Iran Arts and architecture

By | January 12, 2022

Abbasid and Seljuk period

With the conversion to Islam (➔ Islam), Iranian art did not completely break with the past, but preserved within it part of the ancient iconographic heritage, which underwent a process of Islamization for which what previously had symbolic meaning henceforth it had an exclusively decorative function. Almost nothing remains of the Umayyad era. In architecture we can speak of an official Abbasid style (older parts of the major mosque of Esfahan, 760 ca., and of the mosque of Shiraz, 871). The minor arts remained faithful to the Sasanian tradition (silver and bronze objects: vessels for ablutions, jugs), from the 8th-11th century. A renewed vitality is observed in the silk and ceramic industry (Samanid pottery, 9th -10th century).

According to itypemba, with the Seljuks (11th-13th century) some traditional Iranian typologies developed in architecture; the most notable contribution is the transformation of the hypostyle mosque into the so-called mosque-madrasa type (➔islam): the first example is that of the Zawāre mosque (1135-36). However this model became characteristic of the Iranlater, with the Īlkhān (mosque of Varamin, 1332-36). In funerary architecture, both the tower model (Damghan, 1056; Kharraqa, 1067-93) and the domed one on a square base (mausoleum of Sultan Sanjār in Merv, 1157) were followed. Civil architecture is known from Afghanistan’s gasnavid palaces and caravanserais. In the architectural decoration of the exteriors, the one in brick cut and sculpted with geometric and vegetal ornaments, or with inserts in sculpted and painted stucco prevails. Noteworthy is the monumental epigraphic decoration with original typologies such as the kufic bordered by Khorasan. In the interiors, stucco was widely used. The typical decorative muqarnas party developed in the Iranian area(stalactites), later common in Islam. Having lost the great wall painting, a manuscript of a novel (12th century) remains of the miniature. Metallistics flourished in Khorasan, where the renewal of forms was accompanied by the development of the encrusting technique in copper and silver on bronze. Great quality reached the ceramic workshops (Kashan and ar-Rayy) with the metallic luster decoration and the polychrome ceramics (mina’i). The wall decoration in glazed ceramic tiles was established.


With the Īlkhān period (13th-14th century) architecture developed in a monumental sense and extensive use was made of ceramic mosaic decoration (Oljaitu mausoleum 1304-13 in Sulṭāniyya, mosques of Tabriz, 1310-20, of Forumad, 1320 and of Varamin). Far Eastern motifs and iconographies (peony, phoenix, clouds) and a sinizing style were introduced into the landscapes of the miniatures and the slender proportions of the figures. The center of pictorial production was Tabriz, the capital. In ceramics, the Seljuk tradition continued with Far Eastern contributions (production of metals in Shiraz).

With the Timurids, architecture does not propose new inventions, but presents its own variations, with a search for harmony of proportions even in the colossal. The bulbous dome on a high drum is created; the coatings surround the monuments both indoors and outdoors. The miniature (Herat and Shiraz) was particularly lucky. Textile art under Chinese influence refined techniques and repertoire; great development had the art of the carpet, which from the 15th century. elaborated the medallion type. The potters produced interesting imitations of Chinese products, in the blue-on-white style.

The Safavid dynasty (1502-1736) marks a very flourishing period, and the architecture represents one of its most significant aspects, even if on the whole it does not renew its schemes (mosque of the Shāh, 1611, and of the Shaykh Luṭf Allāh, 1603 -17, in Esfahan). In palatial construction we return to an Asian concept of nomadic tradition, in which the functions are disaggregated: the palace is shattered into pavilions distributed in a large park, such as that of Esfahan (1588-1629). The activity in civil construction is remarkable, with bridges and caravanserais. The miniature flourished in Tabriz (16th century), in the new capital Esfahan and in Shiraz. The textile production is of excellent quality: silky veils, gold and silver brocades, velvets. All sectors of the minor arts have artistic excellence. Ceramics received impetus from the imitation of Chinese blue and white, which led to the birth of a style, the international Chinese of Iranian imprint, particularly widespread in Turkey. The taste for porcelain intended for furnishing encouraged collecting and favored the development of a new architectural decorative party, the ‘wall with vasiform niches’.

With the 18th century. Iranian art is in crisis. However, with the Qāgiār, popular motifs emerge, even if of modest quality, which give communicative strength to the works of painting. European influences, detectable in the work of M. Khan and M. Ghaffari, at the beginning of the 20th century. they are overcome by a reference to traditional schools (H. Bihzad).

With the Pahlavīs, Iranian art is inserted in the wider world panorama. In 1964 the Club of artists, founded in 1946, was transformed into a ministry of arts and cultures, welcoming artists from all sectors. Sepehrī, M. Oveissī and F. Pilaram belong to the pre-revolutionary period, inspired above all by the miniaturistic and calligraphic tradition, as well as the Saggakhāne group, founded by H. Zanderudī and P. Tanavolī in the 1970s.


The period post-revolutionary, on the other hand, is characterized by an art that is both revolutionary and Islamic, where graphic works dedicated to the themes of war and martyrdom, often collective and anonymous, prevail. Among the notable contemporary personalities is S. Neshat, who moved to the United States, who gained international attention for her intense videos. In architecture there is a return to traditional values ​​and to classical typologies: Center of professional studies (N. Ardalane, 1972), Museum of contemporary art (Ardalane and K. Diba, 1976) and al-Qādir mosque (1977-87)) in Tehran; new city of Shūshtar (Diba, 1976-87); mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeinī (1989) in Tehran. At the end of the 20th century, the landscape architect Mehrdad Iravanian stands out among the internationally oriented figures (in Shiraz: Porta del Corano, 1995; Parco Chamran, 1998;2002).

Iran Arts