The History of Iran Art




Historical notes
After the death of Nader Shah, his nephew Shahrokh reigned in the Khorasan for a short time, but once again the country fell into confusion and disorder. Shahrokh was unable to control the situation. Then Karim Khan, from the Lor's tribe of Iran, intervened and managed to quell the unrest, taking over the reins of power (1751). He did not choose for himself the title of king, rather he named himself Vakil or-R'oaya ('delegate of the people' or 'regent') and established his own capital in Tehran, moving it shortly to Shiraz. At the beginning he undertook to give security to the country, and after re-establishing the internal order he reconciled with neighboring countries. Karim Khan condoned tax collection for people for twenty years. His reign lasted for 49 years. After him, Lotf Ali Khan took over power. Although he was a brave and intelligent man, he was defeated by the betrayal of his neighbors and the governor of Shiraz, by Aqa Mohammad Khan Qajar, who was raised and raised at the court of Karim Khan.
Aqa Mohammad Khan ascended the throne and established the Qajar dynasty. After him the nephew Fath Ali Shah succeeded the throne, and after his nephew Mohammad Shah Qajar and then his son Nasser ad-Din (who reigned for fifty years) and then his son Mozaffar ad- Din (reigned ten years). During the reign of Mozaffar ad-Din Shah the Constitutional Revolution took place and later the son Mohammad Ali Shah and after the son of the latter Ahmad Shah reigned for a few years. Then Reza Khan Mir Panj, commander of the army, became prime minister and later dropped Ahmad Shah by taking power with the title of Reza Shah.
Reza Shah and son Mohammad reigned for fifty years in Iran and finally, because of their anti-Islamic attitude and repressive and oppressive government, the Islamic Revolution of Iran took place under the leadership of the supreme Alem of the time, 'Imam Khomeini (God's blessing on him), who triumphed in the 1979. The people in a referendum on April 1 of the same year voted for the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The artistic evolution in the zand and qajar period
The artistic legacy of the Safavids
The Afsharidi period was marked by disorder. Nader Shah spent most of his time in wars and conquests. After his death, despite having guaranteed the national unity of the country, due to the lack of a worthy successor, Iran fell again in the grip of confusion and instability. For this reason, important works were not created during his reign and his nephew Shahrokh and those eventually created were a continuation of the Safavid artistic tradition. Only in painting were created some works in imitation of Western styles and the greater number of these were ordered by the sovereign or by the members of the court.
Among the famous artists of that time we must mention the name of Abol Hasan Nami, among whose works there were many portraits of Nader Shah or members of the court and the style he used was realism according to the Western art method.
The Zand period, a period of peace and quiet for the country and for the people and also for the reconstruction of art, is considered the transition phase between the Safavids and the Qajar. As for architecture, the tradition of fear continued, although in some cases innovations are noted.
The monument of the Arg-e Karim Khan in Shiraz has no equal among the monuments of the Safavid era, but the internal subdivisions demonstrate the multi-thousand-year tradition of Iranian subjectivist architecture. The Vakil mosque in Shiraz is a building with iwan, while the nave or the great prayer hall and the courtyards of the east and west sides are without it. Actually it can be said that this monument has an exceptional plant with only one iwan and a minaret in the middle of the iwan facade. The internal columns of the mosque are carved in the shape of a spiral from whole and single piece stones. The facades of the courtyards are covered, below and near the ground, with stone slabs and up to the ceiling, with majolica tiles of 7 colors, which is a typical style of Shiraz and southern regions of Iran. Next to the mosque, on one side is the madrasa Vakil, known as the "madrasa di Baba Khan" and on the other side is the public bath and the traditional sports gym called Hammam-e Vakil, and still next to the madrasa there is the Vakil bazaar, which connects the city center to the northern suburbs. Some sections of the Zand buildings were destroyed during the Pahlavi era to create space for the construction of buildings such as the headquarters of the Melli bank, the regional office of the Ministry of Education and the Shapur high school.
At the time Pahlavi, the Arg-e Karim Khan palace was modified to house the local police prison. Inside, the rooms were divided into two floors, on each floor small cells were created while outside they built the building of the regional police office. At the time of the Islamic Republic, the police building was demolished and the citadel was restored and arranged for public opening. The other monuments of the city are the palaces of the feudal lords of the time, transformed during the Pahlavi period into offices of various offices, such as the post office. However, they have now been emptied.
Among the works of the qajar era there are many palaces in this city, of which we can mention the palace and the gardens Eram and Delgosha, the Afif Abad garden, which now houses the military museum, the Nassir ol-Molk mosque, the complex of the mosque and Hosseiniyeh Moshir ol-Molk. The plaster decorations and their paintings are also noteworthy. The interior decoration of the buildings in this era is mainly made up of paintings, stuccos and decorations made with colorful mirrors mosaics. They reached perfection right in the qajar period, and the best examples are found in the sacred mausoleums of Imam Reza (peace on him) in Mashad, Masumeh (peace on her) in Qom and Shah Cheragh (peace on of him) in Shiraz and in other mausoleums and sepulchres of Shiraz. Even the processing of ceramics and majolica continued splendidly continuing the Safavid tradition.
The main examples of zand architecture are found in the Fars and Kerman regions, yet despite all their variety and beauty, they do not match the grandeur of the Safavid works. Perhaps this is due to the tendency to save on building costs, caused by the twenty-year tax amnesty wanted by Karim Khan. The basic plan of monumental buildings, private homes and smaller palaces in the Zand era generally consisted of a building with a two-column iwan, a reception room and some side rooms on two floors. This tradition is also respected in the construction of the iwan of mosques and madrassas. The example of the Safavid era of this type of monument is the two-column iwan at the end of the west side of the great iwan of Chehel Sotun in Isfahan. Among the noteworthy works of the Zand there are three building complexes:

- the complex of the palaces of Ganj Ali Khan in Kerman, whose construction, although it began in the Safavid era, ended during the reign of the Zand, and therefore in it prevail the particularities of this era. This complex includes the mosque, the square, the bazaar, the public bath and the caravaserai;
- the complex of palaces of Ebrahim Khan which includes the madrasa, the bazaar and the public bath. In the buildings of the madrasa and the public bath you can see some beautiful plaster frames;
- the Karim Khan complex in Shiraz, which as mentioned above, contains the bazaar buildings, the public bath, the madrasa, the traditional gym, the water tank, the government building, the residential building - which was the headquarters of Karim Khan's private meetings and currently houses the museum of ancient works - and the Vakil square that was completely destroyed; in its place the buildings of the Banca Melli, of the high school and of other shopping centers were built.
The architecture of the qajar period
The qajar architecture can be divided into two distinct periods. The first goes from the establishment of the dynasty to the years of the reign of Nasser ad-Din Shah, and in it we see the continuation of the Safavid and Zand style with small changes, in the type of construction and in the decoration. Only a few examples survived from this period survived in the destructive fires of the Pahlavi. From the comparison between the Talar-e Ashraf in Isfahan (safavide), the ancient post office of Shiraz (zand), the Takht-e Marmar (zand and qajar) and the palace of Qavam ad-Dowleh (year 1846), it is clear that among them there are many similarities, both from an architectural and an ornamental point of view. In this period, Iranian elements prevail in architecture and it can be argued that foreign influence, even if there was, especially at the beginning of the reign of Nasser ad-Din Shah, was superficial and insignificant.
Sayed Mohammad Taqi Mostafa argues that in the qajar period not even an architectural work of great importance and particular value was built. The great mosques of the period of the reign of Fath Ali Shah, like the mosques Shah in Tehran, Qazvin, Semnan and Borujerd, the mosque Sayed in Zanjan and the madrasa Soltani in Kashan, were also built according to the style and method of the Safavid period buildings, but with a decidedly inferior artistic value. The fact of following the Safavid architectural style continued until the middle of the reign of Nasser ad-Din Shah, during which Iran found a relative calm after the years of Karim Khan Zand, and architecture and other related arts. like the processing of majolica tiles, the working with stucco, the one with the mirrors, the sculpture and the painting found a certain splendor. Relations between Iran and European countries intensified, in particular with Russia. This fact increased the foreign influence in Iran, and while preserving the artistic traditions of the past, relatively satisfactory imitations spread in the works.
The construction of underground floors with cross-vaulted brick ceilings, the construction of rooms covered with fountains in the center, the construction of wind towers, for air conditioning, the subdivision of the buildings in different sectors, such as the ceremony, the gushvarehs, the rooms, the closets, the balconies and the other elements of the Iranian architecture, everything was done with small modifications according to the conditions of the land, the taste, the tendencies, the economic availability of the clients and the architects' ability.
The pointed arches of the Iranian tradition during the qajaro period were often replaced by semi-circular arches. In many cases within the arches, in the form of a small iwan, three narrow arch-shaped openings were made, of which the upper part was always semicircular. The construction of religious buildings such as mosques, schools, the Tekiyeh and the Hosseiniyeh continued, though with some minor modifications, according to the ancient tradition of four-iwan mosques.
One of the foreign influences in the architecture of the era was the creation of entrance corridors with stairs leading to the upper floor, branching out from the landing in two opposite directions. This was a tradition of Russian architecture and was introduced into Iranian palaces in the middle of the reign of Nasser ad-Din Shah, still taking on an Iranian tone thanks to the decorations with mirrors, stuccoes and majolica tiles on the lower frames. The type of two-pillar buildings, that is, with a large room in the center and a two-column iwan in front and some simple two-storey side rooms (gushvareh), in other terms more exposed, the buildings with more iwan, columns, rooms, corridors and two-story bedrooms, built on either side of the monument, inspired by ancient architecture, was also used and was combined and perfected with some noteworthy ornamental inventions.
Also the construction of large buildings with transverse iwan, halls, underground floors and large rooms covered with four columns with a fountain in the center, decorated with majolica tiles, mirrors, stuccos and marble cladding, all embellished with fountains and streams, represents a continuation of the authentic Iranian architectural line, which underwent phases of evolution and turning in proportion to the weather conditions and the economic availability of the person who built the building.
As already mentioned, foreign influence in Iranian art intensified from the middle of the reign of Nasser ad-Din Shah and during the reign of Mozaffar ad-Din Shah and Mohammad Ali Shah. Many buildings, like the palace of Qavam ol-Molk, known as Narenjestan in Shiraz, another property of his, known as the home of the mother of Qavam, the Afif Abad palace, located in the middle of a large garden, old house of Jamali located in the district Masjed-e Now in Isfahan, the house of Effat Arastu in the Monshi complex in Isfahan, the Delgosha palace, in the homonymous garden in Shiraz, etc ..., were covered, according to the baroque and rococo styles of the eighteenth century in Europe, with decorations of different kinds. These coatings entirely cover the buildings and make it impossible to recognize the materials used for their construction. Nevertheless, the Iranian characteristics of these ornamental coverings prevail over the entire monument.
The second period of Qajar architecture, which began in the last years of the reign of Nasser ad-Din Shah, is the result of a successful union between Iranian and Western architecture. Although Western influence sometimes prevails over authentic Iranian elements, the good taste of Iranian architects created from this union pleasant and satisfying ensembles in harmony and harmony with the climatic and geographical conditions of Iran, and able to guarantee comfort and the well-being of the people. Examples include some monuments and royal palaces in Tehran, such as the Sahebqaraniyeh palace in the Niavaran district, the Golestan palace, the Talar-e Almas palace, the Badgir on the southern side of the Golestan palace.
The Sahebqaraniyeh palace is one of the palaces where the union and mix of Iranian and Western architecture is clearly evident: its great hall is an imitation of the palace-villa of the Zand known as Kolah Farangi which means 'foreign hair', and currently houses the museum of ancient artistic works of Shiraz. In this building there is a very large room with four other large reception rooms covered with mirrors and other beautiful decorations. Over time it has undergone changes, for example the zand-style roof covering of the roof has been replaced with a sloping roof, more suited to the mountainous areas and diffused during the era of Nasser ad-Din Shah. The lower floor consists of a large room decorated with a fountain. This room has the same plan as the great upper room but with the characteristics of a summer hall. Other parts and sectors of the palace are in imitation of Western architecture, and are very well linked to the palace-villa. So the rooms, corridors and other rooms are built according to Western style, respecting the needs of the qajar court.
The great hall of the Golestan palace was dedicated to the king's ceremonies. Two golden thrones, decorated with precious stones and jewels, known as Takht-e Tavus (the Peacock Throne) and Takht-e Naderi (Nader's Throne), both of the Fath Ali Shah period, are arranged in area reserved for the sovereign, on the west side of the hall. This room is similar to that of the Sasanian palace in the city of Damghan, whose remains of walls and columns were discovered during the 1932-1933 archaeological excavations. On the occasion of the coronation of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the walls and the modifications made in previous years have been removed from the hall, and it has been restored to its original form, highlighting the perfect likeness of the Golestan palace with the Sassanid palace of Damghan ( in the city of Tappeh Hessar). This fact testifies to the continuity of Iranian architectural traditions from ancient times to the present day, handed down by masters architects and masons to later generations. The lower floor of the Golestan includes a rectangular room with a fountain and four large shahneshins according to a typology popular in the Sassanid era. The other large rooms such as the Ayneh hall (of the Mirror), the Aj (Ivory) hall, the Sofreh khaneh hall (of the Banquet), the Berelian hall (of the Brilliant), the large connecting corridor and the other buildings on the side Northern of the Golestan palace, which are adjacent or connected to the palace (now the Golestan Museum), all were built by imitating the architecture of European countries and adapted to the needs of the court. The Almas Room (Diamante), on the south side of the building, is a very large room overlooking the garden; on its sides were added stairs, a landing, a corridor and a shoe storage area. On the lower level, there is the basement with various subdivisions. This room is built in imitation of the architecture of the Zand and Safavid periods, with the addition, due to the climatic conditions of Tehran, of an underground floor.
The building of the Badgir (the Tower of the Wind) has a large underground floor with the main hall of the building, ecorated with mirrors and beautiful paintings. The ventilation turrets in the four corners of the building covered with majolica tiles and round golden yellow domes serve to condition the air in the basement.
The construction of the Takht-e Marmar palace began at the beginning of the reign of Karim Khan Zand and was completed during the reign of the Qajar. It is the only building whose construction lasted from the late eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth. Its plan is quite similar to that of the Iwan-e Madaen, but it differs for the type of iwan, as that of the palace Takht-e Marmar is of the two-column type, widespread since the Safavid era.
The architecture of the middle of the qajar period is not limited only to the construction of royal palaces, houses of the rich and nobles, but also includes many shopping centers, including small bazaars called Timcheh. These bazaars with their brick ceilings, cleverly arranged in the shape of a cross, are to be considered among the valuable 19th century works of art. Among them we can mention: Hajeb ed-Dowleh, Sadr Azam, Mahdiyeh, Ketabforushan, Ala d-Dowleh, Haj Mirza Lotfollh, Amin Aqdas and Qeisariyeh in Tehran; the Sadr Azam bazaar at Qom, and even more important and most beautiful of all is the bazaar of Amin ad-Dowleh in the city of Kashan which is noteworthy as regards the width of the arch, the majolica tiles decorations and in bricks and other architectural elements, as well as the harmonious proportions of each of its parts.
This architectural style was widespread until the end of the Qajar period, or rather, until the end of the First World War, without any significant evolution in it.
With the exception of the royal palaces, buildings of this era have not proved to be very resistant. This is because generally only the lower floor was built with the fired bricks, while the rest of the building was built with raw bricks. The palaces and buildings in which the second floor was also built with fired brick were very rare, such as the Masudiyeh building in Tehran, the headquarters of the Ministry of Public Education in Ekbatan Street.
In the monuments of the cities near the desert area (in the central-eastern part of the country), Yazd, Kashan, Abarqu, Tabas etc ..., above the large rooms were built arches with raw bricks and mud or roofs in the shape of a cross-linked dome . The best examples of this type of monuments are the home of the Omid Salar family in Abarqu, the Sheibani house in Tabas and the Borujerdi house in Kashan. Unfortunately, however, the maintenance of these buildings proved to be very complicated and they were soon abandoned.
The other arts
All the arts of the zand and qajar periods, like architecture, continued along the same lines as the artistic evolution of the Safavid period. The phase of transition from the Afsharids to the Zand was very short and on the other hand Nader Shah was often occupied in wars against neighboring countries and to maintain Iran's political and economic unity. This fact did not favor activities of great artistic importance, or at least no works remained except for a large canvas (the size of 1,60 × 3 meters) which is painted according to the western and realistic style and portrays Nader Shah while returning the crown of Mohammad Shah Gurkanide, ruler of India. This style of painting spread after the return of Mohammad Zaman (the painter sent to Italy to learn the style of Western painting).
The paintings of the Zand era, most of which are the work of one or two painters of the court of Karim Khan, are painted in an almost realistic style. In these paintings we tried to reflect the wellbeing of the Zand period and the oil colors were used, among which those of the red group prevail, while the green color was used little. In them the sovereigns of ancient Iran do not usually appear or the great characters of the Zand court. After the passage of power to the Qajar, painters entered the court of Aqa Mohammad Khan and Fath Ali Shah and painted portraits of princes and other members of the court. The qajar painting can be divided into the following categories:
- portraits of princes and courtiers with luxurious clothes;
- court scenes such as the meeting with ambassadors, political and diplomatic delegates or the people with the Shah;
- scenes of receptions and various festive ceremonies such as dance and dances that were often performed by women for the entertainment of wealthy families.
- scenes of national epic; this type of painting known with the name of coffee painting, continues today in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The painters also observed the ancient traditions of painting, but unfortunately there are not many works left. It should be emphasized that the portraits of famous people of science and religion had and still have a particular diffusion.
The painting of the zand and qajar periods can be considered a turning point that led to the creation of an entirely Iranian art school that has its roots, on the one hand in the tradition, and on the other in the characteristics and advantages acquired by oriental art. In these works, except for some exceptional cases where the artist has been forced to insert natural landscapes, the warm colors prevail, that is red, orange and yellow, while green and blue are used very little. The composition of the zand works is similar to the works of the painters of the group of Mohmmad Zaman, or representation of faces facing a window, half of which is covered by a curtain and in another half a part of an imaginary panorama is painted, according to the pictorial style of the Italian artistic Renaissance period.
At the beginning of the qajar period we continued according to this zand tradition, but very soon other details were added in the background and the design of a carpet spread on the ground. Moreover, during the qajar period, another type of painting called "gol-o-morg" 'flowers and birds', which was also from the zand era, spread. It was often used to embellish ceilings, doors, book covers and pen holders. Famous painters of this period were Mirza Baba, Sayed Mirza, Mohammad Sadeq. These painters, once assembled in Tehran at the qajar court, founded the qajar school of painting.
Among the famous portraits of the qajar era, we can mention the names of Mehr Ali Esfahani, portrait painter of Fath Ali Shah; Abdollah Khan, portraitist of Prince Abbas Mirza; Mohammad Hasan who painted portraits of Prince Bahram Mirza and other qajar princes.
The painters of dancers, musicians and acrobats, whose depiction was more imaginary than realistic, did not sign the majority of their works, because of the offensive character of these works according to the popular belief of the time and to prevent any reactions towards them.
The paintings that portray wise men, scientists and famous poets were often the work of the painter Rajab Ali who generally cited his name in a verse of poetry. There are also numerous religious works with themes taken from the history of the Prophet Yusuf (his childhood, his trip to Egypt, his return from his father); these works, painted according to the style of court paintings, are generally without signature.
In the qajar period, innovative works were also created, which despite their small number, are endowed with great pictorial value. These works represent landscape subjects (Mahdi Mahdi al-Hosseini), portraits of Imam Ali, Hasan, Hossein, of Salman, the companion of the Prophet, of Qanbar, the servant of Imam Ali (Ebrahim Naqqashbashi); portraits of great mystic characters such as Nur Ali Shah (author of Ismail Jalayer), scenes of private life such as those of women who weave rugs (works of the painter Musa) or panorama of Tehran (works by Mohammad Khan Malek Saba). Among the paintings of this period, the most realistic are those of the painter Ali Akbar Mozayyan ed-Dowleh (for example the scene of plowing), not inferior to Western works that he probably studied thoroughly. The painter Aqa Bozorg Naqqashbashi was a contemporary of the artists mentioned but very few works have remained of him.
Another famous painter of this period was Mohammad Ghaffari, known as Kamal ol-Molk, court painter of Nasser ad-Din Shah and Mozaffar ad-Din Shah. He lived until the time of Reza Shah Pahlavi. Kamal ol-Molk began painting landscapes similar to those painted by Mahdi Mahdi al-Hosseini, and then turned to detailed realism. During the reign of Mozaffar d-Din Shah went to Europe and devoted himself to the study and copying of the classical works of European painters. Upon returning to Iran, he taught what he had learned to his students by spreading realism and naturalistic painting. His style abandoned the Iranian qajar traits, and came very close to classical European works. Among his best known works we can include the following paintings: the Baghdad's Fattuccoer, the Garden and Fountain of the Golestan Palace, the Hall of the Mirror, the Room of the Fountain of the Sahebqaraniyeh Palace, the Cartomancer etc. ... His tendency towards works Westerners and his teaching caused the abandonment of the traditional qajar style and he encouraged the Iranian artists to follow the path traced by the West. Among the painters who oriented towards fantastic painting (also called "coffee painting"), we must mention the names of: Hossein Qullar Aqassi, Mohammad Modabber, Abbas Buki Far, Mohammad Habibi, Hossein Hamidi, Hasan Esmailzadeh, Chelipa and Mirza Mahdi Shirazi. All these painters became famous during the Pahlavi period but their style was (and is) qajar.
A considerable success also had the working arts with mirrors, stuccoes, stained glass windows. It can be said that the decoration with the glass had in no time the splendor and beauty of the qajar period, while the decoration with majolica tiles, although still widespread, was unable to overshadow the level of the works created at the time Safavid ; as far as drawing and form are concerned, however, inspired by the seven colors of the rainbow, a new invention was recorded in majolica tiles known as "majolica with seven colors", whose drawings are expressed in flowers, especially the rose . The best works of this art can be admired in Fars and Kerman. In this period, however, the painting had a very slow evolution, and there were no artists able to match the skilled painters of the Safavid period.
Also with regard to metalworking, the Safavid styles continued to be imitated, and new works from the qajar era are very rare. Same with regards to carpets and other fabrics. The gold embroidery, or the termeh, etc., did not lose importance, but the production limited itself to copying or imitating that Safavid.
The sculpture and the workmanship of the stone of the time are quite worthy of note. The lions were carved in stone, the large windows made from a single piece of stone, whose measurements were sometimes 2 × 4 meters and that were installed in the underground floors, and the engraved stone slabs. The qajar style in this art is distinguished by the traces of files left on the stone.
Among the arts that had a sort of rebirth during the qajar period, there is the art of brick decoration. The bricks were fired in a convex mold or mold after being engraved with repeated patterns. In the cities of Tehran and Yazd, examples of these works can be seen. This is an authentic, original and very ancient art, long forgotten. The resemblance between the works of this art and the brick drawings of the architectural works of southern Spain is a very interesting subject that deserves to be studied seriously.

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