Iran is home to one of the richest art heritages and handicrafts in world history and distinguished in many disciplines, including architecture, painting, weaving, pottery, calligraphy, metalworking and stone masonry. Persians were among the first to use mathematics, geometry, and astronomy in architecture and also have extraordinary skills in making massive domes which can be seen frequently in the structure of bazaars and mosques.
Iran, besides being home to a large number of art houses and galleries, also holds one of the largest and valuable jewel collections in the world.
The art of carpet weaving in Iran dates backs to 2,500 years and is rooted in the culture and customs of its people and their instinctive feelings. Weavers mix elegant patterns with a myriad of colors.
The Iranian carpet is similar to the Persian garden: full of florae, birds and beasts.
The colors are usually extracted from wild flowers, and are rich in colors such as burgundy, navy blue and accents of ivory.
The proto-fabric is often washed in tea to soften the texture, giving it a unique quality. Depending on where the rug is made, patterns and designs vary.
Some rugs such as Gabbeh, and Kilim have variations in their textures and number of knots as well.
Out of about 2 million Iranians involved in the trade, 1.2 million are weavers who produce the largest amount of hand-woven carpets in the world.
Miniature and Painting
Oriental historian Basil Gray believes “Iran has offered a particularly unique art to the world which is excellent in its kind”.
Caves in Iran’s Lorestan province exhibit painted imagery of animals and hunting scenes. Those in Fars province and Sialk are at least 5,000 years old.
Painting in Iran is thought to have reached a peak during the Tamerlane era when outstanding masters such as Kamaleddin Behzad gave birth to a new style of painting.
Qajarid paintings, for instance, are a combination of European influences and Safavid miniature schools of painting such as those introduced by Reza Abbasi.
Masters such as Kamal-ol-Molk further pushed forward the European influence in Iran. It was during the Qajar era when “Teahouse painting” emerged.
Subjects of this style were often religious and nationalist in nature depicting scenes from Shiite history and literary epics like Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (Grand Book).
Pottery and Ceramics
Active ImageProminent archeologist Roman Ghirshman said, “The taste and talent of these people [Iranians] can be seen through the designs of their earthenware.”
Of the thousands of archeological sites and historical ruins of Iran, almost every one of them can be found to have been filled, at some point, with earthenware of exceptional quality.
Thousands of unique vessels alone were found in Sialk and Jiroft sites.
The occupation of the potter (kouzehgar) has a special place in Persian literature.
Persian literature is by far the most outstanding expression of Iranian genius. While there are outstanding works in prose, it is poetry where the Iranian literature shines.
Flourishing over a period of more than a millennium, it was esteemed and imitated well beyond the confines of the Iranian heartland. The literature of Turkey and India developed under its influence.
Some notable Iranian poets are Ferdowsi, Khayyam, Hafez, Attar, Sa’di, Nezami, Sanai, Roudaki, Rumi, Jami and Shahriar.
The architecture of Iran has an ancient Persian tradition and heritage.
As Arthur Pope put it, “The meaningful impact of Persian architecture is versatile. Not overwhelming but dignified, magnificent and impressive.”
Iranian architecture displays great variety, both structural and aesthetic, developing gradually and coherently out of prior traditions and experience. Without sudden innovations, and despite the repeated trauma of invasions and cultural shocks, it has achieved an individuality distinct from that of other Muslim countries.
Its paramount virtues are several: a marked feeling for form and scale; structural inventiveness, especially in vault and dome construction; a genius for decoration with a freedom and success not rivaled in any other architecture.
With regard to Persian gardens, its traditional style has influenced the design of gardens from Andalusia to India and beyond. The gardens of Alhambra show the influence of Persian gardens from the Andalusian era in Spain.
Taj Mahal in Agra, India, is one of the largest Persian gardens in the world, which has remained from the era of the Mughal Empire.
Persian calligraphy has several styles. The style initiated by Darvish was emulated by his contemporaries--Mirza Hassan Isfahani, Mirza Kouchek Isfahani and Mohammad Ali Shirazi.
After his death, the Shekasteh style fell into stagnation until it was revived in the 1970s.
Says writer Will Durant: “Ancient Iranians, with an alphabet of 36 letters, used skins and pen to write instead of earthen tablets.”
Such was the creativity spent on the art of writing. The significance of the art of calligraphy in works of pottery, metalwork and historical buildings is such that they are considered deficient without the calligraphic adorning.
Illuminations, especially in the Qur’an and works such as Shahnameh, Divan-e Hafez, Golestan and Boustan, are recognized as highly invaluable because of their delicate calligraphy alone.
Vast quantities of these are scattered and preserved in museums and private collections worldwide such as the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg and Washington’s Freer Gallery of Art among many others.
Active ImageTilework is a unique feature of the blue mosques of Isfahan. In the old days, Kashan (kash + an literally means “land of tiles”) and Tabriz were famous centers of Iranian mosaic and tile industry in the past.
Since centuries, Iranian art has developed particular patterns to decorate Iranian crafts. These motifs can be:
- Inspired by ancestral nomad tribes (such as geometrical motifs used in kilims or gabbehs).
- Islam influenced, with an advanced geometrical research.
- Oriental based, also found in India or Pakistan.
Delicate and meticulous marquetry has been produced since the Safavid period. In fact, khatam was so popular in the court that princes learned this technique alongside music and painting.
Khatam means incrustation and Khatamkari refers to incrustation work. This craft consists in the production of incrustation patterns (generally star shaped) with thin sticks of wood (ebony, teak, zizyphus, orange, rose), brass (for golden parts) and camel bones (white parts).
Ivory, gold or silver can also be used for collection objects. Sticks are assembled in triangular beams, themselves assembled and glued in a strict order to create a cylinder 70 cm in diameter, whose cross-section is the main motif: a six-branch star included in a hexagon.
These cylinders are cut into shorter cylinders, and then compressed and dried between two wooden plates, before being sliced for the last time, in 1 mm wide trenches.
These sections are ready to be plated and glued on the object to be decorated, before lacquer finishing. The trench can also be softened through heating in order to wrap around objects.
Many objects can be decorated in this fashion, such as jewelry/decorative boxes, chessboards, pipes, desks, frames or some musical instruments.
Khatam can also be used in Persian miniatures, making it a more attractive work of art.
Based on techniques imported from China and improved by Persian know-how, this craft has existed for more than 700 years and is still practiced in Shiraz and Isfahan.
Enamel working and decorating metals with colorful and baked coats are one of the distinguished artwork in Isfahan.
Although this course is of abundant use industrially for producing metal and hygienic dishes, it has been paid high attention by painters, goldsmiths and metal engravers since a long time.
Worldwide, it is categorized as follows:
1- Enamel painting
2- Charkhaneh or chess-like enamel
3- Cavity enamel.
Enamel painting is practiced in Isfahan and specimens are kept in the museums of Iran and abroad, indicting that Iranian artists have been interested in this art and used it in their metalwork ever since the rule of Achaemenian and Sassanid dynasties.
Since enamels are delicate, we do not have many of them left from ancient times. Some documents indicate that throughout the Islamic civilization of and during the Seljuk, Safavid and Zand dynasties, there have been outstanding enameled dishes and materials.
Most of the enameled dishes related to the past belong to the Qajar dynasty during 1810–90.
Bangles, boxes, water-pipe heads, vases and golden dishes with beautiful paintings in blue and green colors remain from that time. This art stagnated for 50 years due to World War I and the social revolution.
However, this art was fostered in terms of quantity and quality by Master Shokrollah Saniezadeh, the outstanding painter of Isfahan, for 40 years.
Since 1992, this art has begun to thrive after many distinguished artists began working in this field.
Relief and Sculpture
Relief carving has a history dating back to thousands of years. Elamite reliefs are still to be found in Iran with Persepolis being a hub of relief creations of antiquity.
Galesh, Qalamkar, Giveh, Iranian termeh and Persian jewels are other handicrafts.
Having a proper market to offer these types of crafts will help generate jobs in the country. To achieve this, handicraft artists must be backed by the government.