A Persian miniature is a richly detailed miniature painting which depicts religious or mythological themes from the region of the Middle East now known as Iran. The art of miniature painting in Persia flourished from the 13th through the 16th centuries, and continues to this day, with several contemporary artists producing notable Persian miniatures. These delicate, lush paintings are typically visually stunning, with a level of detail which can only be achieved with a very fine hand and an extremely small brush.
Originally, Persian miniatures were commissioned as book illustrations for Persian illuminated manuscripts. Only the wealthiest of patrons could afford these illustrations, with some Persian miniatures taking up to a year to complete. Eventually, people also began collecting these works of art on their own, binding them into separate books. Many of these collections fortunately survive to this day, along with other examples of Persian art such as Iran’s famous pile carpets.
The Persian miniature was probably inspired by Chinese art, given the very Chinese themes which appear in some early examples of Persian miniatures. Many of the mythological creatures depicted in early Persian art, for example, bear a striking resemblance to animals in Chinese myth. Over time, however, Persian artists developed their own style and themes, and the concept of the Persian miniature was picked up by neighboring regions.
Content and form are fundamental elements of Persian miniature painting, and miniature artists are renowned for their modest, subtle use of color. The themes of Persian miniature are mostly related to Persian mythology and poetry. Western artists discovered the Persian miniature around the beginning of the 20th century. Persian miniatures use pure geometry and a vivid palette. The allure of Persian miniature painting lies in its absorbing complexities and in the surprising way it speaks to large questions about the nature of art and the perception of its masterpieces.
The history of the art of painting in Iran, goes back to the cave age. In the caves of Lorestan province, painted images of animals and hunting scenes have been discovered. Paintings discovered by W. Semner, on the walls of buildings, in Mallyan heights, in Fars, belong to 5,000 years ago.
Paintings discovered on earthenware in Lorestan, and other archaeological sites, prove that the artists of this region were familiar with the art of painting. Also, from the Ashkanid era, few mural paintings, most of them discovered in the northern parts of Forat River, have been uncovered. One of these paintings is a display of a hunting scene. The position of riders and animals, and the style in this work reminds us of the Iranian miniatures.
Mogul emperors, after the invasion of Iran, were impressed by the Iranian art and encouraged the painters, initiating the former kings of Iran. Among the characteristics of the Iranian art which can also be observed in the paintings of Mogul style, we can enumerate, subtleties, decorative compositions, and fine short lines. The style of the Iranian paintings is linear and not dimensional. Artists in this field have demonstrated a particular creativity and genuineness.
Artists of the Mogul royal court honored not only the techniques but also Iranian themes. A part of their work consisted of illustrating Iranian literary masterpieces such as “The Shahnameh” of Ferdowsi.
Agha Reza Reza-e Abbasi (1565 – 1635) was the most renowned Persian miniaturist, painter and calligrapher of the Isfahan School, which flourished during the Safavid period under the patronage of Shah Abbas I. Art experts believe that during Teimoor’s era, the art of painting in Iran, had reached a climax. During this period, outstanding masters, such as Kamal-ul-Din Behzad, contributed a new touch to the Iranian painting.
Behzad, this great artist belongs not only to Iran but also to the world. The French newspapers published many articles in praise of this Iranian artist. The miniature of Iran, in the Isfahan of Safavid era, was detached from the influence of the Chinese out and stepped on a new road. The painters were then more inclined towards naturalism.
Mahmoud Farshchian (born January 24, 1930) is a world-renowned master of Persian painting and miniatures. He was born in the city of Isfahan in Iran, a place famed for its art and artists, and it was here where he started to learn art, painting and sculpting.
“The Museum of Master Mahmoud Farshchian”, is a museum devoted to the works of the master, which has been set up by the Cultural Heritage Foundation in the Sa’dabad Cultural Complex in Tehran, inaugurated in 2001.