February 17, 2012
The arts of Persia (now Iran) from the 6 th century BC. Subject to invasions from both east and west, Persia has over the centuries blended many influences to create a rich diversity of arts, styles, and techniques. Persian art is particularly noted for its architecture and production of exquisite miniatures, although perhaps best known today for ornate carpets. Although the wide diversity of outside influences make it difficult to pin down distinct characteristics, Persian art is generally characterized by its firm lines, extensive detail, and bold use of colour.
Although Persia has been a centre of civilization for at least 7,000 years, it was during the Achaemenid dynasty (550333 BC), when the first Persian empire was formed, that a unified style emerged, drawing on a wide range of influences. For example, the palace at Persepolis, begun by Darius I and completed by Xerxes, was decorated about 520 BC with relief friezes recalling Assyrian and Babylonian styles. The period also produced work in gold and silver, bronze castings, and inlay.
The conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC brought about a blending of Persian and Hellenistic styles, seen, for example, in the bronzes, pottery, and jewellery of the Parthians. The Sassanian dynasty (AD 224642) was the richest period of artistic achievement, developing to the full a wide range of new and inherited styles and techniques. The Sassanians introduced silk to Persia; they produced exquisite jewellery, metalwork in silver, gold, and bronze, and ceramics; and they decorated their palaces with relief sculptures and mosaics. The innovative domes and arches they developed were later to have a profound influence on Islamic architecture.
After the Muslim invasion of the 7th century AD, Persia was brought within the sphere of Islamic styles and techniques, clearly reflected in the ceramics and ornate calligraphy which developed. During the Mongol Timurid dynasty (13691506) Chinese influences were apparent in the development of one of Persia's greatest artistic achievements, the miniature, which was used to illustrate books of poetry, history, and romances.
By the 15 th century a distinctively Persian style had evolved, characterized by firm lines, strong colours, and a lot of detail; its greatest exponent was Bihzad. The Timurid dynasty also saw the use of coloured tiles to cover buildings, for example on the Blue Mosque of Tabriz.
The Safavid dynasty (15021736) produced miniatures, which now began to show the influence of Western styles; fine carpets many of the finest Persian carpets are Safavid; fabrics, particularly silk; and metalwork. Palaces were decorated with murals. The Safavid dynasty marked the beginning of Persia's artistic decline, as European influences grew stronger.