The History of Iran Art




General introduction and brief political-cultural history

The Seljuk period is considered the period of artistic rebirth in all of Iran, both Eastern and Western, during which the architecture, in particular the one concerning the mosques, the madrassas and the caravanserai, found its definitive form. Moreover, as already happened in the Sassanid era, it crossed national boundaries penetrating the East, up to China and India, and in the West, to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, influencing the style of construction of the monuments of those regions.
It was not the Seljuks who started this rebirth and the cultural and artistic revolution that followed, but it was certainly during their reign that the Iranian genius reached its peak. After them, the artistic journey continued but failed to rise or even to remain on the same level, limiting itself to forms of imitation and reconstruction of the monuments of the past. In fact, the cultural and artistic change occurred in the VIII and IX centuries, during the reign of the Saffarids and in particular of the Samanids. The Ziyarids and the Buyids, each within their territory, took significant steps in the realization of this national and artistic renaissance.
In the ninth century Iran saw a flourishing of poets, scholars, mathematicians, astronomers, historians, geographers, linguists, biologists and doctors. They enjoyed unprecedented authority and were endowed with audacity and remarkable abilities. During the reign of the Samanids, despite the numerous wars and struggles for independence that occurred in every corner of such a vast territory, Iran became the cradle of literature and culture, while in that period Europe and 'West were immersed in the darkness of ignorance and fanaticism.
The development of this cultural growth in the tenth century and the reawakening of the nationalistic and independentist feelings of Iranians found support in the works of characters such as the great poet Ferdowsi, famous for the immortal epic work of Shahnameh and other books such as Khodinameh etc. The composition of the Shahnameh began around in the 981 and ended thirty years later, in the 1011. Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, one of the world's greatest epics, not only eradicated the influence of Arab culture imposed by Arab conquerors on Iran from the minds of the people - Iranian scientists and writers were forced to write their own works in Arabic - but it also succeeded in reinvigorating the original and authentic language, Persian Dari, compared to the imposed language. Currently the Ferdowsi language is the official language of Iran. Ferdowsi composed about six thousand verses in which only Persianized Arabic words are used in 984. This was not only a service rendered to Iran and to Iran, but also an invitation and a teaching to preserve the independence and unity of the nation and to be always ready to face and reject any kind of foreign political and cultural aggression. . Although Rudaki was the initiator of Persian poetry, Ferdowsi had the merit of starting the independence movement and in this few people managed to equalize his position. Ferdowsi succeeded, in addition to reviving the spirit of national independence and to enrich and keep alive the Persian language, also to awaken the predisposition of Iranians to mathematics, science and ethics, highlighting their genius and preparing them, through his poems, to overcome their political and social misadventures.
During the epochs of the Samanids, the Ziyarids and the Buyids, the rulers and governors, often themselves renowned poets and men of culture, contributed to this national revival by giving their support to scholars and scholars. It is said that Saheb ibn Ebad, minister of the Buyides, owned ten thousand volumes in his library. Reading and libraries enjoyed the support of the judges. The chief judge of the city of Nishapur used a house with a large library for use by scholars and scholars who visited the city and needed to consult the books, also covering the cost of their stay in the city. This attitude of the Iranians derives from two main factors: the first was talent, good taste and their interest in acquiring knowledge and culture, especially as regards literature, and the second was acting according to the hadiths of the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his family) who said: "Seek science even if it were in China from the cradle to the grave". Among the scholars and scholars who in this period made the name of Iran famous and the wisdom of Iranians even beyond the borders of the country, we can mention: Jaber ibn Hayyan (8th century), one of the students of Imam Sadeq (the peace on him); Zakaria Razi who discovered alcohol and invented the method of visits and clinical treatments currently in force in hospitals; he was also a chemist and a physicist and his influence is well known throughout the Islamic world and in Renaissance Europe; Farabi, who was the precursor of all the sciences of his time and was nicknamed "the second Master" (after Aristotle, known as the first Master). He wrote an important book entitled "The Great Music" in which, for the first time in the world, he recorded the musical notes; Abu Ali Sina (called Avicenna), philosopher, writer, poet, physician and universal genius. Until the seventeenth century His works were taught in European universities; Dinvari, who was a historian, lexicographer, astronomer and botanist; Biruni, geographer, contemporary astrologer of Avicenna, and many other scholars, scholars and writers who had less fame. The tenth century, however, is known above all for the names of Avicenna and Biruni, and between the two, Avicenna was superior and more famous. Their death occurred at the beginning of the eleventh century. In the second half of the same century Omar Khayyam, a wise man, poet, philosopher and great mathematician who calculated the number π up to the fifteenth decimal place and worked out solving them, eleven equations of third degree. He was the founder of algebra, and in the 1075 elaborated a new calendar, with a surprising and superior precision to the western one, in which the beginning and the completion of a lap of the earth around the sun is calculated in minutes and seconds. This calendar is still valid and in use. Of other scholars of this period of national rebirth we can mention the names of Ghazzali, poet, sage, jurisperite and astrologer and of Ibn Heytam who, in the thirteenth century, calculated the speed of sound and the measure of the perimeter of the earth.
The period of splendor of the Seljuks, a Turkish tribe influenced by the national cultural renaissance, already began at the time of the Samanid kingdom. They had known the grandeur and splendor of the court of the Ghaznavids, but the difficulties of life in the deserts and plains of their places of origne, made them stronger, more resistant and more sober. Led by Toghrol Beg (1032-1064) they defeated the Ghaznavids and after many wars the Buyides dynasty fell, thus establishing a kingdom that had no equal, after the Sasanians, in history. After Toghrol Beg the Seljuk rulers, namely Alp Arslan (1064-1073), Malek Shah (1073-1093) and Sultan Sanjar (1119-1158), were all determined and laborious men who, despite being of Turkish origin, felt proud to be Iranian. They were fervent believers of Sunni confession. It is said that Malek Shah converted to Shiism in the last years of his reign. The strong interest of the Seljuks towards Islam and religious and spiritual issues were among the main reasons for the construction of madrasah and the development of four-iwan structures, whose architectural style, despite having begun in Iran, spread throughout the Islamic world.
During the Seljuk period, most of the Iranian arts such as architecture, decoration with stucco, majolica tiles, glass, ceramic and terracotta work, enamelling, etc. they reached the peak of perfection and deserve to be described separately.


As mentioned earlier, Iranian Islamic architecture that can be considered free of any foreign influence and therefore authentic, is that of the period of reign of the Seljuks, whose power, solidity and magnificence are all evident in the Friday mosque of Isfahan. This mosque is one of the largest in the world. In fact, its construction is not entirely the work of the Seljuks, so much so that some parts built at the time of the Buyides still survive today. But all that distinguishes it by its grandeur and splendor goes back no doubt to the Seljuq period. In later centuries, during the reign of the Ilkhandidi and the Safavids, other details were added and the mosque was the object of restoration and modification. It contains the evolution and development of Iranian architecture over the course of eight centuries, from the 10th to the 18th centuries.
The courtyard, whose dimensions are 60 × 70 meters, presents four iwan connected to each other through two-storey arcades, beautifully tiled with majolica tiles. A long iwan, also decorated with majolica tiles, leads to a prayer hall covered by a dome. The epigraph engraved on the wall of the mosque was affixed in the 1073 by order of Nezam ol-Molk, minister of Alp Arslan and Malek Shah. Almost certainly the lower section of the complex dates back to the previous century. It consists of a large cubic-shaped room, very spacious, which supports a large dome with a diameter of 17 meters. The dome is resting on some three-winged gushvareh, according to the style used in the Yazd's Davazdah Imam mausoleum, but with superior perfection and technique. The gushvarehs themselves, in turn, rest on some thick cylindrical columns, whose upper part is decorated with stucco. The arcades and halls of the mosque are covered by domed ceilings that rest on columns whose execution date varies from before the Seljuks to the Safavid period.
In the Seljuk period, all the iwan were restored and redone with new decorations. The northwestern side iwan is fluted on the outside, while inside it is large columns. Since the execution of these decorations is dated to 1745, it is likely that all the decorations of the mosque were rebuilt at that time. One of the 25 × 48 meters, column-free, cross-shaped rooms is 1248. Another room is equipped with a magnificent mihrab, known as the "mihrab of Oljaitu" built in the thirteenth century by the will of the minister Mohammad Savi. This mihrab is one of the masterpieces of stucco decoration (Fig. 26). In the 1367, a madrasa with a transverse arch and an interesting entrance iwan was added to the mosque's building. There are other sectors connected to each other, whose description appears superfluous. The most beautiful areas of the mosque are two: the great iwan, since in the Islamic period no more so-built and magnificent frames have ever been built; and a brick dome, right in front of the mihrab, that is on the north side of the mosque, which dates back to the 1089 This dome, called "the dome of Khargah", is probably the most perfect dome so far known. Its dimensions are not very large (the height is 20 meters and the diameter of 10), but has a magnificence and a particular splendor that derive from its plant. This dome has been the subject of careful and detailed studies and its beauty has been compared by Pope to that of a ghazal, a poem with a uniform and perfect composition. The perfection of the technique used in its construction, is shown by the fact that although it has existed for over 900 years, in a seismic country like Iran, it does not present even a tiny crack. It almost seems that this dome, like the tower of Qabus, was built for eternity.
Other Seljuk mosques were built in the style of the Friday mosque in Isfahan, but they are much simpler and smaller in size. These include: the Ardestan mosque on the Friday of 1181; the Zavareh Mosque of the 1154; the Golpayegan mosque built from the 1121 to the 1136. The Jame Now mosque in Shiraz, the largest in Iran, built during the era of the Fars' Atabakan government, is also a Seljuk monument. All these mosques are rather simple. In some, like that of Ardestan, the decorations of the building are limited to the finishing of the superficial layers of the walls and the stucco decorations, with drawings on the edges of the walls and the ceiling, which give a singular and at the same time austere appearance. building.
The mosque on Friday of Qazvin (1114-1116) presents a very interesting aspect thanks to its large prayer room, simple but covered by a dome with a diameter of 15 meters. His torombeh, that is a crossed and empty gushvareh, which has almost completely maintained its original appearance, without being filled by other forms, has been the object of the architects' constant interest. The two bands of epigraphs that cover the entire perimeter of the base of the dome, have a special beauty. The upper epigraph is in Cufic characters and the lower one in Persian calligraphic style naskh, very refined. Both epigraphs are written in white on a blue background, embellished with drawings of ivy vine shoots, executed in an excellent and unprecedented manner. In Qazvin there is also a small but beautiful madrasa called Heydariyeh, with beautiful stucco decorations. It is different from the madrasas to four iwan, as it has a large iwan in front of the quadripartite arch on the south side, and a smaller one in front of it, on the north side. Currently the madrasa is annexed to a large 13th century mosque. The ornamental epigraph of the mosque is in Cufic characters, and is considered among the most beautiful in all of Iran. It also has a mihrab, embellished with magnificent decorations in stucco very similar to those of Heydariyeh, which bear witness to great creativity.
Seljuk works are also found in Khorasan, and in the so-called Great Khorasan and beyond the Jeyhun River. Among these we can mention the caravanserai of Robat-e Malek, of which only one wall remained. It shows that the building looked like a border fortress. A row of tall cylindrical columns, whose height is five times more than their width, is connected to the end of the shelves, whose shape is derived or imitated by gushvare at the corner of the domes. The caravanserai of Robat-e Sharaf is another interesting Seljuk monument built in 1156 in the city of Marv by order of Sultan Sanjar. Next to the caravanserai there was also a palace of which only ruins remained. It was a fortress surrounded by high and linear walls, with a well-established tower. The entrance is made up of two intertwined arches: the outer arch decorated by a strip of protruding bricks and the internal arch with an epigraph in cufic characters decorated with stuccos. Inside, the monument has two large four-iwan courtyards, similar to those of a mosque, with a mihrab and refined stuccoes.
The mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, in the city of Marv, was built in 1158 by one of its officers. The surface of the large room is of 725 square meters. and has a high 27 meters dome covered with blue majolica tiles, a part of which has now collapsed. The network of intricate battlement inside the dome, while giving the impression of a support to the weight of the same, has only an ornamental aspect. The passage from the space of the hall, that is, from the quadripartite arch of the building to that of the dome, in other words from the cubic form to the semispherical shape, takes place through triangular forms that hide the torombehs while these are evident in a disordered and rudimentary manner in the palaces built at the beginning of the period of reign of the Seljuks.The base of the dome, generally octagonal shaped, here is arch-shaped and the heaviness of the volume of the monument is diminished thanks to the decoration of the hall made with bricks that do not interfere with simplicity and the decorative sobriety of the building. The entrance to the room on the east side and the front wall are covered with a grid, while the other two are simple. The location of the entrance on the east side, is perhaps due to the ancient tradition of worshiping the sun (the rays of the sun at dawn illuminated the hall through the entrance). This palace can be considered as a phase of passage from the mausoleum of Shah Ismail to that of Sultan Mohammad Khodabandeh, since the arched shape of the corners of the base of the dome consists of a grid of bricks that filters the light inside the room. The finishes on the walls were made with a kind of mortar invented in the Seljuk period. This mausoleum is one of the most beautiful works of architecture of that era spared from the destructive fury of the Mongols.

The rebirth of decoration in architecture
The color

The tendency to use color and to paint palaces is a tradition that has existed since very ancient times. Both in the Elamite period and in the Achaemenid epoch, where it was not possible to adorn the walls with relief drawings, painting was used. Covering the walls with paint and coloring the stuccos, or painting on vases and terracotta plates or covering them with colored enamels, was part of that tradition. The Iranians knew the natural and psychological characteristics of the colors and used them in the best way. It is said that the king Sassanid Khosrow Anushiravan wore an orange-yellow robe in the ceremonies, and it was thanks to this that he was saved from an attack by a follower of Mazdak, because the yellow color confuses the perception of the real distance. By natural yellow color, the bomber wronged the target and was neutralized. It is said that Imam Ali ibn Abi-Talib also wore a yellow armor during the battles.
The palaces of the early Islamic period were devoid of drawings and paintings because of the hostility of the ulema towards painting. However, some parts of them were painted. The vault of the dome of the Atiq Mosque in Nain is light green and may have been dark green at the beginning and then faded over the years.
The origin of the parietal painting dates back to the Sassanid era and even earlier to those of the Arsacid and Achaemenid. The braids of the archers, the mane of the lions guardians of the royal palace of Darius at Shush, the stucco workings of the great Iwan-e Madaen, were painted in the epoch of their splendid magnificence.
This type of painting is also present in the early period of Iranian Islamic art. Figurative painting was not performed on the walls of mosques, but in homes, houses and public buildings. There are works in Iranian literature, both poetic and unpublished, in which we mention the art of painting, which shows that painting and drawings on the walls have an ancient tradition in Iran. In addition to the Abbasid palaces in which there are still many paintings today, the poems of Sa'di are an excellent testimony to this tradition. He says:

All this wonderful design on the doors and walls of existence,
Anyone who did not meditate on it would be like a drawing on the wall himself,
If being a man means having eyes, mouth, ears and nose,
So what's the difference between a design on the wall and humanity?

What is important here is the use of color in buildings, made in such a way as to remain constant and resistant without being altered in nature and quality. From this derives the invention of majolica tiles. In a palace in Mashad Ardehal near Kashan, the walls and semi-dome of the iwan were painted in oil-gloss colors. The coloring, or rather the covering of the walls with colored majolica tiles, progressed very quickly and went beyond the borders of the country, conquering many regions up to Spain.
The first attempt of decoration of this kind was done on the ground dome of the Old Mosque of Isfahan, whose construction date dates back to the year 1089 In this mosque there are lodges framed with materials of common use and different colors like the black and blue stones, white chalk and brick whose color was initially red and then yellowed with the passage of time. It is very likely that other attempts had been made in other places. The invention of the enamelling technique, that is the production and manufacture of ceramic tiles, took place after this date, with the aim of making the epigraphs more readable on the outside and of preventing the fading of their colors due to the sun. The first example of this type of work is found in the upper part of the minaret of Damghan's Friday mosque that dates back to the year 1108. Inside the sanctuary of the Imam Ali ibn Musa ar-Reza (peace on him) in Mashad one can see tiles dated to the year 1119. The ceramic tiles of the upper part of the Sin mosque in Isfahan and about three quarters of the epigraphs of the Menar Sareban minaret in Isfahan are works of the early twelfth century. Later, the use of ceramic tiles spread in the regions of Azerbaijan, particularly in the city of Maragheh, of which there are examples in many monuments still standing. Before this period, the chiaroscuro effect was created in a very delicate way only with the artistic use of bricks on the building's cladding and the stuccos. The oldest examples of this type of work are represented by the mausoleum of Amir Ismail and the caravaserai of Robat-e Sharaf of the year 1116.
The oldest monuments in which colored ceramic elements were used to decorate the facade of the building are: the Red Dome of Maragheh whose construction ended in 1149, the mausoleum Mo'meneh Khatun of the year 1188 and the sepulcher of Yusuf ibn Qassir of the 1164 year. These last two monuments are located in the Nakhjavan region.
The main facade of the Red Dome of Maragheh is on the northern side. At the entrance there is a staircase of five steps, with a sixth and a seventh step placed beyond the threshold of the entrance door. The façade is reinforced with half-columns that decorate the corners of the building and give a grandiose effect at the entrance. The door is placed inside a beautiful arch, decorated with an ornamental band decorated with geometric designs. This band is bounded on the perimeter by a writing in Cufic characters; above it is another epigraph written in the same characters. The side and back facades are simple and without ornaments, and only above the arches are colored points. Even on the half-columns of the main facade there are colored areas but without any ornamental effect. Two other half-columns only have blue-colored frames. On the main façade, just above the geometric patterned band, above the door and slightly above, at the corners between the arch and the upper epigraph, different blue-light blue ceramic tiles are arranged. Although this type of ceramic decoration was still modest, it marked the beginning of an art of great beauty that spread at an indescribable speed, surpassing the borders of Iran.
The buildings of the mausoleum of Mo'meneh Khatun and of the tomb of Yusuf ibn Qassir belong to that type of buildings common in the north of Iran: a small, square building, or with several sides, or a circular dome and a pyramidal roof, or conical, often isolated and solitary, but sometimes attached to religious buildings. The mausoleums of Momeneh Khatun and Yusuf ibn Qassir are octagonal but with slender and elongated proportions. The use of ceramic tiles in the mausoleum of Mo'meneh Khatun serves to enhance the inscriptions: they are scattered throughout the surface of the building with the function of attracting attention to the beautiful design of the great epigraph and to emphasize more the grace of decoration. The architect of the Blue Dome, also an octagonal building, was definitely inspired by the mausoleum of Momeneh Khatun, imitating also the ornamental lines. Starting from the bands and the frames of the lodges and continuing upwards, even here the only color used is turquoise, but the building does not possess however the beauty and refinement of the mausoleum of Momeneh Khatun.
In order to better understand the importance of the Red Dome of Maragheh and the mausoleums just described, it seems useful to remember the dates of construction of the monuments spread in northern Iran from the twelfth century onwards. The construction of some of them is earlier than that of the Red Dome of Maragheh. These monuments, absolutely devoid of decoration, are: the monument of Gonbad-e Qabus of the year 1019, the tower of Western Radkan, whose construction began in 1018 and ended in 1022, the tower Lajim of 1024 and next to it the tower Resjet, which is slightly older, the dome of the Dam-Alamdar Damghan of the year 1027, the mausoleum Chehel Dokhtaran of Damghan of the XUMX, the Mehmandust tower near Damghan of the 1056, the tomb of Yusuf ibn Qassir of the year 1099, the Momeneh Khatun's mausoleum of the 1164, the round tower near the Red Maragheh Dome of the 1188, the Mausoleum of the Three Cupolas in the city of Urumiyeh of the year 1170 and finally the Blue Dome of Maragheh of the year 1186. Many other mausoleums were built in the following centuries. Among them we can mention those built in the cities of Ardabil, Amol, Babol, Bastam, Qom, Damavand, Khiyav, Kashmar, Maragheh, Sari, Radkan Bakhtari, Abarqu, Hamadan etc.
In none of the monuments built before the Red Cup in Maragheh, colorful decorations are used, while in most of the monuments that date back to that date we find the use of colored ceramic tiles. It is not known why this type of decoration was no longer continued in Maragheh after the construction of the Blue Dome, and instead later spread to the cities of Qom, Saveh, Damghan, Mashad, etc. In the decoration of the saints' mausoleums, they are found in the upper part of the walls or in the mihrab, arabesques, epigraphs and tiles on which the Koranic verses are usually transcribed. The mihrab are the work of great masters of the time, among which we can name, for example, in the city of Kashan, Mohammad ibn Abu-Taher, his son Ali and his nephew Yusuf. Among the works of these masters we can mention the mihrab of the shrine of Imam Reza (peace on him) in Mashad of the year 1217, and the decorations of the sanctuary of Hazrat-e Masumeh (peace on her) in Qom of the 1610 and 1618 years, by Mohammad ibn Abu-Taher; the central part of the mihrab of the Qom shrine of the year 1267 (currently in the Berlin museum, the mihrab Krukian and another, whose date is not defined, in the sanctuary of Mashad, the work of Ali ibn Mohammad ibn Abu-Taher. Di Yusuf ibn Ali is instead a mihrab built in the year 1308, currently kept in the Hermitage and another mihrab dating back to the 1336 preserved in the Tehran museum.
Some of these decorations, the stars, the arabesques and the enamelled bricks and decorated with writings, are of great beauty. Presently there is a very precious collection of these works in the Tehran museum. After the invasion of the Mongols, no other works were built and many of the existing ones were destroyed. Until the reign of Ghazan Khan, the color of the majolica tiles was only turquoise, but from that time onwards together with the turquoise blue, white and black were also used. However, in Zuzan, in eastern Iran, on the wall of one of the two iwan of the Malek mosque, there is a part decorated with tiles embellished with brickwork, 13 meters long and 5 wide, whose construction date dates back to year 1238, in which the colors turquoise and light blue are used. In this set, inside the central circle, the letters of a great epigraph, the tiny ornaments, the bricks of 4 horizontal rows arranged alternately are all blue, while the other drawings, decorations and bricks of others files are all in turquoise color.
In the mausoleum of Sultan Mohammad Khodabandeh, in the locality of Sultaniyeh, the colors of turquoise, blue and white are still evident. The dome from the outside is entirely covered with turquoise tiles and at the base of the dome a wide strip of writing in cufic characters softens the contrast between the turquoise color and the dark blue of the roof cornice. The iwan's façade is adorned with alternating blue, turquoise and white colors, while in the well-defined spaces among them the color of the brick is also highlighted. In the lower part of the iwan only the natural color of the brick is used, while the façade of the south side is decorated with turquoise glazed tiles. The decoration and enamelling of this monument is such as to give the impression that the visitor is suspended in the air. As André Godard claims, in a few days the splendid dome of Sultaniyeh, on the basis of brick-colored earth and the splendid minarets, seems to have wings spread out in the sky. This grandiose work is the result of an art that has harmonized, with great finesse, the blue color with the natural color of the brick, avoiding, thanks to the skill in the use of construction materials, the banality of the uniform and monotonous blue mass. of the dome mixed with the color of the sky, and thus inducing the visitor to admire the decorative taste, the architect's ornamental method and the art of the builder. Inside the building, ceramic decoration is even more valuable. From what has survived until today, it can be deduced that all the surface of the walls of the hall and the interior of the dome were covered with ceramic tiles. The entire interior surface of the building was covered with numerous epigraph bands with intertwined hems, and with floral or star-shaped ceramic decorations.
The color used in this monument appropriately started the great Islamic ornamental art, which manifested itself magnificently in the Safavid era. Over the course of three centuries, that is to say until the time of Shah Abbas I, the use of majolica tiles spread and perfected to such an extent that all palaces and monuments - mosques, madrasas, monasteries or mausoleums - were embellished and covered with these, both outside and inside.

The stuccoes

The art of stucco processing, apparently unimportant, is an art that requires great skill and ability to perform fast and precise. The processing of squaring the stones is quite difficult and also the engraving on wood or metal, since the stone, the metal or the wood are firm and immobile materials and with a constant resistance. The artist knows how and when to obtain a good artistic work, while in the processing of the stucco is different, because the plaster that at the beginning is soft, quickly dry, losing its softness, so the artist must work it with strength, precision and speed.
It may be that the artist is forced to create the desired design by working on it several times and with different layers of plaster. In some works, up to six or even more layers of stucco are used. The artist first attacks a large portion of stucco on the wall as a basis for the design. When the stucco hardens a little, then the main drawings are excavated or marked on it, and if necessary, small pieces of stucco are added to it. Then this, once dry and completely hard, is cut and filed to make it smooth and pleasant. Finally, it is whitened to make it shiny and shiny. Each of these phases has its own particular characteristics and the work is not easy, as the artist has to do with different resistance of the materials and just a small increase or a small decrease in the pressure of the hand because the work fails and you ruin all. On the other hand, work on stone and metal is carried out uniformly and can be stopped and resumed whenever you want.
To work on three-dimensional stucco, the artist must lay several layers on top of one another; this is not possible at all times, since the grout must have a particular humidity and hardness so that another layer can be laid. This process is therefore very complicated and difficult: six or seven layers of stucco and other elements must intertwine between of them and bend in different directions, and the artist must know how to foresee, from the very first layer, the final result. All this requires intellegence, precision, memory and concentration, and if the initial project is not based on order and programming, the results can be decidedly unpleasant. It is not known exactly when and where this art began. But it is certain that the Iranians practiced different types of stucco work more than 2000 years ago, creating masterpieces of which they can not be found anywhere else. The earliest examples date back to the first centuries before Christ and good examples were created at the beginning of Christianity, during the Arsacids. The first works have a remarkable perfection which demonstrates the development of this art in previous periods. The rich colors and the intertwined designs indicate the previous existence of painted decorations, which were then masterfully filmed on the facades of the following monuments. In the numerous ornamental designs of the stucco works of the Sassanid period there are many peculiarities of which there is no trace in the period of the Arsacids. The Sassanids built the walls with rough and unpolished stones, and to make the surface smooth they used a thick layer of plaster on which they often painted paintings. The drawings were generally large and embossed and included not only flowers and plants but also images of animals and people.
On the other hand, in the works left from the Sassanid period, it is clear that the artist had a particular perception of space: he considered the positive and negative spaces to be of the same value. So we can say that the stucco works of the Sassanid era have two meanings that lend themselves to different interpretations. This double meaning and the use of positive and negative spaces in the decoration of monuments, but also in other artistic expressions, takes on particular importance. In weaving, the empty spaces are negative drawings that find harmony and compatibility with the full spaces, that is, with the same positive drawings. Thus, negative space becomes a design, meaning that hidden and invisible meanings are highlighted and this use of "hidden and evident", in a certain sense, constitutes the kind of perfection sought by Iranians in art. Iranian art, in fact, unlike the Greek and Western, it does not give importance to external perfection, but rather to something permanent and meaningful in every time and in every space. In the early centuries of Islamic art, the stucco decorations were simple but very beautiful. The vine branch decoration, found in the city of Shiraz, is truly enchanting and lively. A century later, in the city of Nain, the stucco decorations took on a more innovative character and stood out thanks to the beautiful writing in Cufic characters. In them some new forms are evident, which were most likely experimental, as they were not subsequently repeated. The coating of a column with shoots and grape leaves that intertwine with each other creating octagonal shapes, is noteworthy. The beautiful mihrab with its frames entirely carved in stucco with drawings of plants and geometric shapes, gave way to a series of stuccoed mihrab like that of the Mosque of Ardestan, that of Mohammad Savi, famous as "mihrab of Oljaitu" in Isfahan and finally the mihrab of Pir-e Bakran, all of the same period.
In the Islamic era, a competition was gradually created between the stucco decoration and the painted frames. Some of these, discovered in Nishapur by an archaeological mission of the Metropolitain Museum in New York, while being flat and proactive in movement, seem to have had a certain influence on the development and diffusion of the art of stucco processing. It is likely that at the beginning of the Islamic era, these decorations were colored and sometimes even beautifully golden. Between the end of the ninth century and the beginnings of the X, the stucco decorations undergo a temporary retreat in favor of the brick decorations, but in any case this does not jeopardize the validity of the stucco decoration, since in the same period in which the brick decoration of the shrine was executed of the mosque of Friday in Isfahan, in the madrasa of Qazvin, decorations were applied in stucco particularly original on the epigraphs, on the façade of the arches and on the mihrab. In the mausoleum of Alaviyan, near Hamadan, of the twelfth century, this type of work went further and the whole interior surface of the monument was covered with stucco decorations, a very difficult and hard work. The center or focal point is the mihrab, masterfully designed, but all the decorations of the mausoleum have an interesting and original meaning. The project is continuous and unitary and we do not notice the slightest defect in the execution. Arthur Pope claims about this monument: "Here the architectural form is very powerful and flowing, it is almost similar to the northern dome of the Friday mosque in Isfahan; the deep wall frames with the high arches that pair up to the gushvare couple, appear in quadrangular form, each inscribed in four small columns, almost round. The bases of the columns, the ornamental strip and the gushvare have a structural accent and between them a pure and superior harmony is created that wins the multitude of designs and shapes. The stucco decorations in addition to increasing the beauty of the monument, are already an element of strong attraction. The sinuosity and the undulations of the arabesques in the frames and in the curved epigraphs are three-dimensional, with an accentuated evidence, and their effect intensifies thanks to a complex network of star-shaped holes. The columns and the plaster decorations also have the same quality and characteristic, creating a repetitive wave that gives harmony, uniformity and continuity to the entire interior of the monument. The culmination of the splendor of plasterwork is embodied in the central mihrab. "
Herzfeld writes in this regard: "Here the decorations have reached the highest level, thanks to the intervention and to the presence of all the factors, the words are not able to describe them, it is necessary to observe them closely." has Herzfeld ever been so enchanted and unable to describe this beauty? This is precisely what distinguished, in past centuries, Iranian art from Western art, especially from the Greek. Orientalists, whose mind is instructed by a realist art of rapid perception, have always considered Iranian idealism and intellectualism a weakness in representing reality and did not want to admit that realities have their own times and places. outside of which there are only fables and stories. On the contrary, in idealism, what does not exist is precisely the particular time and place. The Iranian artist does not create art to present and show reality, as it already exists and does not need to be created again to repeat it. Iranian art is an invocation to God, the Beautiful, the Creator of beauty and is directed to the thought of goodness and blessing and serves to remind visitors of the divine graces and the mercy and mercy of God. This is how the flowers, seedlings, the large leaves invented by the artist's mind, the strange blossoming flowers, the branches and the leaves of grapes and the ivy intertwined with each other, the stars, the nets with geometric shapes, the dots diamond shape etc ... have no other objective than to enchant the visitor. The artists, as the Prophet of Islam said (the peace of God on him and his family) believe that: "God is Beautiful and loves beauty and loves to see the effect of his own grace (beauty) in His servants ", Then the creation of beauty (or the creation of a beautiful work) is already worship of God, the Sustainer.
The difficult designs intertwined with each other are, in truth, considered separate and independent units and each one is endowed with qualities and characteristics that induces it to be compatible with other components. In this art, as in the choir or in musical groups or as the design of fabrics, carpets, ceramic tiles, metal and wood, there is never a more important separate element. Each of the components, regardless of their nature and quality, finds its value in the combination of the whole and such a set, in relation to others, creates the ornament complex. This is basically an Islamic thought, whereby the single person without other members of society, or a group without compatibility and harmony with other groups can not resist and survive in society. This is why the Prophet (the peace of God on him and his family) said: "All people make up the community and all are responsible for it".
A stucco decoration on the surface of a mihrab, a wall, a column or a ceiling enchants the visitor leading him to the whole space and finally connects him to the infinite Essence of God, the Sustainer. thanks to the variety of its components, the harmony and the relationship created between them in the infinity of space. And so it is that those who address an invocation to the Lord and perform the prayer, get rid of the material world and come to a thought and reflection that makes the spiritual world more alive, more meaningful and even more attainable, up to the state in whose lines and epigraphs spread their meaning as a perfume in that spiritual and worshiping space of the Lord. Here the believer fulfills the prayer with his own soul while the body binds to the other world. However, it must be remembered that not all the stucco decorations are perfect like those of the Alaviyan Dome. In some we see a certain hurriedness and a certain confusion, like that of the mihrab of the Vamindi mosque in Varamin which is rather confusing and chaotic. In the mihrab of Pir-e Bakran there are particular mystical meanings. In the mihrab of Oljaitu the technical aspects and the order in the succession of the components are more considered and perhaps a few mihrabs have the same refinement.
The mihrab with stucco decorations in Iran are rather the personal works of the designer artists and in them there are certain particular styles and methods that belong to some already known groups. This phenomenon is the sign of the independence, the liveliness and the audacity of the artists. The three-dimensional, complex and interwoven stucco decoration was widespread for three centuries.
The splendid mihrab of Pir-e Hamzehpush in the city of Varamin is from the year 1181, which is contemporary with the stucco decorations of the Alaviyan mausoleum, but is in a completely different style. Also the cross-linked aspect of the stucco mihrab in the city of Urumiyeh, of the year 1278, is in a completely different style. The beginning of the thirteenth century and the revival of Iran after the destruction by the Mongols, led to the construction of beautiful buildings with very refined and pleasing stucco decorations. The new mihrab were executed with a few relief drawings, but with more precise and well-calculated dimensions and proportions, as in the case of Oljaitu's mihrab, in which, as we said before, attention was given more to the technique and finesse of the decorations in stucco that the spiritual aspect, the religious dimension and the sense of invocation that should emanate. The combination of its components is performed with greater weighting and with a stronger scientific logic. The perimetrical epigraph of the mihrab is made with a very beautiful calligraphy, placed between small flowers, leaves, and thin and intertwined spirals. In the central frame there are two types of calligraphy, beautiful but different, in the middle of the bushes of the flowers intertwined with each other and in the whole lower frame you can see a drawing made with an inscription in crucii cufici always intertwined with each other.
There are also other mihrab which are masterpieces in stucco, also embellished with geometric designs, such as that of the mausoleum of Bayazid Bastami, in which the new and pleasant design in a reticulated form of stars is bordered on a perimetrical basis by crossed geometric designs.
In the following centuries, the stucco decoration had such an expansion that with it were decorated the frames of the iwan, the arches, the upper end of the minarets and the inner surface of the domes. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in Central Asia, this art reached the peak of perfection and, in combination with the ceramic tiles, truly enchanting works were created. From the fourteenth century onwards, the artists developed, in collaboration with calligraphers, the art of writing stucco epigraphs, in which the letters in cufic and naskh characters in the middle of the small plants and flowers, intertwined with each other, created a beauty enchanting. In this type of work two epigraphs of different sizes are often installed on one perimeter side of the wall, of which the largest is below the smaller one. The two epigraphs, although distinct, complement each other, and are generally performed in white with a gray or light blue background.
To the art of the epigraphs it is necessary to reserve a particular place, as in the figurative arts, it is the epigraphists who realize a project composed by the movement of the writing in characters and in curved and straight lines, creating a work that leads the visitor to move around , in order to discover and understand its truth or its true message. The epigraphy was transformed in the art of beautiful calligraphy in order to communicate the wisdom, gnosis, knowledge and Islamic faith. From the eighth century on, the art of beautiful calligraphy was given greater consideration, it had a tendency to supreme perfection, and the distinguished calligraphs won particular honors.
In addition to this type of decoration in religious monuments, palaces and public houses were also executed very realistic figurative stucco decorations. In the following periods, during the Safavid and Qajar epochs, they had a remarkable expansion, so as to become part of the space of public life. We will talk about them later.

The brick

The hand-made brick, flat or convex, was invented in ancient Iran in prehistoric times, particularly in the fifth millennium before Islam. In the Achaemenid and Sassanid monuments, most of which were built in stone, brick was also used. The use of brick by the Iranians was favored by the scarcity of timber, its resistance, its economy, its great availability, its easy manufacture and finally also due to the fact that thanks to its greater softness, it highlighted the supporting structures of the building. These qualities meant that the brick was exported through Mesopotamia to Egypt and Europe and through Central Asia to India and other regions. The advantages of brick are not limited to its use in construction, it also served to create volumes, solve particular problems, for decorative purposes and no other material could create beauty and harmony like that of brick.
In pre-Islamic times its ornamental features were little used since the buildings were decorated mainly with stucco. In the ninth century, the effectiveness of the use of brick in the decoration of buildings and the possibility of using it in various ways, in protruding rows, with the creation of drawings or geometric shapes, etc., was fully understood. It gives to the main facade of the building, in addition to the beauty, also of particular qualities: it intervenes in coloration, does not highlight the sharp angles, does not give the feeling of heaviness, continuity and hardness that is in the buildings built with stone and It is very suitable for simple designs and to create light and soft volumes.
The first and one of the best brick monuments left since the ninth century, is the mausoleum of Amir Ismail. In its façade the negative and positive spaces, the depths and the flat protrusions, the arches and the curves of the corners, the ornamental circles above the entrance, the rhomboidal shapes and cross inside, the reliefs of the cornice of the roof and of the columns , the row construction of the domes and so on, are all made with the use of bricks of various sizes, placed horizontally, vertically or at an angle (of 45º). The solidity of this monument, which has stood for over eleven centuries without needing restoration, explains the use and use of brick as a building material. This monument became a model for later architects and designers as the brick-built interior decorations exalted its beauty.
The simple but grandiose structure of the Gonbad-e Qabus monument and other domed towers is obtained thanks to the use of brick. The Ala ad-Din mausoleum in the town of Torbat-e Jam, of the year 1150, is another example of the ornamental use of brick, clearly visible even in the few parts still standing.
The use of brick spread during the reign of Seljuks, perfecting itself from every point of view, both aesthetically and structurally, so as to be able to safely say that it had no equal until that time. The dome of the Friday mosque in Isfahan has an unprecedented splendor and grandeur. The bricks used at that time did not have a standard size, but were manufactured as needed. They were large, irregular, rectangular and heavy. In general, their measurements were 22 × 17 cm. and weighed about 2,5-3 kg. each. A good brick had to have the sound of metal. They were used in consideration of space or were filed and modeled. The forms of the bricks were varied: polished, flat or convex, particularly suitable for building the columns and pillars of the Seljuk monuments. The color of the bricks greatly influenced the facade of the monument. The square shapes created with the bricks created the effect of a curtain hanging on the wall, especially when the contrast of the colors was accentuated. The square ranks were more suitable for larger drawings: the simple and ancient geometric designs over time were replaced with letters of the alphabet, written in cufic characters and architectural lines; in the twelfth century, in Azerbaijan, particularly in the city of Maragheh, the brick was combined with turquoise tiles and this fact, in addition to giving beauty and liveliness specific to the monument, also marked the beginning of a change in use of majolica tiles for decorative purposes. The combination of light turquoise enamel bricks with white ones and without enamel increased the beauty of the monument.
At the beginning of the eleventh century, in addition to the use of bricks for the angles and straight lines, there was a way to manufacture bricks in different sizes and new methods for the finishing of the layers and the spaces between the walls and the bricks. A deep trail between the protruding upper corners of these, created a shadow that was in contrast with the line of the outer end of the bricks, and this vertical and horizontal combination gave way to make various interesting shapes, as in the Sangbast mausoleum. At the beginning of the tenth century, other drawings were invented, enriching the facades of the walls through the use of the bricks in a row deep and relief, with the result of obtaining positive and negative spaces shaded, as in the minaret of Damghan or Pir-e Alamdar, which is one of the first monuments to present so many protruding rows of bricks and the slits between the upper corners filled with stucco or with painted terracotta.
The first decorative motifs were shaped like a triangle, a square, a blackbird, a cross or an inlay. The large epigraphs in Cufic characters, made entirely of brick, give particular power and charm to separate and isolated shapes. The use of shadows and negative spaces, created by the use of bricks, gives a remarkable beauty to the building forms, such as the brick decorations made in the monument of Chehel Dokhtaran in Isfahan, of the year 1108, which is very simple , is equipped, on the minarets, with excellent drawings executed with great skill. Or those of the beautiful round minaret of Saveh, of the year 1111, whose project is more innovative among all similar works.
The excellence of brick decoration artists can be appreciated by the works that have remained until today. In addition to the monolayer domes of the Friday mosque in Isfahan, which has stood for more than 900 years without any restoration and is imposed on the admiration of the visitors, there are dozens of round and beautiful minarets often with more than 30 meters in height , only in the Isfahan region. We must keep in mind that these works are built in a seismic country and yet they are still standing. They were built by skilled artists and craftsmen with brick and excellent concrete on the basis of excellent design and perfect execution.
The variety and diversity of the color, the size, the shape and the ornamental arrangement of the bricks made the facade so beautiful and enchanting that sometimes the architects gave up working with the stucco in favor of the brick one, even if this trend was provisional.
The real turning point in brickwork can be considered that started in Azerbaijan with the construction of the Red Dome of Maragheh, the most beautiful example of this type of decoration. The angular columns of the monument are built with the use of ten types of filed bricks, manufactured at least in eight different molds, and used with great skill in the curvatures of the columns. Original motifs, and sometimes enchantingly simple, are made in the frames of the walls. The brick itself, even without any ornamental design, has such a quality that it seems to enclose all the ornamental characteristics.
A very important point is that the use of brick is not solely due to ornamental reasons. It can also be used to indicate the direction of the pressure exerted on the monument, as in the oldest arches of the Friday mosque in Isfahan, where its structural use is really considerable. The direction of the arrangement of the bricks differs according to the various pressures exerted. These increase the feeling of forces combined safely. The superior power and strength of the arches of Seljuk monuments, depends structurally more on the motifs created with bricks than on the basic forms of buildings. Conscious of this, E. Lutyens states: "Do not say Iranian craftsmanship in brick, but say the Iranian magic of brick." So, since the bare brick gives the building a solid feel, the architects wanted to imitate the model of the brickwork: so they covered the wall with plaster and then created drawings that reproduced patterns decorated with brick, to give the visitor the feeling obtained with the brick.
The diffusion of the plaster covering, which was much simpler and less expensive than the brick decorations, caused the replacement of the latter, in many regions of the country, with the stucco decoration. And we have already spoken of it in the previous pages because of its historical importance and the vastness of its use. However, the use of brick is not yet completely abandoned and currently there is a sort of return to brick decorations; even a kind of mixed use of brick and majolica tiles is spreading, like the style used in the Red Dome monument, but with the means currently available. An example can be seen in the office of the Office for Pilgrimage and Religious Donations in Tehran.

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