Persian miniature painting

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Behzad Moraqqa-e Golshan

The subject areas of Persian art and thus also of Persian miniature painting mostly relate to Persian mythology and poetry . Western artists discovered the Persian miniatures at the beginning of the 20th century. Persian miniature painting uses clear geometric shapes and powerful colors. The lure of Persian miniatures lies in the captivating complexity and surprising way in which big questions about the nature of the arts are addressed and the perception of the masterpieces of Persian miniatures.

It's hard to trace the origins of the art of miniature painting. However, it is known that it reached its climax mainly during the rule of the Mongols and Timurids (13th - 16th centuries), with the Isfahan school reaching back into the time of the Safavids . Mongol rulers of Iran introduced Chinese painting . Paper reached Iran from China as early as 753. The strong Chinese influence is evident from these developments.


The main function of the miniatures was illustration. They gave the stories of Persian literature a face so that the plot could be more easily understood. Miniatures were created as an artistic addition to poetry and thus have a deep connection with poetry.

Many great works of Persian literature have been created over the past ten centuries that continue to inspire artists to this day. At the end of the tenth century Ferdousi created his immortal life's work, the Schahname . As the Book of Kings, this epic describes the history of Iran in over 55,000 double verses up to the fall of Iran through the Arab storm in the seventh century. In the twelfth century, Nesami composed his love epic Chamsa , which was often copied due to its popularity. The 13th century was shaped by Saadi , author of the famous works Bustan and Golestan . The latter is a collection of moral and entertaining anecdotes and proverbs written in elegant prose style with interspersed verse. The didactic poem Bustan is considered a masterpiece of Persian literature.

Dhū l-Qarnain builds a wall against Gog and Magog (16th century)

The works of Amir Chosro Dehlawi, Hadschu Kermani, Hafis and Kamal Chodschandi were created in the 14th century . The multifaceted works of the poet Jami were at work during the 15th century.

This wealth of inspiring literature gave the opportunity for many important miniature schools to be established. Each of them had their own style, which resulted in a great variety of performances. It was these schools that produced brilliant achievements in the development of painting in the Iranian cultural area. Three of the most influential schools were those in Shiraz , Tabris, and Herat .

In the 13th and 14th centuries, Shiraz , the capital of Fars Province , became the center of a new rise in cultural life. Saadi , Kermani and Hafes lived at that time . Poetry flourished, and with it miniature painting. One of the most important works for painters was the shahname , and there were numerous artists in Shiraz who devoted themselves to this subject. In the Shiraz miniatures of the 14th century, a symmetrical structure was predominant, most parts of the rather monotonous compositions looked similar to friezes. Nonetheless, the Shiraz School had great influence in Iran, and by the late 15th century miniatures of the highest quality were produced. The images for Nesami's Chamseh serve as an example of Shiraz's artistry.

The Tabris Art School was founded at the end of the 13th century. Early artistic achievements of the Tabris school differed from those of Shiraz in that their illustrations tended to combine the Far Eastern and Armeno-Byzantine painting styles. This more recent influence can be explained by the geographical location of Tabris, as the city is close to the border with Armenia. In addition, the Mongols were strongly represented in Tabris.

Closer relations between the different art forms Shiraz and Tabris grew at the beginning of the 15th century. This period is closely connected with the great emigration of painters triggered by Timur's campaigns against Baghdad and Tabris. Many artists were brought to Samarkand , the capital of the conquerors, or to the court of his grandson Iskandar Sultan, the ruler of Shiraz. These incidents gave rise to more traditional images, which, however, were combined with new ideas.

Miniature by Behzad

In the 16th century the poetry of Jami was extremely popular in the Iranian cultural area and provided the art of painting with new motifs. This marks the starting point of great developments in the various art schools in Iran. Tabriz miniature artists of this period showed themselves able to paint a complete illusion of individual scenes or landscapes in a limited space. A well-known example is the drawing of a palace with a garden. The attention to detail went so far that the interior of the palace can also be seen in this picture.

From now on, architecture and landscapes could be incorporated into the image compositions. The figures in the portraits were no longer static, but were depicted in a more natural way.

In the first half of the 15th century, an art school was established in Herat . The leading artists from the schools in Tabris and Shiraz moved to Herat. In the first Heratian miniatures, the figures of the miniatures became more and more elaborate and accurate. These improvements made it possible to realize increasingly complex figure constellations, which is particularly evident in the portraits.

One of the most famous and influential painters of the Heratian school was Kamaleddin Behzad , whose art was heavily influenced by the works of the poets Jami and Navau. His works focused on portraying, but not only people were in focus, but also what surrounds people in everyday life. Behsad's painting brought miniatures to real fame. He shared the reputation of the Herater School with other extraordinary miniature painters of the time: his teacher, the court painter Mirak Nakkasch, Kasim Ali, Chwadscha Mohammad Nakkasch and Shah Musaffar.

The variety of topics in the miniatures decreased over time. In the 17th century there were mostly love scenes and portraits. In the 18th century a new genre arose that depicted flowers and birds.

In the 20th century there was a revival of Persian miniature painting. Up until this point in time, reproductions of old models had largely been made, but Hossein Behzad developed a completely new style based on European painting. In Europe, Hossein Behzad became known through his 1915 commissioned illustrations for Nezāmis Ḵamsa. In 1918 he made his first trip to Europe. In 1935 he traveled to Paris for thirteen months to study the miniatures in the collections of Persian manuscripts. After his return in 1936, he began with the illustrations for Omar Chayyāms Robāʿīyāt in a style developed by him.

See also


  • Hertha Kirketerp-Möller: Det Islamiske Bogmaleri . Nyt Nordisk Forlag Arnold Busck, Copenhagen 1974.
  • Thomas W. Lentz, Glenn D. Lowry: Timur and the Princely Vision. Persian Art and Culture in the Fifteenth Century . Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Arthur Sackler Gallery, 1989.
  • XVI Century Miniatures Illustrating Manuscript Copies of the Works of Jami from the USSR Collections . Moscow.
  • SJ Falk: Qajar Paintings. A Catalog of 18th and 19th Century Paintings . Ed .: Farah Diba-Pahlavi . Tehran 1971.
  • Orhan Pamuk : Red is my name . Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-596-15660-2 (The book thematizes Islam and the (ab) visual arts in the Ottoman Empire around 1590. With details about the draftsmen and their illustrations in this and previous epochs.).
  • Omar Khayyam: Quatrains (Rubāʿīyāt) translated by Friedrich Rosen with miniatures by Hossein Behzad. Epubli, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86931-622-2 . (Details)
  • Stuart Cary Welch: Persian illumination from five royal manuscripts of the sixteenth century. Prestel-Verlag, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-7913-0388-0 .
  • Stuart Cary Welch: The Book of Kings. Miniatures owned by the Metropolitain Museum in New York. Prestel-Verlag, Munich 1976 (original title: A King's Book of Kings. New York / London 1972) - based on Dickson and Welch: The Houghton-Shahnameh.

Web links

Commons : Persian Miniature Painting  - Collection of Pictures, Videos and Audio Files