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Iranian Art, Islamic - Persian Art

Iranian Art

“Iranian Art is the permanent gift of the people of Iran to the history of the world”, Professor Arthur Opham Pope.

Iranian Art process of evolution could be found among the people and in the roots of the adventurous history of this country. The land has been the most important natural passage of the East to the West, and the point of different cultures and civilizations clashing over a long period of time. It seems different climates of Iran have had their impact on the Iranian art in early dwellers and on the formation of different arts in different historical era.

The mountains, deserts and shores are three natural phenomena of Iran from which different artistic clans of the ancient world have arisen. The high mountains of Iran had been shelter of life for prehistoric people. And also a silent and pleasant place for meditation and imagination. Through the heart of the same mountains, the first Persian artistic thoughts were originated.

“The name of Iran means the land of Aryans and is derived from the name of the tribes which were settled on the plateau of Iran. This plateau is an old mountainous residence for a people aged longer than ten thousand years. The farming villages of these people consisted of small houses with stone foundations and walls of mashed clay. These houses aged 6 to 8 thousand years. These monuments are discovered by Professor Bride wood, the head of scientific board at Chicago University”. “The Zagros mountains chain with a length of about one thousand kilometers and a width of about two hundred was the center for different mountainous tribes. Without any doubt most of the metal objects from late in the second millenniums, which are very famous and important today, have been produced in Lorestan district. Zagros region was occupied by the people, whose origin is not cleared yet, but were called “Asianiques.” This word introduces the people who had been living in this region in Asia in prehistoric age.

“Kassites” were a race who had been living in the Zagros, and like other groups of “Asianiques”, had provided for themselves by hunting and fishing. They gradually directed their way towards farming and herding they were familiar with pottery, slings, maces and javelins. They used sharpened stones for ploughing and had knives made of flint. Metal had not been discovered at that time.

An important part of the works of prehistoric people acquired from “Zagros” is held in museums of Iran and of the world as the cultural heritage of Lorestan.

Lorestan is the name of the central part of “Zagros” mountainous chain and the discovered works of this region is well known by this name in the world of archaeology.

One of the progressing processes of this land should be the dehiscence period of its art and metal working, from the beginning of third thousand years up to the first thousand years before Christ. Some archaeologists believe that the art of Lorestan is the real art of Iran.

Before this era (the third thousand years before Christ), the painting works of cavemen in Lorestan have a great importance. The paintings discovered in a cave called “Doshah” located in the district called “Chegeni” in Lorestan are one of the most important prehistoric remnants that have been remained from artist dwellers of this mountain.

Other mountainous region in Iran, which is also very important in the art history of this land, and a lot of valuable works are found at the foot of its mountains, is the “Alborz” chain. Archaeological discoveries shows that the northern slopes of the Alborz chain located in Gilan and Mazandaran (two provinces in the north of Iran) was another residence for ancient Persian races.

The precedence of metal utensils from “Marlik”, which have been discovered in a hill with the same name in “Roudbar” (a district in Gilan) is about three thousand years before Christ (the end of second millenniums and the beginning of the first.) These utensils, which had been made and ornamented with gold, silver and metal, introduce the art of a race that the archaeologists believe “they have joined to other groups of Indo-Europeans, who lived on the Iranian plateau and established a powerful “Mad” Empire in Iran in the beginning of the first thousand years before Christ”

At the edge of the central desert of Iran, near “Kashan” and in a district called “Sialk,” there have been found traces of the first people’s residence in the central plain of Iran. Discovered objects in “Sialk” graveyard symbolize the artistry of the prehistoric people in Iran.

“Sialk” dwellers had been making all of their tools and instruments by stone, but little-by-little they had started to use metal for making their implements. The artistic taste of these people has been found through the engraving on bones which had been carried out for the first time and through the designs on their pottery”.

In a map of plateau of Iran drawn by L. Van den Bergh, archaeologist and professor of Brussels University, most of the historical and ancient areas of Iran, were registered by special signs. In the map, hardly can be seen any area of the plateau of Iran which has no sign of one or more kinds of arts in Iran. The plurality of ancient localities is so vast that even a short reference to all of them is impossible in a brief report.

“At the beginning of the first thousand years before Christ, there had been extensive exchanges between north western civilizations of Iran, like Ghafghaz and the east part of AnatoIi”. This cultural process is known as Urartu’s civilization.

Wolfram Kleiss, a German archaeologist is one who has made a lot of valuable surveys about Urartu’s civilization in provinces like “Azarbaijan”, “Isfahan”, “Shiraz” and suburbs of Tehran since 1971. These surveys concluded in different explorations, parts of which consist of castles and fortifications of this civilization and valuable artistic works of the dwellers in this part of Iran. One of the oldest remnants of Urartu’s is the remains of “Bastam castle” around the “Urumia lake” in western Azarbaijan this castle consists of rooms, cellars, guarding towers, gates and other installations.

“In excavations at this prehistoric castle, objects have been found like flint necklaces, glass rings, bronze hoops, clay stamps, different arms and pottery items which symbolize the skill of the first dwellers of northwest Iran. The most important work explored in this castle is an epigraph in an hieroglyphic script, indicating Urartu’s civilization had special writing characters”.

Archaeologists have found different remains of native Persians art belonging to prehistoric times and later. Explorations at “Hasanlu fortress,” south east of “Urumia lake” (Rezaeiye lake), “Ziwiye” in Kurdestan (a province in the east), “Marlik hill” at the foot of Alborz, “Siraf port” on the coast of the Persian Gulf and “Shahdad of Kerman” in the central desert of Iran, have found each with highly valuable treasures. Some of these great artistic treasures are held in the museums in Iran and the most of the others are held in famous museums of the world. There have been deep studies on most of these artworks by Persian and foreign experts and studies are still continuing on the other remaining works.

Generally archaeological explorations which have been done carried out in the past one hundred years, have given answers to most questions about the history of civilization and art of Iran from scientists to scholars in art.

The point, which seems attractive in studying different collections, is that the Persian art, no matter to which historic era they belong, reflects a desire and special morale of the people of Iran. They also symbolize the superiority in taste and creativity of the people, who were the pioneers of establishing of the civilization of man.

In some eras, especially after the coming into existence of the great empires, different arts were used by powerful kings, rulers and commanders, yet they reflect the principles and virtues of the simple dwellers of the Land.

The important point in studying the historic process of Iranian art is the variation of art works in different eras. This show Iranians have been skillful in different areas from ancient times. For example in architecture, we are introduced to the buildings decorated by plaster moldings, stone cutting, tar isolations drawings and even primary painting belonging to prehistoric era.

Architecture, in different ages, since the beginning of the era of the “Mad” Empire and thereafter has noticeably been developed and acquired more magnificence. Continuing the historic process, architecture in the Islamic era, furnished by Sassanian style had acquired such brilliance which could not have been found in most points of the world. At the same era Muslim Persian artists created tile work arching, decorative scripts and different magnificent colorful designing in religious localities and constructions.

The development of other arts, like metal working, texturing, glass working, painting, pottering, and other most native arts of Iran, took place sometimes periodically and sometimes Different historic events like wars, conquests, foreign invasions the decline of ruling dynasties, and even famine, drought, and natural events like great earthquakes, had their impact on art in different eras. Yet in spite of these events, the foundation of Persians thought for creating artworks have not been spoiled by any means. For example at the beginning of Arab, Mongol, and Taimoorian invasions, Iranian art faced stagnancy but never stopped.

And astonishingly after a while, the invaders themselves were strongly influenced by the Iranian art and the artistic virtues and interests of the Persians, that transformed their thoughts and deeds.

Any study on the process of the transformation of Iranian art, requires attention to be paid to different points, which is unfortunately disregarded by some foreign scholars. But some valid archaeologists have drawn a table for the process based on history and in their detailed research evaluated the art of Iran.

Historical tables help us to become acquainted with the history of the artistic events of a country and also provide primary information about the formation and the process of evolution of arts. Here we refer to a summarized historical table of art of Iran drawn by Godard. It must be mentioned that regarding the explorations of other archaeologists, additional points should be added to it.

  1. In the fifth thousand years before Christ (4-5,000 B.C.), native races in Iran, who had been passing winter in natural shelters and during summer been living in cottages covered by foliage, thereafter started to build earthen dwellings and also added cultivation to hunting and fishing. Stone tools started to be improved and were perfected by adding handles of bone; earthen utensils were painted by black on a red base and baked in fire.
  2. During 4,000 BC, dwellers in Zagross and the plateau of Iran established villages and so, little by little started living collectively. Agriculture and animal husbandry were improved. Little by little, the art of architecture came into existence. In this era there were still stone arms. But at the last of this age came metal swords and daggers and epigraphs with primary “Ilamis” script on it.
  3. In 3,000 BC, marble white stones, Tar and other kinds of stone were used to make artistic objects. Dark-blue colored and coal-like pottery was used widely; metal weapons were used in different parts of Iran, like “Shoosh” and “Nahavand”. Different ornaments were made by using gold, carnelian and azure stone.
  4. In the second millennium B.C., the most important event in this era was the coming of “Aryans” to the plateau of Iran. When metal art received much importance.

The making smooth of blue pottery was propagated in the ‘AIborz” and its neighboring regions; glorious buildings were made with brick or backed earthen walls decorated by painting with designs like Geminis, humans, trees and other figures. Urbanism was developed and stone engraving came in another step of progress, which gave beauty to “Shush”. In this age, races like the “Aryans,” the “Mads” and the “Parses” were settled in “Zagross”.

  1. The first thousand years B.C.:

Godard called the first part of this age “the dark stage of the prehistoric age” and there he said a reason for it and that is the inaccessibility of supporting archaeological documents at the time. But new findings give some data about new developments about the first thousand years.

  • In the eight and seventh centuries B.C., because of dense new immigrations mixed races settled on the plateau of Iran, consisting of such as ‘Seythes” “Urartus” “Mannais”14 “Kassites” “Mads” and “Parses”. Finally the “Hakhamaneshis Empire” came into existence and because of its centralized organization, Iran entered a historical age.

A. Hakhamaneshian (330.550 BC):
There were valuable ant works created during the Hakhamaneshian era in architecture and other arts. The Hakhamaneshian dynasty was overthrown after Alexander the Macedonian occupied Iran.
Investigations about the ant of this era have always been interesting for the ant scholars of the world.

B. ”Selukian” and “Parthians” (91-312 B.C.):
he first Seleucus established the Selukian dynasty. After defeating “Selukian”, “Farhad” the second in (129 B.C.) established the Parthian Empire. This Empire existed up to the year 224 AD.

C. Sassanian (224-642 AD.):
Many varied and valuable remnants have remained from the era, which have a special place in the history of ant in Iran.
Overthrowing of the last king of the Sassanian (Yazdgerd the Third) from the invasion of Arabs, the era ended and there started a new age in the history of Iran.

D. Early Islam: (651-1,000 Ad.)
The story of art is considerable in the early years of the Islamic era. Thereafter in other historical ages, Islamic art came to its zenith. These ages are:

  • Saljooghians era (1000-1157 AD.)
  •  Monghols (1218-1334 AD.)
  •  Taimoorian (1370-1502 AD.)
  • Safavian (1491-1772 AD).
  • And new age from 1772 AD up to present. Regarding these historic ages, it is possible to investigate the developing process of art in Iran in different stages of history.
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