaving with one warp depressed

Knitting an asymmetric knot, open to the right, with a knitting hook similar to the Tabriz type

Flat-woven carpets Edit

Flat woven carpets are given their colour and pattern from the weft which is tightly intertwined with the warp. Rather than an actual pile, the foundation of these rugs gives them their design. The weft is woven between the warp until a new colour is needed, it is then looped back and knotted before a new colour is implemented.

The most popular of flat-weaves is called the Kilim. Kilim rugs (along with jewellery, clothing and animals) are important for the identity and wealth of nomadic tribes-people. In their traditional setting Kilims are used as floor and wall coverings, horse-saddles, storage bags, bedding and cushion covers.

Various forms of flat-weaves exist including:

In 2016 Iran had 40 carpet designs that each belong to a different geographical region including 29 designs internationally registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization. [51]

Formats and special types Edit

  • Ghali (Persian: قالی , lit. "carpet"): large format carpets (190 × 280 cm).
  • Dozar or Sedjadeh: The term comes from Persian do, "two" and zar, a Persian measure corresponding to about 105 centimetres (41 inches). Carpets of Dozar size are approximately 130–140 cm (51–55 in) x 200–210 cm (79–83 in).
  • Ghalitcheh (Persian: قالیچه ): Carpet of Dozar format, but woven in very fine quality.
  • Kelleghi or Kelley : A long format, ca. 150–200 cm (59–79 in) x 300–600 cm (120–240 in). This format is traditionally placed at the head of a ghali carpet (kalleh means "head" in Persian).
  • Kenareh : Smaller long format: 80–120 cm (31–47 in) × 250–600 cm (98–236 in). Traditionally laid out along the longer sides of a larger carpet (kenār means "side" in Persian language).
  • Zaronim : corresponds to 1 ½ zar. These smaller rugs are about 150 cm (59 in) long.

Nomadic carpets are also known as Gelim ( گلیم including زیلو Zilou, meaning "rough carpet". [1] In this use, Gelim includes both pile rugs and flat weaves (such as kilim and soumak).

Field design, medallions and borders Edit

Rug design can be described by the way the ornaments are arranged within the pile. One basic design may dominate the entire field, or the surface may be covered by a pattern of repeating figures.

In areas with traditional, time-honoured local designs, such as the Persian nomad tribes, the weaver is able to work from memory, as the specific patterns are part of the family or tribal tradition. This is usually sufficient for less elaborate, mostly rectilinear designs. For more elaborate, especially curvilinear designs, the patterns are carefully drawn to scale in the proper colours on graph paper. The resulting design plan is termed a "cartoon". The weaver weaves a knot for each square on the scale paper, which allows for an accurate rendition of even the most complex designs. Designs have changed little through centuries of weaving. Today computers are used in the production of scale drawings for the weavers. [52]

The surface of the rug is arranged and organized in typical ways, which in all their variety are nevertheless recognizable as Persian: One single, basic design may cover the entire field ("all-over design"). When the end of the field is reached, patterns may be cut off intentionally, thus creating the impression that they continue beyond the borders of the rug. This feature is characteristic for Islamic design: In the Islamic tradition, depicting animals or humans is prohibited even in a profane context, as Islam does not distinguish between religious and profane life. Since the codification of the Quran by Uthman Ibn Affan in 651 AD/19 AH and the Umayyad Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan reforms, Islamic art has focused on writing and ornament. The main fields of Persian rugs are frequently filled with redundant, interwoven ornaments, often in form of elaborate spirals and tendrils in a manner called infinite repeat. [53]

Design elements may also be arranged more elaborately. One typical oriental rug design uses a medallion, a symmetrical pattern occupying the center of the field. Parts of the medallion, or similar, corresponding designs, are repeated at the four corners of the field. The common Persian "Lechek Torūnj" (medaillon and corner) design was developed in Persia for book covers and ornamental book illuminations in the fifteenth century. In the sixteenth century, it was integrated into carpet designs. More than one medallion may be used, and these may be arranged at intervals over the field in different sizes and shapes. The field of a rug may also be broken up into different rectangular, square, diamond or lozenge shaped compartments, which in turn can be arranged in rows, or diagonally. [35]

In contrast to Anatolian rugs, the Persian carpet medaillon represents the primary pattern, and the infinite repeat of the field appears subordinate, creating an impression of the medaillon "floating" on the field. [54]

In most Persian rugs, the field of the rug is surrounded by stripes, or borders. These may number from one up to over ten, but usually there is one wider main border surrounded by minor, or guardian borders. The main border is often filled with complex and elaborate rectilinear or curvilinear designs. The minor border stripes show simpler designs like meandering vines. The traditional Persian border arrangement was highly conserved through time, but can also be modified to the effect that the field encroaches on the main border. This feature is often seen in Kerman rugs from the late nineteenth century, and was likely taken over from French Aubusson or Savonnerie weaving designs.

Ancient Persia, an introduction

The heart of ancient Persia is in what is now southwest Iran, in the region called the Fars. In the second half of the 6th century B.C.E., the Persians (also called the Achaemenids) created an enormous empire reaching from the Indus Valley to Northern Greece and from Central Asia to Egypt.

A tolerant empire

Although the surviving literary sources on the Persian empire were written by ancient Greeks who were the sworn enemies of the Persians and highly contemptuous of them, the Persians were in fact quite tolerant and ruled a multi-ethnic empire. Persia was the first empire known to have acknowledged the different faiths, languages and political organizations of its subjects.

The Persian Empire, 490 B.C.E.

This tolerance for the cultures under Persian control carried over into administration. In the lands which they conquered, the Persians continued to use indigenous languages and administrative structures. For example, the Persians accepted hieroglyphic script written on papyrus in Egypt and traditional Babylonian record keeping in cuneiform in Mesopotamia. The Persians must have been very proud of this new approach to empire as can be seen in the representation of the many different peoples in the reliefs from Persepolis, a city founded by Darius the Great in the 6th century B.C.E.

Gate of all Nations, Persepolis (photo: youngrobv, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Apadana

Persepolis included a massive columned hall used for receptions by the Kings, called the Apadana. This hall contained 72 columns and two monumental stairways.

Assyrians with Rams, Apadana, Persepolis (photo: CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The walls of the spaces and stairs leading up to the reception hall were carved with hundreds of figures, several of which illustrated subject peoples of various ethnicities, bringing tribute to the Persian king.

View of the eastern stairway and columns of the Apadana (Audience Hall) at Persepolis, Iran, 5th century B.C.E. (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

Conquered by Alexander the Great

The Persian Empire was, famously, conquered by Alexander the Great. Alexander no doubt was impressed by the Persian system of absorbing and retaining local language and traditions as he imitated this system himself in the vast lands he won in battle. Indeed, Alexander made a point of burying the last Persian emperor, Darius III, in a lavish and respectful way in the royal tombs near Persepolis. This enabled Alexander to claim title to the Persian throne and legitimize his control over the greatest empire of the Ancient Near East.

A Brief History of Persian Architecture and Art

The Persian empire was vast, and one of the lasting legacies of the empire, aside from their fierce battles and dominance in the known world, was their influence on architecture and art as a whole.

An old empire, Persia’s architecture has gone through several transitions:

3500BC – 1200 BC

The early period was known for splendid ceramics from Persepolis and Susa. Large bowls and goblets were common, and 3D art became popular. The animal style art started to become popular as bronze objects dating between 1700BC and 1200BC became popular.

550 BC – 330 BC: Achaemenid Period

The period between 550 BC and 330 BC saw major influences from the Greeks and Egyptians. Massive complexes were built as well as palaces with columned audience halls, porticoes, square towers and high terraces.

Persepolitan columns became popular with high bases and bell shapes.

Double staircases were used to enter Xerxes I’s audience hall, and enameled brick was used.

323 BC: The Death of Alexander the Great

The death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC led to radical changes, including stone buildings, brick with sculpted heads, and Hellenistic motifs. Rubble and brick were used to rebuild the Parthian by the Sassanids who came into rule in AD226.

Stucco reliefs and carved stone also grew in prominence at this time.

Islam Begins

Islam spread throughout the region in Iran, and the Persians at the time created raised domes over a square hall. Stucco decoration became popular as well as mausoleums. The Ismail the Samanid at Bukhara dates back to 907 AD and points to the Persian domes still being used.

The brick building is square yet maintains a dome on the top.

Islam’s influence grew further, and the Qabus from 1006 AD has a star-shaped tomb tower. Metalwork and pottery became increasingly popular at this time, and the Turks further added influence with ceramics, enamel colors and leaf gilding.

13 th Century – 16 th Century

The Mongol invasions started in the 13 th century, and many of the towns and art in Persia were lost as a result. An epic devastation at the time, we don’t see much of an architectural change during this period.

The Timurid painting from the 15 th century shows that Chinese influence had grown in Persia, and symmetry reemerged. Mosaic faience covered many buildings and architecture. The height of the period’s architectural development can be seen in the Maidan-I Shah building complex.

1449 AD – 1925 AD

The Safavid Dynasty first came to power in 1449 and lasted until 1722. The dynasty had a major impact and influence on culture as palaces were decorated with exaggerated mural paintings, single portraits were created, and the Shah Namah was also created, which is seen as the greatest development in painting of the time.

Following the 17 th century, Persian culture was influenced heavily by Europe and India, causing a degeneration in the country’s uniqueness. The Qajar dynasty, which lasted from 1779 to 1925, resulted in much of what is modern-day Iran. Theatrical styles were developed, the Neo-Achaemenid style was an attempt to revive Persia’s past, and many of the public buildings in Tehran reflect these changes.

Persian art. Main History Elements

The art of Persians people in ancient timesreflected their inclination to represent the reality of their lifes and history with clarity without complications in the messages that the art works intended to transmit. In the great Iran which corresponds to the present-day States of: Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and neighboring regions was born one of the richest artistic heritage in the world, The Persian Art where diverse disciplines including architecture, painting, fabrics, ceramics, calligraphy, metallurgy and masonry were developed with highly advances techniques and imaginative artistic expressions.

History is obviously a very powerful factor not only to shape the cultural identity of a region, but also to give color and local identification to it. History contributes to be able to define the dominant cultural characteristics of the people in each region and for instants their art tendencies. This statement in Persian art is very important to take in consideration, since in each period of this imaginative culture the art expression of the people was very aware of their social, political and economic surroundings. Their art was a reflection of their every day issues and was represented in all the drama and poetic means they could use. Not only was the architecture, painting sculpture, ceramic, golsmith or silversmith they extend this means of expression to poems, historical narratives, and fantastic stories.

The Persian Achaemenid Dynasty

The Achaemenid Dynasty marks the emergence of an important stage in the culture of Persia. Aqueménides Persian rulers embraced the artistic achievements of foreign civilizations and absorption occurred in their culture, but this artistic achivements did not satisfy the Persians who gradually created new and particular artistic and technical patterns much more related to the imagination and the histrionic expressiveness of facts and feelings of the Persian people.

The historical archives which refer to the civilization of the Persians show data ranging from 1000 BC to 600 B.C. These historical data are not marked relevant for the Persian Art until the emerge of Cyrus I (550 until 530 BC).

The reign of Cyrus the Great

During the reign of Cyrus the Great, Persia expands to the West and Northwest beyond the borders of what is today Iran to include Babylonia, some of the Aegean Islands and Anatolia (Asia Minor known in our days by Turkey). The son of Cyrus, Cambyses (530 to 522 BC), forces the Pharaoh of Egypt and the islands of Cypress to accept the Persian rule.

Persepolis Palace, Duomo, Cupulas

The reign of Darius

Persia empire reached its geographical peak during the reign of Darius I (522 to 486 BC) Dario’s Government reaches from sea Eral to the Persian Gulf. It also stretched from the first cataract of the Nile River to the Valley of the Rio Hindu.

The rule of Darius covers many cultures. He and his son used foreign artists to promote and strengthen its image of power dare carefully using certain amount of sculptures. This has resulted in the proliferation and the splendor of artistic monuments and buildings with great architectural value. Among these monuments are the Palace of Persepolis sculptures. Susa, Parsedae and Persepolis where the three most important cities of Persia.

Darius listed skilled artists and craftsmen natives of Egypt Greek Ionian and Mesopotamia. They constructed the buildings on a large scale to propagandize his power, so that the effect on the spectator should be daunting.

Ancient persian relief from Persepolis Palace

The Palace of Darius was a resulting stylistic amalgam of influences from countries and regions where all these artists that he recruited came from.

However nevertheless to concur hear so much artistic talent with different inheritance, the constructive design and the decoration of each of the parts of the Palace answered perfectly the needs of expression, ideological and religious of Persian culture as well as a grandiloquent representation of power, the main intension of the message transmitted.

The Sassanid period

The Sassanid period which comprises the entire final period of classical antiquity that even survive a few centuries, is considered one of the most important and influential of the Iran historical periods. Here occurred the greatest achievements of Persian culture, and constituted the last great Iranian Empire before the Islamic conquest of Persia and the adoption of the Islam as a religion throughout the territory.

Sassanid period ancient persian art.

Persia had an important influence on the Roman civilization culture and also spread their influence well beyond, reaching as far away as Europe, the India, China and the Africa territories.

The Persian culture plays a key role in the formation of the medieval, European and Asian art, reaching the budding Islamic world as well.

The aristocratic and exclusive culture of the Sassanid dynasty became a Persian ‘Renaissance’. The precedence of what would be later known as ‘Islamic culture’ (architecture elements, draperies mastery, jewelry, writing and other skills) were adopted by the broader Islamic world from the Sassanid Persians.

Handmade ancient persian rugs utilized natural ingredients

The famous tapestry, the beautiful works of precious metalwork, reliefs worked in different types of materials as well as the frescoes of bright colors and eloquent expressiveness are today invaluable art work and palpable testimony of the importance of the Sassanid culture who saw themselves as successors of the Aqueménides after the interlude of Hellenistic and Parthian rule, and were convinced that their destiny was to restore the greatness of Persia.

The art of this period reveals an astonishing vitality, anticipating in some respects to the key elements of Islamic art. Sassanid art combined elements of traditional Persian art with elements and influences of Hellenistic art.

The conquest of Persia by Alexander the great began the spread of Hellenistic art into Western Asia. These artistic influences were accepted only externally, the essence never were complete assimilated.

Hellenistic art was interpreted freely by the peoples of the Near East. Thus the Sassanid period was a reaction against these art forms. Sassanid art revived traditional native Persian forms and, and already in the Islamic period, these forms reached the shores of the Mediterranean.

With the rise of the Sassanid’s, Persia regained much of the power and stability they long had lost leading to the resurgence of the art based on the traditions of the time of the Aqueménida culture.

The unique characteristic of Sassanid architecture is the distinctive use of space. Sassanid architects conceived his buildings in terms of masses and surfaces. This led to the use in abundance of brick walls decorated with molded or carved stucco.

The Islamic Period

After the completion of the Sassanid Persians period of predominance Persia integrated the list of regions that embrace Islam. This religion resulted in important changes in the Persian culture covering all areas of the spiri­tual and intellectual elements which determine the life of a traditional society.

If we define the culture as the one to cover these basic elements, “according to Western concepts”, then, there is undoubtedly a unique Islamic culture with different ‘zones’ or worlds contained therein, ‘worlds‘ that are United by the spirit and the sacred form of tradition and are separated by local factors, geographical, linguistic, ethnic or otherwise.

Many factors alone, or in combination could be enumerated, as they have been responsible for the creation of these Islamic cultural ‘worlds’ and they can be used as criteria for the delineation and description of each.

It is clear that the racial and ethnic characteristics of the peoples who have embraced Islam have been a very decisive factor in local cultural variations. These features have affected the language and literature, artistic forms of all kinds, which include clothing, ornamentation, the various styles of calligraphy and architecture, music, the creation of tapestries and metalwork as well as painting and ceramics processing.

Once Islamism converted, the Persians became the main instrument of the expansion of Islam in most of the rest of the Asian territory, at least until Malaysia. The Islamic period has given as predecessors History periods in the Persian Culture, innumerable and invaluable works of art that resonate in perfect accordance with the traditions and the religious fervor with which they were made for and shown, as in the previous periods evolutionary characteristics inherent not only to the history but also to the region in which they were created.

Persian Art - History

Persian Art
Through The Centuries

The long prehistoric period in Iran, is known to us mostly from excavation work carried out in a few key sites, which has led to a chronology of distinct periods, each one characterised by the development of certain types of pottery, artefacts and architecture. Pottery is one of the oldest Persian art forms, and examples have been unearthed from burial mounds (Tappeh), dating back from the 5 th millennium BC.

The "Animal style" which uses decorative animal motifs is very strong in the Persian culture first appearing in pottery, reappearing much later in the Luristan bronzes and again in Scythian art.

During the Achaemenian and Sassanian periods, metal-work continued its ornamental development. Some of the most beautiful examples of metal-ware are gilded silver cups and dishes decorated with royal hunting scenes from the Sassanian Dynasty.

The earliest known distinctive style of Persian painting dates back to the Seljuk period, which is often referred to as the "Baghdad School". Early painting was mainly used to decorate manuscripts and versions of the Holy Koran, though some 13 th century pottery found near Tehran indicates an early, unique Persian style of art. During the Mongol period, paintings were used to decorate all sorts of books.

Persian architecture has a very long and complex history, and is often regarded as the field in which Persia made its greatest contribution to the world's culture. Although Persian styles differ sharply from any other Islamic architecture, they have strongly influenced buildings throughout much of the Islamic world, especially in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

The art of the Iranian world from its earliest beginnings exhibited a constant and unmistakable characteristic, in spite of the many trends and currents and the abundance of foreign influences.

Persian art

Persian art Earliest manifestations of art in Persia (Iran) prior to the 7th-century development of Islamic art and architecture. The oldest pottery and engraved seals date back to c.3500 bc. The greatest achievements of Persian art occurred during the rule of the Achaemenid (c.550� bc) and Sassanid (ad 224�) dynasties. The former is best represented by the low relief carvings and massive gateway figures executed for the palace of Darius at Persepolis. The Sassanians excelled at metalwork and sculpture.

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Persian Art

Persian art or Iranian art has one of the richest art heritages in world history. The art of ancient Persia includes architecture, painting, weaving, pottery, calligraphy, metalworking and sculpture from the early kingdom of Iran in southwest Asia.

Persian Rugs

The most notable Persian artwork is seen in the masterful woven carpets.

The Persian carpet is considered to be the finest in its own category. Iran is the world’s largest producer and exporter of handmade carpets, producing three quarters of the world’s total output. Persian weaving flourished in the second half of the 15th century during the Safavid Dynasty.

The cities of Ardabil, Tabriz, Kashan, and Isfahan are the chief producers of Persian carpets. The colorful displays are usually designs taken from book covers, but geography can influence the tapestries as well. In Tabriz, for instance, many of the rugs are made for prayer and contain a centralized medallion of sorts.

In the north, where horticulture is tantamount, the carpets are woven to represent Persian gardens.

Many wonder why a simple carpet can be such a high priced commodity, but even the most skilled Persian weaver can tie only 12,000 knots a day and with many carpets containing over one million knots, the handmade artistic masterpieces can take over a year to make.

Persian Calligraphy

Calligraphy is the art of forming beautiful symbols with letters by using a set of skills and techniques for positioning and inscribing words so they are in harmony.

Mir Ali Tabrizi
was a distinguished Iranian calligrapher in the 14th century. He is responsible for the invention of Nas-Taliq calligraphy style. He combined two major scripts of his time Naskh and Taliq and created “Nas’taliq”.

Nas’taliq” is the most popular styles among classical Persian calligraphy scripts. It is known as “Bride of the Calligraphy Scripts”. Even the second popular Persian calligraphy style i.e. “Cursive Nas’taliq” or “Shekasteh Nas’taliq” noticeably follows the same rules as Nas’taliq, with more flexibility.

The Persian Tile Art (in Architecture)

History of tile (glazed brick), manufacture and decoration in Iran, goes back to the prehistoric period. It has an important position among the various decorative arts in Iranian architecture. They are stone carvings, brick work, stucco and tile panels. Tiles were used to decorate monuments from early ages in Iran.

Persian tile decorating reached its zenith in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Tiles are used in two different ways for art. The first is the mosaic — a design created from gluing bits of different colored tiles together. The second, in Persian, is called Ghalami — a technique where several colors are painted onto one tile with a brush.

Persian Miniature

A Persian miniature is a richly detailed miniature painting which depicts religious or mythological themes from the region of the Middle East now known as Iran. The art of miniature painting in Persia flourished from the 13th through the 16th centuries, and continues to this day, with several contemporary artists producing notable Persian miniatures.

The most important function of miniature was illustration. It gave a visual image to the literary plot, making it more enjoyable, and easier to understand. Miniature developed into a marriage of artistic and poetic languages and obtained a deep and sincere accordance with poetry.

Behzad is the most famous of Persian miniature painters. In modern day Mahmoud Farshchian is a world renowned master of Persian painting and miniatures. Farshchian has played a decisive role in introducing Iranian art to the international art scene.
Other forms of art in Persian Culture are:

  • Minakari: Minakari is the art of painting and coloring the surface of metals, mostly copper and is one of the oldest forms of art in ancient Persia and in modern Iran.
  • KhatamKari: Khatamkari is made up of putting wooden or bone-made polygons together with special glue. Objects made of Khatam are mainly practical such as pen holder, jewelry box, clock and chess board etc.
  • Ghalamkari: Ghalamkari or Qalamkari is derived from the Persian words ghalam (pen) and kari (craftmanship), meaning drawing with a pen. Ghalamkari is defined as the art of designing and painting on the cloth. These pieces of cloth are mainly used for making tablecloths, clothes, purses.
  • Ghalam Zani: Ghalam Zani is the art of carving designs on various metals such as copper, brass, silver and gold. Ghalam Zani patterns are usually trees, human, animal, and detailed miniature shapes. The work is usually used for plates, trays, vases.
  • Ceramics and pottery: Pottery has had a long history in Iran and dates back even before the Persian Empire. Decorative objects made in typical Persian forms like pomegranates, horses, and birds.
  • Termeh: Termeh is a cloth that is handmade with silk thread and usually used as a tablecloth which is woven since Safavi era in Iran. It is expensive because of its quality and special yarn and perfect design. Termeh is one of the oldest traditional arts in Iran.

Persian Tile Art

Persian Art - History

Rock crystal is a transparent, colourless quartz that in antiquity was one of the most sought-after semiprecious materials. The skill needed to work such a hard mineral, combined with the exceptional beauty and shine of the finished product, gave it a value even higher than gold. The amounts produced were considerable (sources mention thousands of pieces) but restricted to the Fatimid period in Egypt (late 10th and 11th century). Favourite objects were brooches, bottles, and small flasks for cosmetics and perfumes. Many of the surviving examples, numbering fewer than two hundred, form part of the treasuries of European cathedrals, such as St Mark's in Venice and the Abbey of St-Denis outside Paris. For Christians, their transparent purity symbolized divine grace, and the fact that Arabic inscriptions frequently appeared on them did not diminish their worth: many, indeed, became reliquaries. Their arrival in the West, as a result of barter or as booty from the Crusades, helped to feed the myths of a wealthy and exotic Orient.

Persia occupied quite a different position to that of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Egypt in the panorama of the early centuries of Islam. The inhabitants of the region were non-Arabic and the country was, in fact, more closely linked to the regions to the north, Turan, and to the east, central Asia, and was heir to the Sassanid culture and tradition. Furthermore, the land was broken up into a number of separate kingdoms ruled by independent dynasties, at least until the Seljuk conquest of Khurasan in 1040.
The Seljuks were a semi-nomadic Turkish dynasty from central Asia. They were skilled builders, and their original, baked-brick monuments form an important part of Persian art history. The Seljuks built domes of extreme elegance, both in their exterior and interior proportions and their decorative design. The brick ornamentation of the domes of the Masjid-i-Jami in Isfahan (1088) is regarded as one of the most glorious examples of architecture, not only in Persia, but all over the world. On some buildings the brick is covered by a layer of stucco or ceramic, a material in which local artists excelled, both in terms of variety of technique and in the quality of the finished product. Not much metalwork has survived from the Seljuk period, however, although known specimens, particularly the bronzes of Mosul, show a highly refined technique that was probably influenced by objects produced in eastern Persia. The construction of a fairly large group of buildings is attributed to the Seljuks of Rum, a branch of the dynasty whose advance westward was triggered by its defeat of the Byzantines in 1071 at Manzikert. They settled in Anatolia, creating a state that was destined to last until the beginning of the 14th century. The buildings in question were mostly built of stone, using a technique inherited from the local Christians, and decorated with rich, elaborate inlays or, less frequently, with ceramic coating. They were mainly Koranic schools and mosques, but also caravanserais, or bans, which were used as resthouses for those travelling along the major highways. A network of well-preserved bans from the Seljuk period can still be seen today at intervals on the road from Kayseri to Konva in Turkey.


The ancient Egyptians had already introduced a technique of metallic lustre painting on glass, but the application of this form of decoration to earthenware was also characteristic of the Islamic world. From the ninth century onwards, the Muslims of Egypt, Syria, Persia, and Spain were able to produce potter)" with an iridescent metallic decoration ranging in colour from brilliant golden-yellow to dark brown. This was obtained by means of a double firing in special kilns. The results of this complex process produced lustre ware in the form of vases, bowls, and tiles, highly prized both in the East and the West. Examples include those from the ninth-century mosques of Kairouan and Samarra and the 13th󈟞th-century Mosque of Kashan, in Iran. Spanish products (from Malaga, Manises, and Paterna), including Alhambra vases and majolica jars and dishes, greatly influenced contemporary Italian pottery.

Persian metallic lustre tile,
intended for use with others of a similar shape.
Al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait.

Persian metallic lustre tile in the shape of an eight-point star, with floral decoration and Koranic script, Kashan, 13th-14th century. Al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait.

Brass jug from Khorasan embossed with stiver and copper iniay. Galleris Estense, Modena, Italy. The body of the jug is multifoiled and decorated in high relief with nine couples of harpies. The neck bears a couple of falconers, and the lid is topped by a lioness and her cubs.

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