Yusuf and Zulaikha (Joseph chased by Potiphar's wife), by Behzād, 1488

A Persian miniature (Persian: نگارگری ایرانی negârgari Irâni) is a small Persian painting on paper, whether a book illustration or a separate work of art intended to be kept in an album of such works called a muraqqa. The techniques are broadly comparable to the Western Medieval and Byzantine traditions of miniatures in illuminated manuscripts. Although there is an equally well-established Persian tradition of wall-painting, the survival rate and state of preservation of miniatures is better, and miniatures are much the best-known form of Persian painting in the West, and many of the most important examples are in Western, or Turkish, museums. Miniature painting became a significant genre in Persian art in the 13th century, receiving Chinese influence after the Mongol conquests, and the highest point in the tradition was reached in the 15th and 16th centuries. The tradition continued, under some Western influence, after this, and has many modern exponents. The Persian miniature was the dominant influence on other Islamic miniature traditions, principally the Ottoman miniature in Turkey, and the Mughal miniature in the Indian sub-continent.

Persian art under Islam had never completely forbidden the human figure, and in the miniature tradition the depiction of figures, often in large numbers, is central. This was partly because the miniature is a private form, kept in a book or album and only shown to those the owner chooses. It was therefore possible to be more free than in wall paintings or other works seen by a wider audience. The Quran and other purely religious works are not known to have been illustrated in this way, though histories and other works of literature may include religiously related scenes, including those depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, after 1500 usually without showing his face.[1]

As well as the figurative scenes in miniatures, which this article concentrates on, there was a parallel style of non-figurative ornamental decoration which was found in borders and panels in miniature pages, and spaces at the start or end of a work or section, and often in whole pages acting as frontispieces. In Islamic art this is referred to as "illumination", and manuscripts of the Quran and other religious books often included considerable number of illuminated pages.[2] The designs reflected contemporary work in other media, in later periods being especially close to book-covers and Persian carpets, and it is thought that many carpet designs were created by court artists and sent to the workshops in the provinces.[3]

In later periods miniatures were increasingly created as single works to be included in albums called muraqqa, rather than illustrated books. This allowed non-royal collectors to afford a representative sample of works from different styles and periods.


Camp scene from late in the classic period, with no frame (c. 1556-1565), Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Majnun (at top wearing orange) spies on his beloved Layla (standing in tent doorway).

The bright and pure colouring of the Persian miniature is one of its most striking features. Normally all the pigments used are mineral-based ones which keep their bright colours very well if kept in proper conditions, the main exception being silver, mostly used to depict water, which will oxidize to a rough-edged black over time.[4] The conventions of Persian miniatures changed slowly; faces are normally youthful and seen in three-quarters view, with a plump rounded lower face better suited to portraying typical Central Asian or Chinese features than those of most Persians. Lighting is even, without shadows or chiaroscuro. Walls and other surfaces are shown either frontally, or as at (to modern eyes) an angle of about 45 degrees, often giving the modern viewer the unintended impression that a building is (say) hexagonal in plan. Buildings are often shown in complex views, mixing interior views through windows or "cutaways" with exterior views of other parts of a facade. Costumes and architecture are always those of the time.[5]

Many figures are often depicted, with those in the main scene normally rendered at the same size, and recession (depth in the picture space) indicated by placing more distant figures higher up in the space. More important figures may be somewhat larger than those around them, and battle scenes can be very crowded indeed. Great attention is paid to the background, whether of a landscape or buildings, and the detail and freshness with which plants and animals, the fabrics of tents, hangings or carpets, or tile patterns are shown is one of the great attractions of the form. The dress of figures is equally shown with great care, although artists understandably often avoid depicting the patterned cloth that many would have worn. Animals, especially the horses that very often appear, are mostly shown sideways on; even the love-stories that constitute much of the classic material illustrated are conducted largely in the saddle, as far as the prince-protagonist is concerned.[6] Landscapes are very often mountainous (the plains that make up much of Persia are rarely attempted), this being indicated by a high undulating horizon, and outcrops of bare rock which, like the clouds in the normally small area of sky left above the landscape, are depicted in conventions derived from Chinese art. Even when a scene in a palace is shown, the viewpoint often appears to be from a point some metres in the air.[7]

The earliest miniatures appeared unframed horizontally across the page in the middle of text, following Byzantine and Arabic precedents, but in the 14th century the vertical format was introduced, perhaps influenced by Chinese scroll-paintings. This is used in all the luxury manuscripts for the court that constitute the most famous Persian manuscripts, and the vertical format dictates many characteristics of the style.[8]

Saki, album miniature by Reza Abbasi, 1609

The miniatures normally occupy a full page, later sometimes spreading across two pages to regain a square or horizontal "landscape" format. There are often panels of text or captions inside the picture area, which is enclosed in a frame, eventually of several ruled lines with a broader band of gold or colour. The rest of the page is often decorated with dense designs of plants and animals in a muted grisaille, often gold and brown; text pages without miniatures often also have such borders. In later manuscripts, elements of the miniature begin to expand beyond the frame, which may disappear on one side of the image, or be omitted completely.[9]

Another later development was the album miniature, conceived as a single picture rather than a book illustration, though such images may be accompanied by short lyric poems. The withdrawal of Shah Tahmasp I from commissioning illustrated books in the 1540s probably encouraged artists to transfer to these cheaper works for a wider circle of patrons.[10] Albums or muraqqas were assembled by collectors with album miniatures, specimen pages of calligraphy, and miniatures taken from older books, to which border paintings were often added when they were remounted. Album miniatures usually showed a few figures on a larger scale, with less attention to the background, and tended to become drawings with some tints of coloured wash, rather than fully painted.

In the example at right the clothes are fully painted, and the background uses the gold grisaille style earlier reserved for marginal decoration, as in the miniature at the head of the article. Many were individual portraits, either of notable figures (but initially rarely portraits of rulers), or of idealized beautiful youths. Others were scenes of lovers in a garden or picnics. From about the middle of the 16th century these types of images became dominant, but they gradually declined in quality and originality and tended towards conventional prettiness and sentimentality.[11]

Books were sometimes refurbished and added to after an interval of many years, adding or partly repainting miniatures, changing the border decoration, and making other changes, not all improvements.[12] The Conference of the Birds miniature in the gallery below is an addition of 1600 to a manuscript of over a century earlier, and elements of the style appear to represent an effort to match the earlier miniatures in the book.[13] The famous painting Princes of the House of Timur was first painted in 1550-55 in Persia for the exiled Mughal prince Humayun, who largely began the Mughal miniature tradition by taking back Persian miniaturists when he gained the throne. It was then twice updated in India (c.1605 and 1628) to show later generations of the royal house.[14] The dimensions of the manuscripts covered a range not dissimilar to typical modern books, though with a more vertical ratio; many were as small as a modern paperback, others larger. Shah Tamasp's Shahnameh stood 47 cm high, and one exceptional Shahnameh from Tabriz of c. 1585 stood 53 cm high.[15]

Artists and technique

Complex palace scene, 1539–1543, Mir Sayyid Ali

In the classic period artists were exclusively male, and normally grouped in workshops, of which the royal workshop (not necessarily in a single building) was much the most prestigious, recruiting talented artists from the bazaar workshops in the major cities. However the nature of the royal workshop remains unclear, as some manuscripts are recorded as being worked on in different cities, rulers often took artists with them on their travels, and at least some artists were able to work on private commissions.[16] As in Europe, sons very often followed their father into the workshop, but boys showing talent from any background might be recruited; at least one notable painter was born a slave. There were some highly placed amateur artists, including Shah Tahmasp I (reigned 1524–1576), who was also one of the greatest patrons of miniatures. Persian artists were highly sought after by other Islamic courts, especially those of the Ottoman and Mughal Empires, whose own traditions of miniature were based on Persian painting but developed rather different styles.[17]

The work was often divided between the main painter, who drew the outlines, and less senior painters who coloured in the drawing. In Mughal miniatures at least, a third artist might do just the faces. Then there might be the border paintings; in most books using them these are by far the largest area of painted material as they occur on text pages as well. The miniatures in a book were often divided up between different artists, so that the best manuscripts represent an overview of the finest work of the period. The scribes or calligraphers were normally different people, on the whole regarded as having a rather higher status than the artists - their names are more likely to be noted in the manuscript.

Royal librarians probably played a significant role in managing the commissions; the extent of direct involvement by the ruler himself is normally unclear. The scribes wrote the main text first, leaving spaces for the miniatures, presumably having made a plan for these with the artist and the librarian. The book covers were also richly decorated for luxury manuscripts, and when they too have figurative scenes these presumably used drawings by the same artists who created the miniatures. Paper was the normal material for the pages, unlike the vellum normally used in Europe for as long as the illuminated manuscript tradition lasted. The paper was highly polished, and when not given painted borders might be flecked with gold leaf.[18]

A unique survival from the Timurid period, found "pasted inconspicuously" in a muraqqa in the Topkapi Palace is thought to be a report to Baysunghur from his librarian. After a brief and high-flown introduction, "Petition from the most humble servants of the royal library, whose eyes are as expectant of the dust from the hooves of the regal steed as the ears of those who fast are for the cry of Allahu akbar ..." it continues with very businesslike and detailed notes on what each of some twenty-five named artists, scribes and craftsmen has been up to over a period of perhaps a week: "Amir Khalil has finished the waves in two sea-scenes of the Gulistan and will begin to apply colour. ... All the painters are working on painting and tinting seventy-five tent-poles .... Mawlana Ali is designing a frontispiece illumination for the Shahnama. His eyes were sore for a few days."[19] Apart from book arts, designs for tent-makers, tile-makers, woodwork and a saddle are mentioned, as is the progress of the "begim's little chest".[20]


Juvaynī sitting and writing in front of Mongol emir Arghun Aqa. Frontispiece of Tārīkh-i Jahān-Gushā "The History of The World Conqueror" (damaged), completed in A.H. 689/ 1290 CE. Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Suppl. Pers. 205).[21][22] It shows the "origin of the Metropolitan style" at the Ilkhanid court.[23]
Ibn Bakhtishu's Manafi al-Hayawan ("Uses of Animals"), commissionned by Ghazan. Maragha, Persia, 1297-1299. Morgan Library & Museum (Ms. M.500).[21]

The ancient Persian religion of Manichaeism made considerable use of images; not only was the founding prophet Mani (c.216–276) a professional artist, at least according to later Islamic tradition, but one of the sacred books of the religion, the Arzhang, was illustrated by the prophet himself, whose illustrations (probably essentially cosmological diagrams rather than images with figures) were regarded as part of the sacred material and always copied with the text. Unfortunately, the religion was repressed strongly from the Sassanid era and onwards so that only tiny fragments of Manichean art survive. These no doubt influenced the continuing Persian tradition, but little can be said about how. It is also known that Sassanid palaces had wall-paintings, but only fragments of these have survived.[24]

There are narrative scenes in pottery (Mina'i ceramics), though it is hard to judge how these relate to lost contemporary book painting.[25] Recent scholarship has noted that, although surviving early examples are now uncommon, human figurative art was also a continuous tradition in Islamic lands in secular contexts (such as literature, science, and history); as early as the 9th century, such art flourished during the Abbasid Caliphate (c. 749-1258, across Spain, North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Mesopotamia, and Persia).[26]

The great period of the Persian miniature began when Persia was ruled by a succession of foreign dynasties, who came from the east and north. Before the Mongol Ikhanid dynasty (1253-1353), narrative representations are only known in Persia in architecture and ceramics.[27] With the large tradition of Arabic manuscripts in the 12th-13th centuries, illustrated manuscripts probably also existed in Persia, but the only Persian-language illustrated manuscript securely datable to before Mongol conquest is the Varka and Golshah, attributable to Konya in Central Anatolia c.1250.[28][27] The traumatic Mongol invasion of 1219 onwards established the Ilkhanate as a branch of the Mongol Empire, and despite the huge destruction of life and property, the new court had a galvanising effect on book painting, importing many Chinese works and probably artists, with their long-established tradition of narrative painting, and sponsoring a cultural revival and the creation of history-related literary works.[29] The earliest known illustrated Persian manuscript under the Mongols is the Tarikh-i Jahangushay (1290), commissionned by the Mongol emir Arghun Aqa, also one of the earliest examples of "Metropolitan style" of the Mongol Ilkhanid court, followed by the 1297-1299 manuscript Manafi' al-hayawan (Ms M. 500), commissionned by Mongol ruler Ghazan.[29] The Ilkhanids continued to migrate between summer and winter quarters, which together with other travels for war, hunting and administration, made the portable form of the illustrated book the most suitable vehicle for painting, as it also was for mobile European medieval rulers.[30] The Great Mongol Shahnameh, now dispersed, is the outstanding manuscript of the following period.[31]

After 1335 the Ilkhanate split into several warring dynasties, all swept aside by the new invasion of Timur from 1381. He established the Timurid dynasty, bringing a fresh wave of Chinese influence, who were replaced by the Black Sheep Turkmen in 1452, followed by the White Sheep Turkmen from 1468, who were in turn replaced by the Safavid dynasty by 1501; they ruled until 1722. After a chaotic period Nader Shah took control, but there was no long-lived dynasty until the Qajar dynasty, who ruled from 1794 to 1925.[32]

The Mi'raj (also called the "Night Ride") of Muhammed on Buraq, Tabriz, 1307; Ilkhanid, with both Christian and Chinese influences, and horizontal format.
Scene from the Demotte or "Great Mongol Shahnameh", a key Ilkhanid work, 1330s?

It was only in the 14th century that the practice began of commissioning illustrated copies of classic works of Persian poetry, above all the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi (940-1020) and the Khamsa of Nizami, which were to contain many of the finest miniatures. Previously book illustration, of works in both Arabic and Persian, had been concentrated in practical and scientific treatises, often following at several removes the Byzantine miniatures copied when ancient Greek books were translated.[33] However a 14th-century flowering of Arabic illustrated literary manuscripts in Syria and Egypt collapsed at the end of the century, leaving Persia the undisputed leader in Islamic book illustration.[34] Many of the best miniatures from early manuscripts were removed from their books in later centuries and transferred to albums, several of which are now in Istanbul; this complicates tracing the art history of the period.[35]

Miniatures from the Safavid and later periods are far more common than earlier ones, but although some prefer the simpler elegance of the early 15th and 16th centuries, most art historians agree in seeing a rise in quality up to the mid-16th century, culminating in a series of superb royal commissions by the Safavid court, such as the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp (or Houghton Shahnameh). There was a crisis in the 1540s when Shah Tahmasp I, previously a patron on a large scale, ceased to commission works, apparently losing interest in painting. Some of his artists went to the court of his nephew Ibrahim Mirza, governor of Mashad from 1556, where there was a brief flowering of painting until the Shah fell out with his nephew in 1565, including a Haft Awrang, the "Freer Jami". Other artists went to the Mughal court.[36] After this the number of illustrated book manuscript commissions falls off, and the tradition falls into over-sophistication and decline.[37]

Baysonghor Shahnameh, 1430. He was a key patron of the Herat school

Tabriz in the north-west of Iran is the longest established centre of production, and Baghdad (then under Persian rule) was often important. Shiraz in the south, sometimes the capital of a sub-ruler, was a centre from the late 14th century, and Herat, now in Afghanistan, was important in the periods when it was controlled from Persia, especially when the Timurid prince Baysonqor was governor in the 1420s; he was then the leading patron in Persia, commissioning the Baysonghor Shahnameh and other works. Each centre developed its own style, which were largely reconciled and combined under the Safavids.[38]

The schools of Herat, where the Timurid royal workshops usually were, had developed a style of classical restraint and elegance, and the painters of Tabriz, a more expressive and imaginative style. Tabriz was the former capital of the Turkmen rulers, and in the early Safavid period the styles were gradually harmonized in works like the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp.[39] But a famous unfinished miniature showing Rustam asleep, while his horse Rakhsh fights off a lion, was probably made for this manuscript, but was never finished and bound in, perhaps because its vigorous Tabriz style did not please Tahmasp. It appears to be by Sultan Mohammad, whose later works in the manuscript show a style adapted to the court style of Bizhad. It is now in the British Museum.[40]

Chinese influences

Mi'raj of the Prophet by Sultan Muhammad, showing Chinese-influenced clouds and angels, 1539-43.[41]

Before Chinese influence was introduced, figures were tied to the ground line and included "backgrounds of solid color", or in "clear accordance with indigenous artistic traditions". However, once influenced by the Chinese, Persian painters gained much more freedom through the Chinese traditions of "unrestricted space and infinite planes". Much of the Chinese influence in Persian art is probably indirect, transmitted through Central Asia. There appear to be no Persian miniatures that are clearly the work of a Chinese artist or one trained in China itself. The most prestigious Chinese painting tradition, of literati landscape painting on scrolls, has little influence; instead the closest parallels are with wall-paintings and motifs such as clouds and dragons found in Chinese pottery, textiles, and other decorative arts.[42] The format and composition of the Persian miniature received strong influence from Chinese paintings.[43]

The Ilkhanid rulers did not convert to Islam for several decades, meanwhile remaining Tantric Buddhists or Christians (usually Nestorians). While very few traces now remain, Buddhist and Christian images were probably easily available to Persian artists at this period.[44] Especially in Ilkhanid and Timurid Mongol-Persian mythological miniatures, mythical beasts were portrayed in a style close to the Chinese qilin, fenghuang (phoenix), bixie and Chinese dragon, though they have a much more aggressive character in Islamic art, and are often seen fighting each other or natural beasts.[45]

Prominent Persian miniaturists

The workshop tradition and division of labour within both an individual miniature and a book, as described above, complicates the attribution of paintings. Some are inscribed with the name of the artist, sometimes as part of the picture itself, for example as if painted on tiles in a building, but more often as a note added on the page or elsewhere; where and when being often uncertain. Because of the nature of the works, literary and historical references to artists, even if they are relied upon, usually do not enable specific paintings to be identified, though there are exceptions. The reputation of Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād Herawī, or Behzād, the leading miniaturist of the late Timurid era, and founder of the Safavid school, remained supreme in the Persianate world, and at least some of his work, and style, can be identified with a degree of confidence, despite a good deal of continuing scholarly debate.[46]

Sultan Mohammed, Mir Sayyid Ali, and Aqa Mirak, were leading painters of the next generation, the Safavid culmination of the classic style, whose attributed works are found together in several manuscripts.[47] Abd al-Samad was one of the most successful Persian painters recruited by the Mughal Emperors to work in India. In the next generation, Reza Abbasi worked in the Late Safavid period producing mostly album miniatures, and his style was continued by many later painters.[48] In the 19th century, the miniatures of Abu'l-Hasan Khan Gaffari (Sani ol molk), active in Qajar Persia, showed originality, naturalism, and technical perfection.[49] Mahmoud Farshchian is a contemporary miniaturist whose style has broadened the scope of this art.



Style( Persian: (مکتب maktab) or (مدرسه school))

The maktab of Iranian miniature painting have been named based on the central authority of the ruling empires in the country. Wherever power and wealth were concentrated and considered the capital and seat of government, artists would come to those places willingly or sometimes forcibly. This naming and classification of Iranian miniature painting maktab have been commonly used in Western research and to some extent in Iranian studies.

There may be overlaps in the historical periods discussed later due to the dispersion of governments and their capitals within the realm of Iranian culture and art, rather than their political territories.

Some of the Iranian miniature painting maktab include the following (in chronological order):

1. Baghdad Maktab (or Abbasid Maktab): This maktab had a relatively short period during the late 12th century in the capital city of Baghdad under the Abbasid caliphate. It had less influence from Iranian art and showed a stronger inclination towards Byzantine painting and realism. However, some works exhibited influences from Sasanian and Central Asian art.

2. Seljuk Maktab: This maktab emerged during the Seljuk period and was influenced by both Iranian and Central Asian art.

3. First Tabriz Maktab (or Ilkhanid Maktab): This maktab developed during the Ilkhanid period, which was a Mongol dynasty. It had significant connections with Iranian and Central Asian art.

4. First Shiraz Maktab: This maktab emerged in Shiraz and had its own distinctive style.

5. Jalairid Maktab: This maktab developed during the Jalairid dynasty and had its own unique characteristics.

6. Second Shiraz Maktab: This maktab emerged as a revival of the First Shiraz Maktab and continued its artistic traditions.

7. Herat Maktab: This maktab flourished in Herat under the Timurid dynasty and produced remarkable works.

8. Bukhara Maktab: This maktab developed in Bukhara and had its own distinct artistic style.

9. Second Tabriz Maktab: This maktab emerged as a revival of the First Tabriz Maktab during the Safavid period and incorporated elements from various artistic traditions.

10. Qazvin Maktab: This maktab emerged in Qazvin and had its own artistic characteristics.

11. Isfahan Maktab: This maktab developed in Isfahan during the Safavid period and played a significant role in the development of Iranian miniature painting.

12. Qajar Maktab: This maktab emerged during the Qajar dynasty and had its own distinct style.[citation needed]

1) Tabriz Maktab of Art (First Period)

With the Mongol invasion and the establishment of the Ilkhanate rule, Maragheh and Tabriz transformed into cultural centers. The Ilkhanate rule had two important consequences for Iranian painting. The first was the transfer of elements and techniques of Chinese art to Iran, and the second was the establishment of a form of collective artistic education in workshops and royal libraries. The Tabriz Maktab of Art, also known as the Mongol or Ilkhanid Maktab, along with its subsequent period, the Jalayirid period, formed the main foundation of Iranian painting. During this period, artists sought to integrate visual and pictorial art. One of the notable events of this period was the creation of a cultural complex near Tabriz, known as Rab'-e Rashidi, by the order of Rashid al-Din Fazlullah Hamadani, the vizier of Ghazan Khan. This place served as a gathering place for Iranian and foreign artists, scholars, and calligraphers. One of the works produced in Rab'-e Rashidi is the Comprehensive Book of Chronicles, which was worked on by numerous artists in various styles. The First Tabriz style brought about fundamental changes compared to its previous period, the Seljuk period. The technique of hatching, the depiction of clouds and mountains, the rendering of faces, composition, and shading all borrowed from Chinese art, while the use of silver color and the depiction of garments recalled Byzantine and Mesopotamian art. However, the figurative style of the human figures and their arrangement in the composition remained Iranian in nature. The scenes became more expansive, and we can even see a portion of the sky in the images. The peak of the First Tabriz art can be seen in the Demotte Shahnameh, where the influence of foreign arts is more evident. Nevertheless, this imitation gave rise to new visual patterns and concepts. For example, the dragon in Chinese art symbolizes nature and fertility, but the Iranian painter portrays Bahram fighting the dragon as a symbol of overcoming evil, indicating a disregard for their original meanings and a mere adoption of the Chinese pattern. One of the renowned artists of this period is Ahmad Musa.[citation needed]

2) Jalayirid Maktab of Art

After the death of the last Mongol Ilkhan, Abu Sa'id, power struggles ensued among Mongol dynasties, and eventually, the Jalayirid dynasty seized power and established their rule in Tabriz and Baghdad. During this period, book illustration received significant attention, and artworks from the Ilkhanid period were collected and preserved. Despite the numerous tensions of this period, many artists, especially during the reign of Sultan Ahmad Jalayir, received patronage, with many kings themselves reciting poetry and engaging in painting. Although the artists continued the tradition of the Ilkhanid maktab, they also advanced experimental approaches. The outstanding result of this period is the Divan of Khwaju Kermani, which includes the signature of an artist named Junayd Baghdadi, making it the oldest known signature of an Iranian painter. In Junayd's paintings and generally in the Jalayirid maktab, the spaces expanded completely, and the paintings occupy an entire page. The figures in the images are slender and tall, and architectural spaces depict both interiors and exteriors simultaneously for the first time. In this period, books were written in a new style of Nasta'liq calligraphy, and the colors became more vibrant compared to the Ilkhanid period, while the issue of the relationship between humans and nature was resolved. Overall, the artworks of the Ilkhanid and Jalayirid periods can be divided into three main categories. The first category consists of pure Iranian works, which, even if influenced by other arts, are combined with Iranian elements. The second category includes paintings that combine Iranian and Chinese art, with a more tangible influence of Chinese art, and the third category consists of paintings abundant in Chinese elements and are almost foreign in nature. The artworks of the Jalayirid period belong to the first category, where Chinese elements are hardly seen.[citation needed]

3) The Maktab of Shiraz

During the 8th century AH (14th century CE), while the Ilkhanid and Jalayirid maktabs were flourishing in Tabriz and Baghdad, an independent artistic movement was taking place in the city of Shiraz. When the Mongols invaded, the rulers of Fars managed to protect the city through diplomacy and intelligence, allowing it to continue its existence under the same previous rulers. Many Iranian artists and intellectuals sought refuge in Shiraz under the patronage of local dynasties, namely the Al-e Injou and later the Al-e Mozaffar. Consequently, Shiraz became a central hub for preserving and continuing the ancient traditions and arts of Iran, such as Seljuk art and resistance against foreign influences.

Significant developments during this period include the flourishing of Persian poetry and literature, and the emergence of renowned figures like Saadi and Hafez. Calligraphy workshops thrived in Iran, and the production and illustration of Shahnameh (the Persian epic) had widespread popularity in Shiraz. The illustrations of Shirazi books were simple and reminiscent of Seljuk-era manuscripts, characterized by flat and vibrant colors, large figures, and shallow spaces, evoking the ancient traditions of Iranian art.

In the Maktab of Shiraz, the central theme is humanity, while other motifs fill the surrounding spaces. After the death of Abu Sa'id, the last ruler of the Injou dynasty, Shiraz and some other cities became artistically independent. For instance, in cities like Behbahan, a unique style of nature illustration without human presence can be observed. During the Mozaffarid period, the depiction of lyrical poems (ghazals) received more attention, and the spaces became more expansive. Although the Maktab of Shiraz had its distinct path compared to Tabriz and Baghdad, there was artistic and cultural exchange between these cities, influencing one another. It can be inferred that the vibrant colors of the Maktab of Shiraz influenced Baghdad and Tabriz, while in return, the spacious compositions from Tabriz and Baghdad reached Shiraz. The production of books in Shiraz was so extensive that its products were exported to other countries such as Turkey and India, representing a tradition known as the "commercial style" that endured until the Safavid era in Isfahan.[citation needed]

4) The Herat school (Maktab-e Herat)

was an artistic movement in Persian painting during the medieval period, originating in the city of Herat in present-day Afghanistan. The maktab flourished under the patronage of Baysonqor Mirza, who succeeded Shah Rukh and established Herat as his capital. During Baysonqor Mirza's reign, the workshop of the royal court in Herat became a melting pot of artistic influences from Shiraz, Tabriz, and even Chinese painting traditions. These diverse influences converged to give birth to the distinctive style of the Herat Maktab. The artistic style of the Baysonqor Mirza period transformed into a formal and refined manner, exemplified in the illustrations of the Baysonqori Shahnameh. Notable artists of this period included Jafar Tabrizi, Gawwam al-Din, Mir Khalil, and Khwaja Ghiyath al-Din. Despite the upheavals in Herat after Shah Rukh's death until the reign of Hussain Bayqara, independent artworks from artists such as Maulana Vali Allah and Mansur were produced. The establishment of Sultan Husayn Bayqara's rule and the presence of his minister, Mir Ali-Shir Nava'i, marked a splendid era for art in Iran. Various art forms thrived, and artists gained recognition. Mir Ali-Shir Nava'i fostered a gathering of intellectuals who came together regardless of social status, sharing ideas and artworks. Notable members of this gathering included Wa'iz Kashifi, Kamal al-Din Behzad, and Sultan Ali Mashhadi. During this period, alongside the traditional masters who continued the Baysonqori style, a new generation of talented and innovative artists emerged, introducing new experiences to Persian painting. For example, Haji Mohammad Haravi, known as Mohammad Siyah Qalam, incorporated Iranian satire and grotesque elements in his works. Kamal al-Din Behzad focused on human figures and depicted everyday life in courtly paintings. In this period, the art of portraiture gradually gained popularity, often attributed to Kamal al-Din Behzad. Some portraits of contemporary rulers like Sultan Husayn and Shah Bayqara have survived from this time. This style was also influenced by the arrival of Gentile Bellini, who came to Istanbul at the invitation of an Ottoman Sultan, and later had an impact on Timurid artists. The Herat Maktab encompassed various artistic trends and exhibited a high degree of diversity. However, the works of the Sultan Husayn and Kamal al-Din Behzad period, known as the Kamaleddin Behzad Maktab, are particularly well-known. Generally, it can be said that colors became more vibrant in the Herat Maktab, and the compositions became more complex, featuring circular and intersecting elements. Human activities and details received more attention, and the workshop tradition became a fixed practice in Persian painting. The Herat Maktab, especially the style of Kamal al-Din Behzad, had a direct influence on subsequent periods, such as the Second Tabriz Maktab. Following the rise of the Shaybanid dynasty in Herat, Mohammad Khan Shaybani moved the capital to Bukhara, leading many artists of the Herat Maktab to migrate there. This migration gave rise to the Bukhara Maktab, which followed in the footsteps of the Herat Maktab. The prominent artist of the Bukhara Maktab was Mahmud Muzahhib, who continued the style of Kamal al-Din Behzad. The characteristics of the Bukhara Maktab included rich colors, intricate details within simple forms, short figures, and frontal structures.[citation needed]

5) The Second Shiraz School

In the city of Shiraz during the Timurid period, specifically in the late 8th century, two Timurid rulers, Sultan Iskandar and Sultan Ibrahim, governed Shiraz and greatly influenced its art. Sultan Iskandar gathered the artists of Shiraz once again after the Timurid invasions. It is likely that Pir Ahmad Baghshamali was active in Sultan Iskandar's workshop. The painters of Sultan Iskandar depicted his battles, which became known as "The Selected Battles of Sultan Iskandar." The court style of Sultan Iskandar had already emerged before the establishment of the Herat School and demonstrated the earliest fusion of Iran's exquisite painting styles, such as the Jalairid and Al-Muzaffar styles. The use of lapis lazuli blue color, sponge-like rocks in the sky's horizon, slender and colorful figures, and embellished architectural structures with arabesque patterns were characteristic of the Iskandar School, which later directly influenced the Herat School. Sultan Iskandar was deposed due to conflicts with Shah Rukh Timurid and was succeeded by Ibrahim Sultan, Shah Rukh's son. Ibrahim Sultan's reign brought about significant transformations in the Shiraz style. The figures became more strongly designed, and the colors became more muted, with a strong tendency towards compositional harmony evident in the artworks. Calligraphic elements gained particular importance in the composition, and fixed rules for arranging and formatting texts were established, which became inseparable from the Shiraz style until the late 10th century AH. The general rule was to place two or four inscriptions at the top and bottom of the image, creating a symmetrical and geometric structure within the artwork, with significant subjects often appearing in the central section and beneath the horizon line. Notable works from this period include the Khamsa of Nizami and the Shahnameh of Ibrahim Sultan.[citation needed]

6) The Turkman Style

During the 8th century AH, two Turkmen tribes simultaneously occupied the western regions of Iran. Initially, the Qara Qoyunlu gained power and made Tabriz their capital, followed by the Aq Qoyunlu, who seized control over all of Iran except for Khorasan. Overall, the Turkman style was a mixture of the Herat, Tabriz, Shiraz, and Baghdad schools. They established a royal workshop similar to the Timurid court workshop and employed both local and non-local painters. The result was a new and distinct style characterized by robust figures, round faces with arched eyebrows, and small mouths. The works produced in the Tabriz region, due to the strong tradition of landscape painting in the early Tabriz school, emphasized nature in Turkmen painting, giving rise to fantastical and surreal landscapes. As previously mentioned, there was a commercial style in Shiraz during the first period of the Shiraz School, which continued with the arrival of the Turkmen. The non-courtly Turkman style was simple and unadorned, yet it can be considered suitable for commercial purposes due to its commercial nature and high production. Nevertheless, these images are very explicit and clear in terms of description. One of the Shirazi artists believed to be the creator of this commercial style is Farhad. He is the same artist who illustrated the Khavarannameh manuscript written by Ibn Husam Khusfi. These illustrations have innovative compositions that vividly demonstrate Farhad's imagination. The final and most advanced phase of the Turkman style occurred during the reign of Yakub Beg, the Aq Qoyunlu ruler. Artists such as Sheikh and Darvish Mohammad produced images of the Khamsa of Nizami during that period. These images feature imaginative landscapes and diverse colors, with nature surpassing humanity. The power of imagination in these images is so high that the peaks of rocky mountains transform into human and animal forms. This poetic depiction of nature also found its way into the Safavid school through Sultan Muhammad.[citation needed]

7) Tabriz School 2

With the establishment of the Safavid government, Shah Ismail chose Tabriz as the center of his rule and gathered Turkmen painters, including Sultan Muhammad, in Tabriz. Artists from the Herat school, such as Sheikhzadeh and Kamal al-Din Behzad, initially produced artistic works under the rule of the Safavid government in Herat and then migrated to Tabriz during the reign of Shah Tahmasb. One notable work produced in Safavid Herat is the "Zafarnama" (Book of Victory), characterized by intricate compositions, diverse colors, and strong design, displaying elements of Behzad's style. In comparison to his Timurid-era works in the Herat school, Behzad's works in the Tabriz school exhibit less vibrant spirit and subdued colors, possibly influenced by the taste of the court patrons. One of the main characteristics we observe in Safavid paintings is the presence of a specific type of turban known as the "Qizilbash turban." The fusion of Western and Eastern Iranian painting styles gave rise to an authentic and complete style, exemplified by Shahnameh-e Tahmasbi (Tahmasb's Shahnameh) and Khamsa-e Tahmasbi (Tahmasb's Khamsa), which were the result of collaborative efforts by a group of artists. These two works represent a juxtaposition of two main stylistic poles: Sultan Muhammad's style, the Turkman style, and the contrasting style of the Calligraphers of the Behzad School. It seems that in images dominated by nature and slightly surreal, the Turkmen and Sultan Muhammad schools had an influence, while the Calligraphers of the Behzad School created works that focused more on human figures and human relationships. The paintings in the Tabriz school became much busier, featuring more figures within a scene. This led to more complex compositions, a higher variety of colors, and a tendency to push the figures out of the space. In Tabriz School 2, although there is no perspective, the principles of authentic Iranian painting are adhered to. However, due to the complex relationships between elements and architecture, the images appear both two-dimensional and three-dimensional simultaneously. The synchronicity of events and places reached its peak in Tabriz School 2, where one can witness various events taking place within a single image, yet perceiving the works as cohesive and unified. Tabriz School 2 came to a halt with the capital's relocation to Qazvin, and after Shah Tahmasb's withdrawal of support, many artists dispersed to various cities. On the other hand, in Mashhad, Ibrahim Mirza, a young Safavid prince, established a workshop and brought together skilled artists from Tabriz and local artists in Mashhad. Thus, the Safavid Tabriz style continued in Mashhad with new approaches. One of the most significant works produced in Mashhad is the "Haft Orang" by Jami. Overall, in Mashhad, we encounter new characteristics, including emphasis on color through white spots, dominance of soft and curvilinear lines, presence of ancient trees, fragmented rocks, and slender figures with long necks and round faces. During the twenty years that Mashhad continued its activities, there was not much book illustration flourishing in the Safavid capital of Qazvin, and only a few works were produced following the Mashhad style during a short period, particularly during the reign of Ismail II.[citation needed]

8) "Maktab-i Isfahan

After a tumultuous decade, Shah Abbas ascended the Safavid throne and relocated the capital to Isfahan. During this period, all the industrial arts flourished and served the taste of the Shah, resulting in the infiltration of Western art into the underlying fabric of society. Architecture, textiles, carpets, and ceramics of this era had numerous enthusiastic admirers, yet, with a fair critique, one can find a decline in vitality and creativity in almost all the arts of this period. However, the field of painting had a different and pioneering movement, as it was almost independent of court patronage. In this period, even before the Isfahan School, we encounter a new style where artists produced works independent of books on a large scale. The emergence of this phenomenon depended on two factors: a decrease in court support and the growth of the merchant class. The taste of the Shahs was changing, and artists could not rely solely on court patronage. Consequently, they turned towards capitalists and nobles. As they lacked the financial capability to produce a complete book, they contented themselves with single-page illustrations. In the midst of this, a young and talented artist named Reza Abbasi appeared and perfected this style of painting. Reza Abbasi's technique was based on the value of line, giving volume to the work through the thickness and thinness of lines. In his paintings, figures were usually large and detached from the surroundings. Later, Moin Mosavar continued Reza Abbasi's style by combining it with his own personal style. Generally, it can be said that the connection between painting and literature had weakened, and the line had surpassed color in the art of painting. These two events led artists to observe their surroundings and document various everyday events. Workshop traditions gradually weakened, and individual worth of each artist became more independent during this period. As a result, signing and long inscriptions became prevalent, particularly in the works of Moin Mosavar."Wall painting was another art form that emerged in the 11th century AH (17th century CE) in the Safavid palaces of Isfahan and continued the style of Qazvin School wall paintings. The compositions of the wall paintings resemble the illustrations found in books, but when executed on a large scale, they lose the delicacy found in books. Gradually, with the arrival of Europeans, Western painting styles entered Iranian paintings and captivated the taste of the Safavid Shahs. In the late period, we witness two main trends: the first being the distinctive and independent style of painters such as Reza Abbasi and Moin Mosavar, and the second being painters like Mohammad Zaman, who were influenced by European naturalism, and their works were referred to as the "School of Italy in Isfahan". The first trend continued until the end of Moin Mosavar's life, while the inclination towards naturalism grew and became more formalized, marking a new beginning in the Iranian painting style.[citation needed]

9) The Qajar School

This style emerged during the Zand period and continued into the Qajar era and slightly beyond. This style holds a prominent position as a cohesive and school-based style in Iranian painting, encompassing all the thematic and practical features of a painting school. It was primarily developed through the fusion of traditional Iranian painting characteristics with elements and techniques borrowed from European painting. Although there were some works in a similar style during the Safavid period in Iran, which were referred to as "Europeanization," it found its distinct form primarily during the Zand period and continued into the Qajar era. A genre of folk painting known as "Qahveh-Khaneh-gari" (coffeehouse painting) also emerged during this time.[citation needed]

Intangible cultural heritage

Main article: UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists

Art of miniature
CountryAzerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, and Uzbekistan
Inscription history
Inscription2020 (15th session)

In 2020, UNESCO inscribed the art of miniature on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity upon the nomination of four countries in which it is an important element of their culture: Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.[50]

In their rationale for inscription on the list, the nominators highlighted that "The patterns of the miniature represent beliefs, worldviews and lifestyles in a pictorial fashion and also gained a new character through the Islamic influence. While there are stylistic differences between them, the art of miniature as practised by the submitting States Parties shares crucial features. In all cases, it is a traditional craft typically transmitted through mentor-apprentice relationships (non-formal education) and considered as an integral part of each society’s social and cultural identity".[50]

In later culture

The French painter Henri Matisse said he was inspired by Persian miniatures. He visited the Munich 1910 exhibition of Persian miniatures and carpets, and noted that: "the Persian miniatures showed me the possibility of my sensations. That art had devices to suggest a greater space, a really plastic space. It helped me to get away from intimate painting."[51]

Persian miniatures are mentioned in the novel My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk.

See also


  1. ^ Gruber, throughout; see Welch, 95-97 for one of the most famous examples, illustrated below
  2. ^ In the terminology of Western illuminated manuscripts, "illumination" usually covers both narrative scenes and decorative elements.
  3. ^ Canby (2009), 83
  4. ^ Gray (1930), 22-23
  5. ^ Gray (1930), 22-28; Welch, 35
  6. ^ Gray (1930), 25-26, 44-50
  7. ^ Gray (1930), 25-26, 48-49, 64
  8. ^ Sims
  9. ^ OAO (3, ii and elsewhere)
  10. ^ Brend, 164-165
  11. ^ OAO, Sims; Gray (1930), 74-81
  12. ^ OAO
  13. ^ Metropolitan Museum of Art Archived 2011-03-07 at the Wayback Machine "The Conference of the Birds": Page from a manuscript of the Mantiq al-Tayr (The Language of the Birds) of Farid al-Din cAttar, Isfahan (63.210.11). In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.
  14. ^ Crill and Jarilwala, 50-51; Art Fund Archived 2011-06-17 at the Wayback Machine with image. The painting uses miniature techniques on cotton, and is much larger than most miniatures.
  15. ^ Uluc, 73
  16. ^ Roxburgh (2000), 6-8
  17. ^ Welch, 12-14
  18. ^ Gray (1930), 22-26; Welch, 12-14
  19. ^ Thackston, 43-44
  20. ^ Thackston, 43-44; a good number of those named are mentioned in other sources.
  21. ^ a b Jaber, Shady (2021). "The Paintings of al-Āthār al-Bāqiya of al-Bīrūnī: A Turning Point in Islamic Visual Representation" (PDF). Lebanese American University: Figure 5.
  22. ^ "Consultation Supplément Persan 205". archivesetmanuscrits.bnf.fr. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
  23. ^ Bloom, Jonathan; Blair, Sheila (14 May 2009). Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art & Architecture: Three-Volume Set. OUP USA. p. 215. ISBN 978-0-19-530991-1.
  24. ^ Gray (1930), 27-28
  25. ^ Sims
  26. ^ J. Bloom & S. Blair (2009). Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. pp. 192 and 207. ISBN 978-0-19-530991-1. Archived from the original on 2023-07-01. Retrieved 2020-11-02.
  27. ^ a b Bloom, Jonathan; Blair, Sheila (14 May 2009). Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art & Architecture: Three-Volume Set. OUP USA. p. 214-215. ISBN 978-0-19-530991-1.
  28. ^ Ettinghausen, Richard (1959). "On Some Mongol Miniatures". Kunst des Orients. 3: 44–45. ISSN 0023-5393.
  29. ^ a b Bloom, Jonathan; Blair, Sheila (14 May 2009). Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art & Architecture: Three-Volume Set. OUP USA. p. 215. ISBN 978-0-19-530991-1.
  30. ^ Sims
  31. ^ Canby (1993), 33-34
  32. ^ Gray (1976), 309-315, OAO; Rawson, 146-147
  33. ^ Gray (1976), 310-311
  34. ^ Sims
  35. ^ Simms
  36. ^ Titley, 103; Welch (mostly on Freer Jami after p. 24), 23-27, 31, 98-127; Freer Gallery Archived 2022-01-04 at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ OAO; Gray (1930), 74-89; Welch, throughout
  38. ^ Gray (1930), 37-55; Welch, 14-18; OAO
  39. ^ Titley, 80; Walther & Wolf, 420-424
  40. ^ Canby (1993), 79-80
  41. ^ see Welch, 95-97
  42. ^ Rawson, Chapter 5
  43. ^ Schmitz and Desai, 172; Meri, 585
  44. ^ Rawson, 146-147
  45. ^ Rawson, 169-173
  46. ^ Gray (1930), 57-66; OAO
  47. ^ Welch, 17-27, and many individual pictures shown
  48. ^ Gray (1930), 80-87
  49. ^ B. W. Robinson, “Abu'l-Hasan Khan Gaffari Archived 2016-11-17 at the Wayback Machine,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/3, pp. 306-308
  50. ^ a b "Art of miniature". UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Retrieved 14 January 2024.
  51. ^ Walsh, Judy. "Matisse, Persian miniatures and Modernism". judy walsh artwork. Archived from the original on 2019-12-17. Retrieved 2019-12-17.


Further reading