The History of Iran Art




The origin of the Safavids

The Safavids were an Iranian dynasty descended from the Messenger of God, Mohammad (the peace of God upon him and his family) and followers of the Shia religion. Their great-grandfather, the Shaykh Safi ad-Din Ardabili, from an early age showed great interest in religion and mysticism. In order to purify himself and to reach the high levels of mysticism, he went to Shiraz to join the Shaykh Najib ad-Din Bezghash Shirazi. But the Shaykh died before his arrival, then Safi ad-Din went to the service of other masters of Shiraz mysticism including the well-known poet of the time. But no one could quench his thirst, so Zahir ad-Din, son and substitute of Shaykh Bezghash, suggested that he go to Shaykh Zahed Gilani in the northern region of Gilan. The Shaykh Safi ad-Din went there after four years and lived by him for no less than 22 years, he married his daughter and after Shaykh Zahed's death he led his disciples and followers for a good 35 years. After the death of the Shaykh, which occurred in the 1335, the succession to the guide passed from father to son until, in the fourth generation, he arrived in Jonayd. The Shaykh Jonayd went to Dyar Bakr and was received with the utmost respect to the court of Sultan Aq Qoyunlu, Uzun Hasan, and he married his sister Khadijeh. The Shaykh with an army of its own followers participated in the war of Shervanshah by dying of martyrdom. Even his son, Shaykh Heydar, who married the daughter of Uzun Hasan named Alam Shah Begum, was killed in the vindictive war against Shervanshah. He had three sons whom Sultan Yaqub, son of Uzun Hasan, wanted to kill, but because of the fear of revolt of his followers and also because of the kinship, he decided to imprison them in an island on Lake Van. However, they managed to flee to the city of Lahijan in northern Iran. Ismail, one of the children then thirteen, left for the city of Ardabil, accompanied by some of his father's followers. During the journey, other followers joined him and so formed a small but faithful army with a strong spirit of sacrifice. Ismail with this army won the war against Shervanshah and killed him and his whole family. He in the 1492 resumed Azerbaijan from the Emir Aq Qoyunlu and reconquered the city of Baku in the 1501. Ismail crowned himself in the 1503 in Tabriz, in 1509 occupied the city of Baghdad and two years later liberated the city of Marv from the Uzbeks regaining the region of Khorasan. In the 1525 it was defeated by the Ottomans in the locality of Chaldiran but 10 years later, in the 1525, occupied Georgia. Shah Ismail died that same year and his son Tahmasb I, who reigned to the 1575, came to power. Seven other sovereigns reigned after him, of whom only two had the title of Shah. The most well-known Shah Safavids were Shah Ismail I, Shah Tahmasb I, Shah Abbas I (nephew of Shah Ismail) and Shah Safi.
Shah Abbas I was nicknamed kabir ('big') for the large and important works he completed. He reigned 43 years and during his reign the art, the craftsmanship and the culture regained their splendor. He transferred the capital from Qazvin to Isfahan and built grandiose palaces, mosques and monuments of public utility.
In 1710 in Qandahar a group of Sunnis made a revolt, and in the 1723 the leader of the rebels, Mahmud the Afghan, took the city of Isfahan and killed Sultan Hossein and all the members of the Safavid family, except Tahmasb II who fled to the Gorgan, in the north of the country, where he served at the head of one of the Khorasan tribes named Nader Qoli. He succeeded in defeating the Afghan army in the 1731 and reconquering in the 1735 the cities of Darban and Baku in the hands of the Russians who had occupied them in the 1723. He officially crowned himself with the title of Nader Shah in the 1737. The following year, according to the second Covenant of Constantinople, Erevan resumed by the Ottomans, reestablishing it to the Iranian territory. He reconquered Afghanistan two years later and in the 1748 the city of Lahore doing a massacre in Delhi. Nader Shah was killed in the 1749 because of his harsh and ruthless conduct and the injustices committed against those around him and his family. After him, his nephew Shahrokh came to power in Khorasan. It was a period of unrest, insecurity and sedition of all kinds, until a man from the Lor tribe, named Karim Khan, managed to restore peace by officially taking over the reins of power. He never referred to himself as king (Shah), choosing instead the title of Vakil or-Roaya ('delegate of the people' or 'regent'). Karim Khan Zand chose as his capital first Tehran and later Shiraz, ensured the unity of the country and abolished the collection of taxes for a few years. Karim Khan died in the 1810 and after him, once again, Iran fell into total disorder.


The capital of the Safavids was initially the city of Qazvin, but Shah Abbas I transferred it to Isfahan. Perhaps none of the Safavid rulers before him was so interested in architecture and grandiose monuments. He had an indisputable interest in decorations and arts such as painting, portraits, the illustration of books, textiles, carpets; moreover, after the capital was transferred to Isfahan, he built magnificent palaces, mosques, squares and bazaars. The historians also write this of Shah Tahmasb, but unfortunately, due to some serious earthquakes, none of the works he built remained standing. The construction of some buildings began during the era of Shah Ismail and ended during the reign of Shah Tahmasb, like the Shah Mosque of Qazvin which was destroyed by an earthquake. Shah Ismail also left works in Isfahan, such as the so-called "Harun-e Velayat", which was built in 1513. It was built on the tomb of a holy man who, although unknown, was worshiped by believers of all religions. The monument is considered important for its majolica tile decorations in the entrance leading to the courtyard. The shiny and shining tiles used in this monument are among the best of this art. Even if at first glance it would seem to match the work with majolica tiles of the monument "Darb-e Imam" for the artistic composition, it is undoubtedly superior to this from the point of view of execution. Masumeh's sanctuary (peace over her) in Qom was also built at the time of Shah Ismail, although parts of the secondary buildings were built in the Qajar era and appear to lack architectural interest. Recently, some new buildings have been added, such as those of the library and museum, and, in recent years, the Azam mosque ('great mosque') of Qom. The north side of the mausoleum, which dates back to the year 1520 and has remained standing since the days of Shah Ismail, has a beautiful decoration. The golden moqarnas of the iwan are from the time of Nasser ad-Din Shah qajar. The date of construction of the dome is not known precisely, but its gold coating was ordered by Fath Ali Shah qajar. According to André Godard, under the gold coating, the dome was covered with blue inlaid tiles whose processing date went back even before the Shah Abbas I himself photographed.
Shah Abbas, unlike Shah Tahmasb I, was very interested in buildings and architecture. It was during his time that most of the Iranian religious monuments were covered with majolica tiles. These works were initially inlaid. Even the earliest monuments of Shah Abbas' era had this type of decoration, and among them we can mention the Maqsud Beg mosque, the Shaykh Lotfollah mosque, the entrance to the Qeisariyeh bazaar and the entrance to the Shah mosque, while almost all the other decorations of the mosques were represented by work with painted square majolica tiles, chosen to save both time and money. It is certain that this was not due to the financial precariousness of Shah Abbas, but to the rush to build more monuments in the capital. One of the orientalists who visited Isfahan at that time said: "In 1666 the city of Isfahan had 162 mosques, 48 schools, 182 caravanserragli and 273 public toilets, to which we must add bazaars, squares, bridges, villas and royal palaces. "
The most important complex still standing is the large square of Naqsh-e Jahan and the monuments and buildings built around it. This complex includes a square that was the playground of the chogan, or the game of polo, as well as the place for military parades and public festivals. Around the square there is a series of arches and vaults on two floors: the first floor is dedicated to the shops and workshops of the artists, the second is only an arched facade added for beauty. At the center of these arches is the entrance portal of the Shah mosque (the current Imam mosque). On the opposite side and at the far north of the square are the caravanserai and the royal bazaar, and around the square and behind the arched buildings there is another bazaar with secondary branches leading to the main bazaar. The Ali Qapu palace ('big gate') is located in the middle of the western side and opposite it, on the opposite side of the square, you can see the beautiful Shaykh Lotfollah mosque. It is said that an underground connecting corridor between the royal palace of Ali Qapu and the mosque for frequenting court women was also built.
The construction of the Shah mosque began in the 1613 and ended in the 1639. This monument, designed in the style of four-iwan mosques, represents the culmination of the thousand-year-old tradition of building mosques in Iran. The plant is perfected by previous plants, but at the same time it is simpler, having eliminated the sectors that created confusion and disorder. The great elements of the construction and the decorations have been realized with such magnificence and magnificence that this mosque is included among the greatest masterpieces of religious monuments in the world.
The proportions, beautiful and grandiose, rest on very large foundations. The height of the vault of the half dome of the external arched portal is 27 meters and that of the minarets is about 33 meters, while the minarets above the prayer hall are even higher and the big dome is higher than all . The external arched portal has such a mystical atmosphere that it invites the visitor inside the mosque to invoke the Lord. The decorations with the inlaid majolica tiles and the entrance frames contribute to this mysticism. The internal façade of the courtyard is embellished with corridors, arches, clear moqarnas and shining white epigraphs. The blue color of the tiles captures the visitor's attention by directing it towards the text and the inscriptions of the epigraphs. This monument has a particularity higher than the Ali Qapu palace, thanks to the workmanship with beautiful blue majolica tiles. The goal of the Shah Abbas may have been to demonstrate the superiority of religion over the government. The entrance hall of the mosque, alone, is an architectural masterpiece. This department is in the north direction towards the square, while the qibla is in a south-west direction. To eliminate this corner position, from the entrance you enter a circular corridor that does not have a specific direction. From the right side of the corridor, you go towards the high arch of the northern iwan, passing suddenly from the dark to the lighted courtyard. This point is the basic logic of this architectural style, that is, it introduces from darkness to light which is a nod to the third verse of Ayat al-Kursi (the verse of the Throne) and then exits from the left side of the corridor. Opposite the corridor is the entrance of the tall iwan of the prayer hall, which is also a decorative and beauty masterpiece. The combination of the elements of the hall with the dome and the minarets is such that its description in a few lines is completely impossible. The space in the hall is very simple and the link between its components is defined with the utmost awareness. There is a beautiful harmony between the various contrasting shapes of the different components such as the dome, the door frame and the minarets. The rectangular frame of the door intersects the semispherical shape of the dome and both are vertically crossed by tall minarets. The curve of the arch of the entrance is in fact repeating the arch of the dome.
By moving back and forth in the courtyard, the movement of these elements is felt and the proportions and links between them constantly change. This precise calculation is best known in western iwan. At the center of it is built an entrance arch. From a very close distance, that is exactly under the iwan, the proportion of the vault is a golden proportion. While outside the iwan this proportion changes to √3 and again from a short distance the relationship becomes 1 to 1 / 840; this calculation was made entirely consciously.
The construction of the Shaykh Lotfollah mosque began in 1602 and ended in 1629. This was built according to the ancient Sassanid tradition of the four-arched palaces, of which the dome, on a monolayer, is placed on top of the four-arch structure. In reality this mosque was the place of private prayer of the Shah. Here too the crooked angle of the monument is remedied with an unexpected curve in the corridor. The change of direction is not noticed from the outside, as from here only the entrance arch and the low dome with the diameter of 12 meters are visible. The supporting walls of the dome are thick 170 cm. and this thickness greatly increases the resistance of the monument. The quadrangular hall is modified from the octagonal base and is covered by the dome with some very severe frames and other contrasting main and secondary elements. The square base of the monument, thanks to the triangular workings and the angles that continue up to the top of the monument, has assumed an octagonal shape. The eight sides are perimetrically adorned in light turquoise color, with large stripes in bright white epigraph on a dark blue background, which are the work of Alireza Abbasi, the greatest calligrapher of the Safavid era. The dominant colors of this complex, entirely covered with majolica tiles, are turquoise, milky white and blue. The pedestals and façades of the arches in the center of the walls are covered with majolica tiles with the seven colors of the rainbow. The painting of the interior of the dome, at the top of which is a large pole, is made up of beautiful and repeated islimes, shaped like a spiral like the flowers of camomile and sunflower. A strip of epigraphy separates the painted part from the small windows which in turn are connected, through another strip, to the eight side walls. The lighting of the monument is designed and executed in such a way that anyone entering the hall suddenly senses an atmosphere of spirituality and adoration of God, and few could contradict it!
Another work of the Shah Abbas period consists of the reconstruction and restoration of the Imam Reza shrine complex (God's peace upon him) in Mashad. The Shah Abbas in the 1598 went on foot pilgrimage to the sanctuary. The reconstruction of the mausoleum began in the 1602. This complex includes more than 30 monuments and represents the history of over five centuries of architectural construction and restoration. There are four ancient courtyards, whose lengths range from 50 to 100 meters. Recently, after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, new new courtyards have been added. In addition to the monuments mentioned there were other mosques, prayer rooms, schools, libraries, caravanserais, public baths and bazaars, the latter demolished to further enlarge the complex. All the courtyards are circumscribed by arches on two floors covered with blue majolica tiles. The style is the same known Iranian style for four iwan. Some of the ancient elements, close to the central building, where the tomb is located, have been demolished and reconverted to open spaces in order to accommodate the huge crowd of pilgrims, whose number is constantly increasing. To this beautiful Safavid complex, where an epigraph written by Alireza Abbasi is also exhibited, were added meeting rooms, the library, the public restaurant, the canteen of the employees, the hospital and the medical-health emergency center etc. . The mausoleum has a dome covered with gold, a high cylindrical base and two minarets also covered with gold, one above the golden iwan and the other above the iwan in front. This magnificent complex is unique and unrivaled among the Islamic architectural works, both from the point of view of the structure, both from the point of view of the decorations and it would be quite impossible to expose the technical and aesthetic description in a few pages. The golden courtyard is the work of Amir Alishir Navai. In front of this iwan, there is the iwan Shah Abbasi, very deep and closed at the end and entirely covered with majolica tiles of 7 colors. The dominant color, ie blue, creates a beautiful and fascinating contrast with the gold minaret above it.
The building of the dome above the tomb was built by order of Allah Khan, the chancellor of Shah Abbas, and simultaneously with the construction of the Shaykh Lotfollah mosque, by the architect Amir Esfahani Memar, while the style of the adjoining dome-shaped room It is clear that the work belongs to the Maestro Tabrizi. The diameter and height of the dome are 10 and 20 meters, respectively. The base of the dome is formed by two series of arched windows on two floors. The interior is beautifully covered with mirror work. The bases of the walls are covered with yellow marble, filed and polished and 1,5 meters high.
The royal palaces of the Shah Abbas, of which only two are currently left, reproduce the old style of the hall with the iwan colonnade and the flat ceiling, similar to the Persian Apulian. The Chehel Sotun palace, which actually has twenty columns, but because of their reflection in the water of the fountain in front of the palace is named Chehel Sotun ('forty columns'), has an extraordinary beauty. This architectural style was used for many centuries in the construction of palaces, temples, mosques, mausoleums and large houses. The magnificent iwan colonnade is connected to the main building and is like a large reception room, where images and decorations are completed with picture frames with mirrors and a colorful inlaid ceiling. The interior walls of the building are frescoed with human and animal figures. The ceiling is painted in strong but uniform colors such as blue, burgundy, light green and golden yellow.
The Ali Qapu monument is located in the Naqsh-e Jahan square, opposite the Shaykh Lotfollah mosque, and was the government headquarters. The capacity of the reception hall is over 200 people and, unlike that of the Chehel Sotun building which is not very high above ground, it is and from there you can see the splendid complex of the square, the mosques and other monuments of the city. The numerous rooms of the two-storey building, open on one side and equipped with a fireplace on the opposite side, are built according to the Iranian architectural style that connects the interior to the exterior of the monument. The interior decorations of the rooms are different, some are frescoed in various ways and others are covered with colored glass decorations. The room used for music is constructed with such precision that there is not even a slight echo in it. The proportions of the monument are calculated with mathematical precision. Behind the monument is a building used for the private prayer of the Shah, called "Tohid Khaneh" ('house of monotheism') which includes a courtyard, whose side walls have an arched facade, rooms built around the courtyard and a palace sixteen sides covered by a large dome and other low domes and no base (ie resting, or rather, built right on the roof). There are four entrances or arched entrances, of which only the entrance to the side of the qibla is covered with majolica tiles of seven colors.
At the time of Shah Abbas and later periods some mausoleums and palaces were built on the graves of the revered characters, among which the most important is the Khajeh Rabie mausoleum which was built in 1623 in a garden on the outskirts of Mashad. Its plant is like that of the Oljaitu mausoleum. It is an octagonal palace and has lofts and corridors on two floors that recall the architectural style of the Taj-e Mahal palace, which is also built according to the Iranian style. The Khajeh Rabie mausoleum palace is entirely covered with majolica tiles with lively and varied designs and paintings and a rather rare workmanship. The interior walls are painted with bas-relief drawings in different colors. The gushvare are executed with skill and precision, and are connected to the ground through numerous angles pronounced outwards. The dome is resting on four vaulted walls.
The Ghadamgah monument, of the year 1644, is an octagonal palace with a dome and open halls (ie without the ceiling) and very proportioned, built in the middle of a garden on a hill in the city of Nishapur. This monument preserves two pieces of stone which, according to popular belief, bear the footsteps of the steps of the Imam Reza (peace be upon him). This palace was completely restored in 1681, at the time of Shah Solayman's reign. To believe in the existence of the footsteps of the saints' footsteps was then widespread in almost every Iranian city even though many of the palaces built on them are currently destroyed and completely obliterated. The Ghadamgah monument has four iwan worked with beautiful moqarnas, built on two perpendicular axes, and the four sides of the four iwan are made up of four rows of minor iwan. The dome is resting on a high cylindrical base, and both the dome and the base are covered with inlaid majolica tiles in the form of a pair of intertwined rhombuses. This type of cladding is typical of the religious buildings of the Fars and Kerman regions. From this it can be deduced that most probably the execution of the decorations and / or the architect was of those regions.
Of other buildings of the Safavid period still standing, we must mention the small palace of Hasht Behesht ('Eight Paradises'), the madrasa and the caravanserai, Madar-e Shah. Hasht Behesht is an octagonal palace with a beautiful dome built in the middle of the so-called "Nightingale Garden". This two-story palace-villa, with beautiful decorations similar to those of the royal palace of Ali Qapu, was built in 1670 by order of Shah Solaiman and being a private property was rarely mentioned in history books. It is characterized by four iwan on two floors, fountains and artificial waterfalls built in marble. The halls on the north and south sides have high ceilings on cylindrical columns about 20 meters high. The columns, at the time, had been covered with mirrors. Then there is a large octagonal central hall, in the middle of which there is a fountain, originally covered in silver; the room is covered by a small dome with finely painted moqarnas of various colors. The palace-villa was open on all sides in order to allow the garden to be viewed from every corner, and was entirely adorned with gold and lapis lazuli. These decorations deteriorated during the reign of the Qajar; in the following years they were redone but very poorly. Part of the walls and walls beneath the façades of the arches were originally covered in gold. This building is worthy of consideration with regard to the design of spaces and the excellent use of positive and negative spaces useful.
Another important Safavid monument is the mosque / madrasa built by order of Shah Sultan Hossein, the last Safavid ruler, in the years between the 1707 and the 1715, which from the construction point of view is very similar to the Madar-e Shah madrasa. This last monument has a cross-shaped plant, that is to four iwan. A series of intertwined rooms are arranged around them. The iwan on the south side is larger than on the north side, and behind it is the square hall with the dome. The courtyard is almost square and at its center flows a stream that passes under the iwan of the north side continuing then to the center of the caravanserai. The caravanserai, although connected to the madrasa, is separated from it by an alley, and consists of a four iwan palace surrounded by rooms connected to each other, while on the east side there is a rectangular courtyard around which other rooms are built. Apparently this area was the stable for horses. North of the madrasa and the caravanserai is a long, covered bazaar that is connected to the madrasa and caravanserai through the iwan. These buildings, in particular the madrasa, are entirely covered with blue majolica tiles that, although not as excellent as those of the covering of the Shah mosque, are still splendid. The entrance to the madrasa, which leads to the Chahar Bagh square, is one of the most beautiful arched portals in existence, and is considered by many to be the finest specialists of the portal of the Shah mosque. The majolica tiles of this madrasa are in inlaid style.
The mosque-madrasa of Shah Sultan Hossein is a splendid and solid monument, and while not up to the mosques built during the reign of Shah Abbas, like the Shah mosque, it is however worthy of consideration compared to the Islamic works of the time . Its beautiful entrance, from the Chahar Bagh square leads to a magnificent courtyard. The facade of the courtyard is on two floors, all covered with majolica tiles. There are four tall iwan and arched on all four sides. The prayer room is in the style of the Shah's mosque hall, which is covered by a beautiful but low dome. This is painted with yellow and black islimi designs on a turquoise background. The external facing of the monument consists of various small frames in gold and green with shades of blue. Many experts of Iranian architecture consider this monument the last great work of Islamic Iranian art. Other palaces built during the reign of the Zand and the Qajari, even with all their beauty, do not equal the grandeur of the Safavid monuments. The most important monuments of this period are the Hakim mosque in Isfahan and the Vakil mosque in Shiraz. Among other considerable architectural works that have remained since the Safavid times there are some public baths, some bridges, some bazaars and some shopping centers next to the bazaars. The architectural style of these centers is generally the same as the madrasas - four iwan and a beautiful entrance, sometimes without iwan - while the bazaars follow the traditional style with a roof formed by repeated domes. The shopping centers are larger bazaars but smaller in length and with no way out from the side opposite the entrance. Typically, at the bottom of these centers is a large octagonal room with a relatively higher dome that is entirely frescoed or covered with majolica tiles.
There are still numerous Safavid caravanserai, many of which have been restored. Some crumbling seeds are also used. They are generally found on the main routes of connection and commerce of the country; for example, on the Silk Road, from the city of Kermanshah, in western Iran, up to the borders of the Khorasan region, in the north-east of the country, there are more than thirty of which some date back to the Sassanid era. Over time, these buildings have been ruined and on them were built, at the time of the Safavids, new caravanserragli making changes (for example the four-iwan reconstruction). Some of them are from the qajar era. The best known example is the caravanserai of Robat-e Sharif. Also on the north-south trade route of the country there is a certain number of Safavid caravanserai, some of which have the octagonal shape like that of Deh Bid in the Fars, of which only a few ruins remain.
Other Safavid works include public baths, water tanks, libraries and private buildings belonging to the company's elite. The public bath "Hammam Khosrow Agha" at Isfahan, in the 1997, in the midst of the restoration work by the town hall of the city, was unfortunately destroyed under the pretext of enlarging the adjacent street. Another monument is the complex of Ganj Ali Khan in Kerman, which was transformed, after being restored, into an anthropological museum.
Other monuments of the Safavid era are some monasteries and some mossalla. The "Tohid Khaneh" monastery, next to the Ali Qapu palace in Isfahan, is an excellent example of the Safavid monastery. This monument, whose restoration work has been completed, currently houses the headquarters of an art school. It is a sixteen-sided villa, located in the middle of a courtyard, on the sides of which there are rooms, similar to the style of the schools. This villa has four arched entrances similar to the iwan. The iwan on the side of the direction of the qibla is covered with majolica tiles. The central hall is covered by a hemispherical dome placed on a low octagonal base.
Another monastery still standing is that of Shaykh Abd os-Samad Esfahani in the city of Natanz. The interior plant is similar to that of the royal palace of Shapur I in Bishapur. Its entrance is adorned with majolica tiles. These, very beautiful and grand, are a particular combination of brick and majolica dating back to the first quarter of the fourteenth century. The construction of this monastery, like that of the Shaykh Safi ad-Din Ardabili in Ardabil, took place before the Safavid era, but was restored during the reign of the Safavids.
Among the most well-known movements, one should mention that of Pain-e Khiyaban and Toraq in Mashad and the mosalla of Yazid. The mosas of Mashad are from the Safavid period, while that of Yazd, which is shaped like a chahar taq, dates back to the Sassanid era; it was rebuilt in the 1554 and restored in the 1629 during the reign of Shah Abbas I.
In the cities of Yazd, Taft and Bafgh there are religious centers, called Persian Hosseiniyeh and / or Tekkiyeh where the faithful gather to perform religious rites such as the celebration of daily ritual prayer or the anniversaries of the birth or martyrdom of the saints Imam, whose construction dates back to the Safavid era or earlier. These centers are built according to the style and architectural tradition of the ancient temples of fire (Zoroastrian temples), but from the architectural point of view they do not have considerable importance and prestige and for this reason it is not necessary to describe them here.
The construction of bridges and dams in Iran was widespread since ancient times and perhaps the date of their invention is contemporary with that of the canals. In any case it is not clear when and where it happened. The story speaks of the oldest dam built by order of Cyrus the Great in the Caucasus region to hinder and prevent attacks and invasions by the Hun people. Ruins of bridges and dikes dating back to the Sassanid era can be seen in several places in Iran. The oldest dam still standing is that of Band-e Amir in the city of Marvdasht in the Fars region, which dates back to the Buyides reign and is built in the style of the Band-e Bahman dam. in the Fars, but it is semi-destroyed.
Of the following periods, few intact bridges remained. Among them, two are noteworthy, Si-o-se pol and Khaju, both in the city of Isfahan. The Khaju bridge is not just a bridge, it is also a sort of mobile dam, built on the foundations of heavy stones. By closing the mouth of water flowing under the bridge, in fact, it was used to accumulate water for irrigation of the surrounding land. Moreover, with the water thus collected a pond was created for rowing and a place for the pastime of the sovereign; for this reason the central part of the bridge is built in the form of a room-villa used for the court. The other bridge, ie the Si-o-se pol, took its name from the number (33) of the water flow openings and was uniquely constructed to connect the two banks of the Zayande Rud river and create a link between the city ​​of Isfahan and Shiraz.
In the Safavid period, the art of gardening also became widespread. A number of these gardens have remained in some cities, including Chehel Sotun in Isfahan and Bagh-e Fin in Kashan. Especially the latter, with streams and fountains, recalls the ancient Iranian gardens mentioned in history. The gardens of the Zand and Qajari have been built since the reign of Nasser ad-Din Shah, in the same style as the Safavid gardens.
Moreover, from the Safavid period some Christian churches remained in the regions of Azerbaijan, Isfahan and Shiraz, of which the most important are:
- the Vank church (the seat of the Isfahan bishopric) and the Beit Lahm church in Isfahan;
- the Tatavus church in Tehran (in the district of Chaleh Meidan);
- the Shamun-e Ghayur Church in Shiraz;
- the Tajlil-e Masih church in Qalat-e Shiraz;
- the Zohur-e Masih church in Bushehr, in the south of Iran.
These churches are built according to an entirely Islamic architectural style and have a dome-covered ceiling.

The figurative arts

The most important figurative arts of the Safavid era were: painting, painting on majolica tiles, the design of carpets, fabrics and plates made of copper, silver and terracotta. It was during this period that the portraiture of human faces became widespread, in imitation of European painting (gothic and Italian artistic renaissance). But the fact that it was an art of superficial imitation, which gave importance only to the precise but apparent similarities with the model, did not favor its development so much that until the period of the Islamic revolution it was not created any work worthy of Note. From another point of view, portraiture was used to create copies being welcomed by the Iranian artists, and in other respects it still highlighted a type of aesthetics derived from painting and authentic Iranian art, which helped to create a new current of which we will speak in the chapter dedicated to the qajaro period.
The painting in the Safavid era was the continuation of the timurid style and vintage schools. Shah Ismail showed great interest in art and culture, and after securing his Iranian territorial integrity, he took care of the foundation of libraries and art workshops. During a war he hid Kamal ad-Din Behzad and Shah Mohammad Nishapuri, respectively the known painter and calligrapher of the time, in the trunks to prevent them from being damaged and released them at the end of the war. He in the 1523 named Kamal ad-Din Behzad director of the library and the royal art workshops. Behzad's fame grew so much that the Ottoman and Indian kings were competing for his works. He was an artist of the school of art called the Bukhara school, but for having created a number of works during his stay in Herat, a group of historians consider him to be from the Herat art school. Behzad was a pupil of Pir Seyed Ahmad of Tabriz, and he in turn learned the art of painting from Shiraz artists deported to Samarkand and Transoxiana by order of Tamerlane. Pir Seyed Ahmad, the teacher of Behzad, followed the method of Jonayd who had learned painting at Shiraz and most likely was also his pupil. Jonayd was in turn a pupil of a painter named Mir Ali Shirazi, but since he had not signed his works, there are currently no works in his name or however it is very rare. The fame of Behzad induced some artists of the time who followed his style to present their works in the name of Behzad. In any case he invented and perfected the aesthetic methods of Iranian painting. It was he who purified and eliminated Mongolian and probably Chinese influences from Iranian art, and created an authentic art endowed with variety and splendor.
After Shah Ismail, his son Tahmasb Mirza supported Behzad who took care of the education of the pupils, who in turn created the Safavid school of painting, carpets design, majolica tiles, and others. One of Behzad's merits in his works was the combination of vertical and horizontal lines with slanting and free lines that fill the space of the work in a circular motion. Since he did not want calligraphy to penetrate and influence painting or vice versa, he always painted the entire surface of the canvas without leaving any space for the inscription, except in cases where he felt it was necessary for the general harmony of the components of the painting. Opera. Among the initiatives of Behzad we remember the painting of portraits of famous people of the time and the reproduction of various moods and spirits on the faces. The majority of the writings in the works of Behzad are the work of the calligrapher Mir Ali Kateb.
Another painter of the time, a follower of the art school of Herat, who lived most of his life during the Safavid kingdom, was Qassem Ali. He painted some pages of the Khamse by Nezami Ganjavi together with Behzad. This book is kept in the London museum in England. His style was that of Behzad, so that if he had not signed his works, the visitor would fall into error in recognizing the author. However, the fame of Behzad is one of the factors for which experts give little attention to the works of Qassem Ali or, with little favor towards it, they attribute it to Behzad.
Of the other artists of this period, considered to belong to both the Herat and Safavid art schools, we can name the following: Shaykh Zadeye Khorasani, Mir Mansur Sultan, Aqa Mirak and Mozaffar Ali, each having its own personal and innovative style, of which we will speak in the chapter dedicated to Safavid painting.
After the invasion and looting of Herat by the Uzbeks in the 1536, some followers of the Shiite religion moved to Bukhara, then under the Safavid domino, therefore they should be considered belonging to the Safavid school. Among them the best known are: Mohammad Momen, Mahmud Mozahhab and Abdollah Naqqash. All of them followed Behzad's style, and for this reason their works are often of the same style. Historians have attributed this group of painters to the Bukhara art school which did not have an easy life because the variety, the multitude and the presence of the artists in Iran, under the name of the Safavid school or the school of Isfahan, made that the centrality of art was transferred again from Transoxiana to central Iran, settling here once again.
Safavid painting can be divided into two schools, including that of Tabriz, developed during the reign of Shah Tahmasb, which is identified with artists such as Behzad, Soltan Mohammad, Mohammad Mozahhab, Sayed Ali Soltan Mohammad, Aqa Mirak, Mirza Ali, Shah Qoli, Mozaffar Ali, Mir Sayed Ali and Abd os-Samad. You can add artists like Sayed Pir-e Naqqash, Shah Mohammad, Dust Mohammad and Shah Qoli Tabrizi, but they are of a lower level. Mossavver Mohammadi, son of Sultan Mohammad, was a skilled painter occupying a special position in the history of Iranian art. He invented a new style and method that unfortunately had no continuity. Aqa Mirak and Soltan Mohammad were famous painters. Soltan Mohammad was the undisputed master of painting at the time of the reign of Shah Tahmasb; he was even the teacher of Shah himself, who learned painting and painting the carpet and the fabric. The compositions of Soltan Mohammad's works are rather complicated and full of small ornamental components and are generally made with a circular movement and based on almost conical geometry and golden proportions. His works are distinguished by the variety of composition and coloring, their splendor and their beauty, which demonstrate the well-being and wealth of the era of the reign of Shah Tahmasb. His son, Mosavver Mohammadi, was a painter of village scenes, life and peasant activities and was the only one interested in this style. He abstained from the splendor and magnificence of the royal court and his interest in nature and peasant life made him an exceptional painter.
The art of the reign of Shah Tahmasb which was a transitional phase between the art school of Bahgad and the Safavid art school of Isfahan, marked the most flourishing period of Iranian painting. Two highly prized books are among the remaining works of this period: the Khamse-ye Nezami, which is currently kept in the British museum in London, and the Ferdowsi Shahnameh which includes 256 miniatures, most of which are the work of Soltan Mohammad or are he schematized and drawn and later colored by others. It is noteworthy that fifteen painters of that period collaborated to illustrate this book. Shah Tahmasb gave the two books as a gift to the Ottoman ruler on the occasion of his coronation and as a sign of brotherhood and peace. But over time the books came out of Turkey and fell into the hands of Baron Rothschild, a wealthy French Jew, and were later sold to Hudson, an American tycoon. Hudson donated seventy pages of the Shahnameh to the Metropolitain museum in New York and sold a certain number of pages; the remaining pages, which make up more than half the volume, in 1997, thanks to the commitments and authoritative interventions of Dr. Hasan Habibi, the first vice president of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the time, were exchanged with a work by the western artist De Koenig.
Among the eminent calligraphers of the Safavid period we can mention: Shah Mohammad Nishapuri, Mir Ali Tabrizi, Soltan Mohammad Nur, Haj Mirak-e Khattat and Mir Emad Khattat. The latter was the undisputed master of nastaliq style calligraphy, which helped to perfect.
What is worthy of attention of the Safavid art is the uniformity of the arts in all the Iranian cities that somehow were cradles, or places of the birth of the expansion and diffusion of Iranian art. Political and religious unity was accompanied by artistic unity and this uniformity was so strong that any invention and innovation in each of the arts quickly manifested itself in other arts; and this was perhaps due to the fact that artists like Soltan Mohammad, in addition to painting, also took care of the design of the carpet, of the fabric and also of the processing with majolica tiles. They were not concerned with just one art, but they considered the unity of the arts as the principle of their activities. At that time, when the city of Tabriz was the capital of the country, much importance was given to the authenticity of art and its iranity. Iranian methods and styles in the processing of majolica tiles and carpet were perfected to the maximum. Other arts such as the processing of inlaid majolica tiles and various fabrics such as brocade and Kashmir acquired considerable splendor. The art of metalworking, which was not widespread in previous periods, gradually found its deserved place and marked the beginning of a turning point, which at the time of the reign of Shah Abbas I attracted western travelers to Iran.
During the reign of Shah Abbas the Great, the capital moved from Tabriz to Isfahan. Shah Abbas wanted to live amidst beauty and magnificence, but at the same time he did not want to bear the sacrifices that the construction of such works entailed by which he directed art towards simplicity and sobriety, reducing costs. In this way, the processing of inlaid majolica tiles was eliminated and the walls of the mosques were covered with square tiles of majolica, a job that is carried out easily and with greater speed and with lower costs. The art of design and majolica design was perfected, while downgraded from the technical point of view. He did not pay due attention to the art of binding and illustration of books. The carpet industry did not work on fine carpets such as the monastery in the city of Ardabil. The drawings depicting animals and birds, called hunting drawings, spread thanks to the request and reception encountered outside the borders of the country. The sizes and dimensions of the carpets were reduced to facilitate transport. The processing of ceramic dishes lost its splendor, while the processing of metals and engraved copper plates became important.
Shah Abbas was a supporter of renewal. He established political relations with Western and Eastern countries trying to keep Iran in step with Western and European progress. The liberalization of foreign trade favored the massive importation of foreign artistic works, in particular engravings and European paintings of Dutch Gothic style and of the period of Italian artistic renaissance. Painters such as the Dutch Johan who spent some time at the Shah Abbas court and contributed greatly to painting the walls of the palaces of Isfahan, caused the attention of the artists to turn from the illustration of the manuscripts to other artistic techniques. In this period the mural or fresco painting, both according to Western and Iranian style, found greater splendor, but the Iranian artists only learned what did not damage the Iranian artistic identity. In reality they performed a kind of revision in their works. Among the most important painters of this period we can include Reza Abbasi, Mossavver Mohammadi and some students of Reza Abbasi as Shafie Abbasi (son of Reza), Afzal Mohmmad, Qassem Tabrizi, Mohammad Yusof and Mohammad Ali Tabrizi. Reza Abbasi was the most eminent of the group and it can be said that the authentically Iranian style in painting belongs to him.
In this period, defined as the second period of Safavid art, the painting of portraits and other traditional types became widespread. The export of these works in both Europe and India, led artists from other countries to imitate Iranian art. In Europe the gothic period and artistic renaissance was then over and the baroque current spread rapidly. Rembrandt was very interested in Iranian and Indo-Iranian art. This period could be considered a period of mutual influence between Iran and Europe.
Shah Abbas II, who reigned from the 1643 to the 1667, encouraged and encouraged the spread of European and Western art methods and styles in Iran. He sent a group of young people led by Mohammad Zaman to Europe (especially in Italy) to learn the techniques of Western painting. Mohammad Zaman changed religion and returned home with the name of Paul Zaman. This group, some of the soui members feared to sign their works, did not meet the favor of the population. Most of their works depict the religious stories of the Torah and the Gospel. Mohammad Zaman painted some pages still white from the book Khamse-ye Nezami (who is written by the order of Shah Tahmasb, also called Khamse-ye Nezami-e Shah Tahmasbi) painted about a hundred years earlier. These paintings, although in Western and European style, retain their Iranian specificities from the point of view of composition, form and color.
This period was a period of decadence of the Safavid art. No important work was created, with the exception of some carpets and majolica decorations, and the works created in reality were the continuation of the styles of the second period.
The tendency towards westernization in painting marked the beginning of a turning point in the art of painting of the following periods, namely the Zand and Qajar periods, which will be discussed later.
From the Safavid period there are other precious works in the libraries that show the names of other painters who did not become famous. I am sorry that these works, kept in the libraries of the Sepahsalar mosque (now Shahid Motahhari), in the Royal library and in the library of Haj Aqa Malek, have not been studied and analyzed.

Ceramics, metals, carpets, fabrics

Currently the arts, with the exception of architecture, sculpture and painting, are called manufacturing industries or crafts that includes the arts of working with ceramics, metal, wood, carpets and different types of fabric.
With regard to the processing of ceramics and metal, from the period following the victory of Islam over the Persian empire, namely the introduction of Islam into Iran, the characteristics and specific characteristics of the different periods can not be provided. These two arts, after the fall of the Sassanids, continued in the same Sasanian style and even up to the X and XI centuries in them can be found drawings and illustrations of that period. Unfortunately, noteworthy works have been found of the different periods in the history of Iran.
Although the first independent Iranian dynasties came to power in the east and north-east of Iran, the earliest works found in Iraq and Fars are from the Buyides kingdom (933-1064), and in the north of the country They are from the Samanide perimeter (818-1006). These works are of small number, do not have a specific style and method and do not even show a slight turning point. It was during this period that for the first time the art of calligraphy was used in Arabic-Kufic characters to adorn the edges of the plates along with floral and geometric paintings and also Islamic and relief drawings.
As for ceramics, from the works kept in museums it is deduced that the greatest splendor in this art occurred in the X and XI centuries, and its most important centers were the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Nishapur. In this period the production of beautiful ceramic plates covered with transparent enamels, floral and animal paintings and with characters in Cufic characters was widespread. In cities such as Nishapur, Gorgan, Ray and Kashan the monochromatic or multicolored enamelled plates spread with designs printed in colors like yellow and blue or with engraved designs, but the most beautiful dishes were from Nishapur, often equipped with one or two rings of written characters in Cufic, at the edges or slightly more central. The manufacturing method was as follows: dishes made of ceramic or clay were cooked in the ovens and then drawings were made on them, then immersed in the glass enamel solution and finally, when the enamel was dried, they were cooked again. The most beautiful dishes are famous with the name "zarrinfam" ('golden plates').
The development of the shapes and designs of these dishes was very slow, and during the Mongolian government the art of ceramics experienced a moment of stasis and retreat. During the first Mongol invasion by Chengiz Khan, the city of Nishapur was razed to the ground and after irrigating it for a week, barley was grown there. After the rebirth of Nishapur, there was no trace of his beautiful ceramic objects. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the central seat of this art moved to the cities of Takht-e Soleyman, Soltan Abad and Varamin.
This period can be considered an era of renewal and revival of glazed ceramic. In the period of Ilkhanidi, the manufacture of glazed majolica tiles (often of light blue color) began. They were used for the first time in architecture in the covering of the Maragheh dome and were subsequently manufactured, after experimental research, in the cities of Isfahan and Kashan although the main purpose was the creation and processing of majolica tiles inlaid for the decoration of monuments, especially religious ones. Big compact mihrabs were built, that is, fartti of one piece or some piece. It was then that the term kashi came into use, which means majolica tiles.
During the reign of Tamerlane and his successors were created among the most beautiful inlaid tile decorations, whose most excellent example is the Mashad Gohar Shad mosque.
Given the greater diffusion of metal plates, in this period and in particular during the Safavid kingdom, the pottery artists used to make pottery dishes only to respond to people's requests for consumption. The importation of various blue and white enamelled ceramic objects encouraged the imitation of such objects and plates in Iran and were manufactured in centers such as Kerman, Isfahan, Tabriz and in the coastal areas of the Persian Gulf. Of that time, perhaps, there can not be found an authentic Iranian drawing and painting without the Chinese influence; but the art of kashi, or the manufacture of majolica tiles, was very successful and marked a very important turning point, especially at the time of Shah Abbas II's reign. The finest examples of such tiles are to be found in the monuments of the Shah Mosque, the Shaykh Lotfollah Mosque and the Darb Imam in Isfahan.
The monotonous manufacture of glazed ceramic tiles continued in the Zand and Qajar periods with the same Safavid style, but they were generally enamelled cooked, and the Nishapur style of the 10th and 11th centuries was almost forgotten. At the end of the qajar period and during the reign of the Pahlavi, due to the massive amount of dishes and various objects from abroad, the art of making ceramic tiles and plates lost its good quality and reduced to a very high level. trivial and worthless. However, in the second half of the Pahlavi period there was an apparent support of craftsmanship but it was not such as to be able to talk about turning or creating ceramic masterpieces, or even works with a quality that was barely acceptable. The situation was different as regards the art of metalworking. This art, which at the time was Sassanid was considered one of the basic arts and export of Iran, found its splendor in the Islamic period, since the reign of the Buyidi, reaching a relative perfection during the Seljuk period.
This era can be considered one of the most flourishing periods of the spread of the arts from the victory of Islam onwards. The most beautiful metallic works in the early Islamic periods belong to the Khorasan region and have different decorations of calligraphic and epigraph inscriptions in Cufic characters, paintings of human figures, animals, plants and Islamic drawings. During the rule of the Mongols over Iran, this art reached its relative perfection and this means that it did not become extinct during the Mongolian destructive invasion and the economic regression of Iran, regaining the same vigor and the same beauty of the era of the Ilkhanid. At the time of the reign of Tamerlane, the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara were the focus of art, while the art of metalworking, like that of glazed pottery, did not make considerable progress. Tamerlane gave more attention and importance to colossal architectural constructions and their inlaid decorations. This art, however, was reborn in the Safavid period and various types of plates and metal objects were made, such as large chandeliers, trays, bowls, cups, large jugs, ornamental vases and frames made of mirrors with various designs and paintings similar to the tile drawings. of majolica and carpets. The style of the manufacture of the plates with the gold and silver laminates, which was abandoned after the Sassanid era, regained its splendor again, continuing during the Zand period and at the beginning of the Qajar period.
It should be noted that the Seljuk period marked an excellent beginning in the design and form of metal plates and in this period were made of bronze plates printed or engraved preserving the traditional forms of objects such as lamps, pyramid-shaped jugs, mortars, jugs, jugs, jars, bowls and bowls and in addition to bronze the use of copper also spread.
From the mid-twelfth century new models of cylindrical jugs were made, zoomorphic lamps and ornate with various designs, broad-based candelabras, long-necked rose water sprayers, round-necked pitchers similar to those of the Sasanian period, basins and other dishes in different designs and shapes. In that period the entire external surface of the works was decorated with silver and copper and in the ceremony rooms of the court were exhibited sculptures of the human body and hunting scenes on plates and necklaces manufactured in different geometric shapes and with ornamental ribbons. At the beginning of the 13th century the engravings and relief drawings appeared in the external decorations of the plates and objects.
With the passing of the phase of decline crossed by this art in Mongolian times, towards the end of the XIII century, it concentrated in the north-western regions of the country. During the reign of Ghazan Khan (from the late 13th century to the early 14th century), along with the improvement of the country's economic conditions, the art of metalworking reached its peak. The Ilkhanids, who were actually Buddhists, introduced oriental elements into the decorations of metal objects. After the fall of the Ilkhanids in the first half of the fourteenth century, the headquarters of the art of metalworking, it moved to the Fars region, under the rule of the Injù and the Mozaffaridi. In this period there were two types of works with different designs: those with designs influenced by oriental themes, such as water lily flowers, Mongolian elements such as clothes, nature scenes and works with drawings of geometric shapes, square and crossed, produced in the cities of Mussel and Baghdad. On the plates were engraved human figures of high stature (in contrast to the man of short stature of Mongolian appearance in the period of the Ilkhanidi), well set and in the middle of gardens or during hunting. As a symbol of the metalworking school of the Fars Mozaffarid dynasty, objects representing prayers and invocations are distinguished, to which the names of governors of the region were sometimes added and signed by the calligrapher Nasabe-ye Shirazi.
Tamerlano after the conquest of the city of Shiraz brought with him to Samarkand many artists including those of the metal. Unfortunately, no significant metal works remained of that period.
In the Safavid period the metal objects were initially decorated with small islimi designs and with timurid-style lettering, while the manufacture of objects and plates in bronze decorated with designs engraved on them continued, while the basins were used to make basins and other plates. bronze cast as metal. It became a customary fact to write on the plates of the poems or the names of the Prophets and Imams, and on the edges there were scenes of feast and hunting while the background was painted with floral designs.
In the Safavid period the artists endeavored to modify and enlarge the shapes of metal objects. They made jugs-basins in beautiful shapes and bowls fused and finely curved to create new and interesting shapes. The artists skillfully used iron and steel and adorned the objects made with refinement. In this period, many fighting instruments were made, such as swords, different types of daggers, helmets, shields and other weapons and means of war using metals such as iron and steel engraved and marked with gold and silver foils. In addition, silver and gold plates with very fine decorations were made for the court and the elite of the company. The art of metalworking continued during the era of the reign of the Zand and Qajar in the same Safavid style.
In the qajar era on the plates were made floral designs taken from paintings and paintings already in use. On the other hand, on the metal objects of the qajar era one can notice influences of the western baroque-rococo style, which have somehow been modified according to the Iranian style. The art of metalworking is one of the arts that continues to this day in many Iranian cities, including Isfahan, and the artists of this discipline have passed on the secrets from generation to generation.
In the Safavid era, great importance was given to the art of carpet design and weaving. It is said that in the workshops of Shah Tahmasb I, in addition to painting, beautiful calligraphy and binding, the art of drawing and carpet weaving was also taught and manufactured and Shah Tahmasb himself knew this art. The most important remaining works from this period are two very precious carpets which are currently kept in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The first and most important is the Ardabil carpet, which was stolen from the monastery-mausoleum of Shaykh Safi ad-Din Ardabili and sold to foreigners. This silk and wool rug is very fine in texture, with 520.000 knots per square meter. It is likely that this carpet was produced before Shah Ismail Safavid or at least during his reign. As can be seen from what is written on the carpet, it was produced in a workshop in the city of Kashan and its knotting is of the “farsbaf” type ('Persian type knotting') or of the “senneh” type. The second carpet, which is famous under the name of Chelsee (the name of the ambassador of England at the time), has 740.000 knots in each square meter. It too is of the farsbaf type and was woven in Kashan. This carpet is older than that of Ardabil, and its design, known as the “hunting garden”, represents animals in the midst of Islamic shrubs, bushes and flowers.
There are other carpets in private collections in the United States of America and in Europe, particularly in the private collection of the Prince of Luxembourg, but they are of a lower level with regard to the number of knots, the materials used and the size.
It should be noted that in the designs of the Safavid rugs, even though they have some similarities with the designs of the frames decorated with the majolica tiles of the mosques and religious places, there was no hesitation in adding images of animals and human figures among the islites, and floral motifs. Perhaps for the first time in the history of Islamic Iran, rugs were produced with drawings of hunting grounds, forests, wild and domestic animals, birds, both real and legendary and imaginative, which gradually became a tradition after the Safavids.
Of the other arts that flourished during the reign of the Safavids, there are weaving, both silk and kashmir, of weaving in gold, of the sormeh duzi ('embroidery with gold or silver thread'), etc. We will talk about it in the chapter of the rebirth of traditional arts in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Perhaps the fact is that the fabrics produced at the time of the Safavids, for some characteristics, can be considered similar to the products of the Sassanid era.
As far as the art of stone working, the stone squaring and the sculpture in the Safavid period are concerned, no major works have been left except for the large stone disasters, which were filled with sweet drinks on particular days, the fountains of water and stones carved in the shape of paws of animals. And this is perhaps due to the prohibition of the declared sculpture by many ulema. It can be said, however, that the stone gratings that were spread at the time of the Zand to illuminate the underground floors, were one of the Safavid period inventions, as the short duration of the Zand kingdom did not leave enough time for artistic creations and the invention of new works. The Zand dynasty was the continuation of that Safavid, and transmitted the legacy of the Safavids, with minor modifications, to the Qajar.

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