Arts of Esfahan
The "Esfahan period covers a span of about 125 years from 1598, when Shah Abbas the Great transferred the Iranian capital to Esfahan, to the city's conquest in 1722 by the Afghans. Without a doubt, it is the highest point of Esfahan's long, rich history of art. Architecture and art developed in Esfahan on three main levels: the refined, the monumental, and the utilitarian. The fine arts, particularly painting and the whole arts of the book, were commissioned primarily for private use and were produced mainly for privileged connoisseurs.
Great monumental structures - like most of the famed architecture of Esfahan - were designed to convey the glories of the state, the power of the monarch, and the strength of the faith. Bazaars and caravanserais, along with pottery, carpets, and textiles, were created with the purpose of economic advantage.
Regretfully, there is a disquieting quality about much of Iranian art in this period. Cheaper materials and techniques were employed, and quality and subtlety were often markedly diminished. The artifacts of this period work effectively at a distance but often disappoint when seen close up. However, although technically unsound, the Safavid objects astonish one with the opulence of forms and the diversity of designs.
Ancient Polo In Persia, polo became a national sport, played by the nobility and military men. In the ancient world, cavalry often played a
decisive role in battles.
Miniature in Iran went through a long and complicated course of development, reaching its culmination mainly during the Il-Khanid and Timurid periods. From a historical viewpoint, the most important development in Iranian miniature has been the adoption of Chinese designs and coloring, subsequently blended with the idiosyncratic cultural concepts of Iranian artists.
The most important function of miniatures was the illustration of manuscripts. Miniatures pictured the literary plot. making it more enjoyable and easier to understand. Iran's great wealth of inspiring literature caused the emergence of many schools of miniature painting, each school having its own unique style. Esfahan was the seat of the last great school of Persian miniature painting, at its height in the early 17th century under the patronage of Shah Abbas I. The purity of color, the elegance of poses, emphasis on details, and vigor of the individual figure are the main characteristics of this style. Bright sky, the beauty of flowers, and human beings dressed in splendid garments create the general atmosphere of Safavid paintings. Another feature of Safavid painting is an interest in depicting the minor events of daily life.
During the Safavid period, precious manuscripts somewhat declined in number, supplanted in part by a proliferation of single-page drawings that appealed to a less sophisticated audience. Artists serving royalty no longer made their living based on the royal patronage alone. Some sold their works to minor patrons and even to merchants, who carried the pages to the bazaars of India and Turkey. Signed work became the rule, rather than the exception it had been in earlier times. This may be because the connoisseurs of the previous epochs had not needed a signature in order to identify the artist; they could easily distinguish the hand of a certain master merely by his artistic individuality. The leading master of the Esfahan school was Reza Abbasi, and many painters of the Esfahan school imitated his style.
While in the West calligraphy is considered mainly penmanship, in the East it is one of the most important fine arts. Calligraphers were an essential requirement for any self-respecting court, and very often princes and nobles practiced calligraphy themselves. Moreover, the prohibition against figurative art in mosques, and an emphasis put on literacy and knowledge by Islamic leaders imparted further importance to the written word in the Islamic world. Broadly speaking, there were two distinct scripts in the early centuries of Islam: cursive script and Kufic script. For everyday purposes, a cursive script was employed, while Kufic script was used for religious and official functions. Kufic went out of general use about the 11th century, though it continued to be used in the decoration of monumental religious buildings. About 1000 A.D., a new script - Naskh - was established. This has remained the most popular script in the Arab world. The other main styles were
While architecture and painting were the main artistic vehicles of the Safavids, the making of textiles and carpets was also of great importance. In the 16th century, hitherto primarily nomadic crafts were transformed into royal industries by the creation of court workshops. The best-known carpets of this period, dated 1539, come from the Mausoleum of Sheikh Safi al-Din Safavid in Ardabil and, in the opinion of many experts, represent the summit of achievements in carpet design. The larger of the two is now kept in London's Victoria and Albert Museum, while the other can be seen at the Los Angeles County Museum.
Shah Tahmasb admired carpets so much that he
and cotton, though silk wefts are also found. Sometimes gold or silver threads are used for small highlights, recalling the early "Polonaise" rugs. Carpets vary in size, though large carpets are quite rare. Modern Esfahan carpets bear mostly the Shah Abbasi designs; patterns are very intricately drawn and precisely executed.
Among other carpets woven in Esfahan are Armanibafs made by Christian Armenians with the Turkish knot, and Esfahan mirs, nomads' carpets from the vicinity of Esfahan, also finely woven with the Turkish knot.
Safavid ceramics can hardly stand comparison with the splendid wares of earlier periods, yet under the Safavids, there was a notable renaissance in pottery. The artists of the Safavid age brought about the beautiful tilework that can be observed in the mosques of this period. Shah Abbas the Great is said to have summoned to his capital 300 Chinese potters, and the most characteristic ceramics of his reign show the strong influence, and often the direct imitation, of Far Eastern samples. Beautiful chinaware with Chinese techniques and Persian ornamentation is a remarkable manifestation of the magnificent age of pottery that started with the emergence of the Safavid dynasty. New forms were devised, among them large saucer-shaped rice dishes, little octagonal trays, and long-necked perfume sprinklers. Unfortunately, Iranian potters never achieved true porcelain, and the porcelain-like ware they created did not carry with it the strength of its model. Fired at a lower temperature, Iranian glazes were softer and more fragile than on Chinese pottery and developed extensive crackles more easily.
The elegance of design along 3 with Persian inscriptions with the names of twelve Shiite Imams are the most distinctive features of Safavid metalwork. Delicate candelabrums of different shapes and engraved censers are the main objects of this period. Jewelry-inlaid dishes of copper, which was whitened to resemble silver, flourished in this era to a great extent. Bronze astrolabes were the other metal objects that were produced abundantly during the Safavid rule. That is not astonishing if one recalls that the Safavid kings were notorious for their belief in astronomical warnings. Safavid metalworkers also greatly improved the art of steel articulation. Steel doors and windows for sacred places were produced in abundance and exported during this period. The notable symbol of Safavid metalwork is a lion attacking or tearing apart a deer, a motif reminiscent of an Achaemenid sculpture.
Most historical gardens in Iran have a mythological background. In fact, the English word “paradise” derives from Old Persian Pardis (“a royal garden"). The traditional Iranian garden is usually divided into four quarters by the intersection of two principal avenues. Noteworthy examples of this type are Hasht Behesht (pp98-99), Chehel Sotun (pp92-96) in Esfahan, planted during the Safavid period, and Fin Garden (pp196197) in Kashan. The finest of the Safavid gardens was Hezar
Iranian music is characterized by a subtle organization of melody and rhythm, in which the vocal component often predominates over the instrumental. Performances are generally improvised, similar to the use of melodies in jazz improvisation in the West. Such a performance has the potential of producing
The classical repertoire of Iranian music encompasses a body of pieces collectively known as
Iranian instruments are generally brighter and crisper in tone than many of those used in neighboring cultures. However, a Western listener must set aside