Persia & Persian Art at the Louvre

Persia & Persian Art at the Louvre

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Persian art at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France. There are art pieces from the Royal Palace in Susa from the Achaemenids, the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great (d. 530 BCE).

King Darius the Great (r. 522-486 BCE), built one of his residences in Susa, where these
pieces were taken from. Also featured are art pieces from the Sassanid Empire era, and
from Bishapur (near modern Kazerun) and other places in Iran.

And lastly, there are examples of Persian-Islamic art from after the Arabian invasions of Persia in 651 CE.

Note: the first 2 slides in the show are Greek art pieces.

Persian Miniature Painting

A Persian miniature is a richly detailed miniature painting which depicts religious or mythological themes from the region of the Middle East now known as Iran. The art of miniature painting in Persia flourished from the 13th through the 16th centuries, and continues to this day, with several contemporary artists producing notable Persian miniatures. These delicate, lush paintings are typically visually stunning, with a level of detail which can only be achieved with a very fine hand and an extremely small brush. Persian miniature is a small painting, whether a book illustration or a separate work of art intended to be kept in an album of such works. The techniques are broadly comparable to the Western and Byzantine traditions of miniatures in illuminated manuscripts, which probably had an influence on the origins of the Persian tradition.

Although there is an equally well-established Persian tradition of wall painting, the survival rate and state of preservation of miniatures is better, and miniatures are much the best-known form of Persian painting in the West.

Several features about Persian miniatures stand out. The first is the size and level of detail many of these paintings are quite small, but they feature rich, complex scenes which can occupy a viewer for hours. Classically, a Persian miniature also features accents in gold and silver leaf, along with a very vivid array of colors. The perspective in a Persian miniature also tends to be very intriguing, with elements overlaid on each other in ways which sometimes feel awkward to people who are accustomed to the look and feel of Western art.

Originally, Persian miniatures were commissioned as book illustrations for Persian illuminated manuscripts. Only the wealthiest of patrons could afford these illustrations, with some Persian miniatures taking up to a year to complete. Eventually, people also began collecting these works of art on their own, binding them into separate books. Many of these collections fortunately survive to this day, along with other examples of Persian art such as Iran’s famous pile carpets.

The Persian miniature was probably inspired by Chinese art, given the very Chinese themes which appear in some early examples of Persian miniatures. Many of the mythological creatures depicted in early Persian art, for example, bear a striking resemblance to animals in Chinese myth. Over time, however, Persian artists developed their own style and themes, and the concept of the Persian miniature was picked up by neighboring regions.

Many museums of Asian art have Persian miniatures in their collections, and it is well worth visiting to see examples of this distinctive art form in person. Persian miniatures also merit undivided attention the longer one looks at a Persian miniature, the more details and themes emerge. The study of a single miniature can take up an entire day, as more and more details unfold, and many museums conveniently have detailed guides to the figures and themes in their Persian miniatures so that visitors can learn more about what they are seeing. Miniature painting became a significant Persian form in the 13th century, and the highest point in the tradition was reached in the 15th and 16th centuries. The tradition continued, under some Western influence. The Persian miniature was the dominant influence on other Islamic miniature traditions, principally the Ottoman miniature in Turkey, and the Mogul miniature in the Indian sub-continent. Though at various stages it has been affected by Chinese and Eastern influences, Persian miniature art has developed its own distinctive features. Iran’s miniature artists are recognizable for their emphasis on natural and realist motifs. Also worth noting is the Persian technique of “layering” perspectives to create a sense of space. For example, in the miniature piece at right, the variety of views is noticeable in the arrangement of objects: birds inhabit both the foreground and background of the piece, with the floral objects positioned in between. This gives the viewer a sense of three-dimensional space and the ability to focus on certain aspects of the piece to the exclusion of others.

Content and form are fundamental elements of Persian miniature painting, and miniature artists are renowned for their modest, subtle use of color. The themes of Persian miniature are mostly related to Persian mythology and poetry. Western artists discovered the Persian miniature around the beginning of the 20th century. Persian miniatures uses pure geometry and a vivid palette. The allure of Persian miniature painting lies in its absorbing complexities and in the surprising way it speaks to large questions about the nature of art and the perception of its masterpieces.

The history of the art of painting in Iran, goes back to the cave age. In the caves of Lorestan province, painted images of animals and hunting scenes have been discovered. Paintings discovered by W. Semner, on the walls of buildings, in Mallyan heights, in Fars, belong to 5,000 years ago. Paintings discovered on earthenware in Lorestan, and other archaeological sites, prove that the artists of this region were familiar with the art of painting. Also from the Ashkanid era, few mural paintings, most of them discovered in the northern parts of Forat River, have been uncovered. One of these paintings is a display of a hunting scene. The position of riders and animals, and the style in this work reminds us of the Iranian miniatures. In the paintings of Achaemenid era, profile work was preferred by the artists. The proportion and beauty of colors of this era are remarkable. The colors are shadeless, and have the same tune. In some cases, black stripes limited the colorful surfaces. The paintings of “Torfan”, discovered in the desert of “Gall”, a region situated in the Turkistan province in China, belong to 840 to 860 AD.

These mural paintings exhibit Iranian scenes and portraits. Images of tree branches also exist in these paintings. The most ancient paintings of the Islamic period, are quite scarce, and were created in the first half of the 13th century. China, perhaps since the 7th century, as an artistic center, has been the most important incentive for the art of painting in Iran. Ever since, a relation has been established between Buddhist Chinese painters and, Iranian artists. From the historic viewpoint, the most important evolution in Iranian art has been the adoption of Chinese designs and coloring that were mixed with the specific conception of Iranian artists. In the first centuries, after the emergence of Islam, Iranian artists began adorning books. The preface and the margins of books were adorned. These designs were passed on to the next centuries, together with precise principles and rules, which is known as the “Art of Illumination.” Paintings from the beginning of the Islamic period had the reputation of belonging to Baghdad school. Miniatures of Baghdad school have totally lost the style and methods of the usual paintings of the pre-Islamic period.

These primitive and innovative paintings do not possess the necessary artistic stress. The miniatures of Baghdad school are not proportional. Portraits show the “Sami” race and light colors are used. Artists of the Baghdad school, after years of stagnancy, were eager to create and innovate. The particular views of this school, is in drawing animals and illustrating stories.

Although the Baghdad school, considering the pre-Islamic art, is to some extent, superficial and primitive, but the art of Iranian miniature, in the same period, was widespread in every region in which, Islam was propagated: Far East, Africa and Europe. Among illustrated books in the Baghdad style, “Kelileh and Demneh” can be named. Images are painted larger than normal and are not proportional. Only few colors are used in these paintings. Most of the handwritten books of the 13th century are enriched with images of animals, vegetables, and illustrations from fables and stories.

An example of the most ancient Iranian miniature is the drawings of a book called “Manafe-alHayvan” (1299 AD). This book describes the characteristics of animals. The natural history is mixed and narrated through the ancient fables in this book. Diverse subjects of this book, require numerous images that are so important in familiarizing the reader with the Iranian art of painting. Colors are bright and laying step after the old style of the Baghdad school. After the invasion of Moguls, a new school appeared in Iran. This school was totally under the influence of the Chinese and Mogul style. These paintings are all minute, dry, motionless, and pure, in the Chinese style.

Mogul emperors, after the invasion of Iran, were impressed by the Iranian art and encouraged the painters, initiating the former kings of Iran. Among the characteristics of the Iranian art which can also be observed in the paintings of Mogul style, we can enumerate, subtleties, decorative compositions, and fine short lines. The style of the Iranian paintings is linear and not dimensional. Artists in this field have demonstrated a particular creativity and genuineness.

Artists of the Mogul royal court honored not only the techniques but also Iranian themes. A part of their work consisted of illustrating Iranian literary masterpieces such as “The Shahnameh” of Ferdowsi. Contrary to Baghdad and Mogul schools, more works remain from Harat school. The founders of the style of painting called the Harat school, were Teimoor’s ancestors, and the school was named after the place in which it was founded.

Art experts believe that during Teimoor’s era, the art of painting in Iran, had reached a climax. During this period, outstanding masters, such as Kamal-ul-Din Behzad, contributed a new touch to the Iranian painting. Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād Herawī, also known as Kamal al-din Bihzad or Kamaleddin Behzad (c. 1450 – c. 1535) was a painter of Persian miniatures and head of the royal ateliers in Herat and Tabriz during the late Timurid and early Safavid periods. Behzad is the most famous of Persian miniature painters, though he is more accurately understood as the director of a workshop (or kitabkhāna) producing manuscript illuminations in a style he conceived. Persian painting of the period frequently uses an arrangement of geometric architectural elements as the structural or compositional context in which the figures are arranged. Behzad is equally skilled with the organic areas of landscape, but where he uses the traditional geometric style Behzad stretches that compositional device in a couple ways. One is that he often uses open, unpatterned empty areas around which action moves. Also he pins his compositions to a mastery at moving the eye of the observer around the picture plane in a quirky organic flow. The gestures of figures and objects are not only uniquely natural, expressive and active, they are arranged to keep moving the eye throughout the picture plane. He uses value (dark-light contrast) more emphatically, and skillfully than other medieval miniaturists. Another quality common to his work is narrative playfulness: the almost hidden eye and partial face of Bahram as he peers out the blinds to watch the frolicing girls in the pool below, the upright goat that looks like a demon along the edge of the horizon in a story about an old woman confronting the sins of Sanjar, the amazing cosmopolitan variety of humans working on the wall in the sample image. This surprising individuality of character and narrative creativity are some qualities that distinguish Bezhad’s works and that match their literary intent. Behzad also uses Sufi symbolism and symbolic colour to convey meaning. He introduced greater naturalism to Persian painting, particularly in the depiction of more individualised figures and the use of realistic gestures and expressions.

Behzad’s most famous works include “The Seduction of Yusuf” from Sa’di’s Bustan of 1488, and paintings from the British Library’s Nizami manuscript of 1494-95 – particularly scenes from Layla and Majnun and the Haft Paykar. The attribution of specific paintings to Behzad himself is often problematic (and, many academics would now argue, unimportant), but the majority of works commonly attributed to him date from 1488 to 1495. He is also mentioned in Orhan Pamuk’s famous novel “My Name is Red” as one of the greatest Persian miniature painters. In Pamuk’s novel it is said that Kamal al-Din Behzad blinded himself with a needle.

Behzad was born, lived and worked in Herat (in present day Afghanistan) under the Timurids, and later in Tabriz under the Safavid dynasty. An orphan, he was raised by the prominent painter Mirak Naqqash, and was a protege of Mir Ali Shir Nava’i. His major patrons in Herat were the Timurid sultan Husayn Bayqarah (ruled 1469 – 1506) and other amirs in his circle. After the fall of the Timurids, he was employed by Shah Ismail I Safavi in Tabriz, where, as director of the royal atelier, he had a decisive impact on the development of later Safavid painting. Behzad died in 1535 and his tomb is located in Tabriz, 2-Kamal Tomb. A statue of Behzad is placed in 2-Kamal Tomb.

During the Safavid era, the artistic center was moved to Tabriz. A few artists also settled in Qazvin. However, the Safavid School of painting was established in Isfahan. The miniature of Iran, in the Isfahan of Safavid era, was detached from the influence of the Chinese out and stepped on a new road. The painters were then more inclined towards naturalism. Agha Reza Reza-e Abbasi (also Reza Abbasi) (1565 – 1635) was the most renowned Persian miniaturist, painter and calligrapher of the Isfahan School, which flourished during the Safavid period under the patronage of Shah Abbas I. Reza Abbassi, founded the “Safavid School of painting”. The art of design during the Safavid era was subjected to a brilliant transformation. He is considered to be one of the foremost Persian artists of all time. He received his training in the atelier of his father, Ali Asghar, and was received into the workshop of Shah Abbas I at a young age. At the age of about 38 he received the honorific title of Abbasi from his patron, but soon left the Shah’s employ, apparently seeking greater freedom to associate with simple people. In 1610 he returned to the court and continued in the employ of the Shah until his death. His specialty was the Persian miniature, with a preference for naturalistic subjects often portrayed in an effeminate and impressionistic manner, a style which came to be popular during the late Safavid court. Many of his works depict handsome youths, often in the role of saqi, or “wine pourer,” who at times are the focus of the admiring gaze of an older man and according to Louis Crompton, a manifestation of the Persian tradition of “appreciating youthful male beauty” (2003, p.171). Today his works can be found in the museum that bears his name in Tehran, as well as in many of the major museums of the West, such as the Smithsonian, the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Miniatures created under the Safavid School, were not exclusively aimed for adorning and illustrating books. The Safavid style is softer in form than those of the Teimoorian School, specially the Mongolian. Human images and their behavior are not vain and artificial, in the contrary quiet natural, and close to reality. In Safavid paintings, the splendor and the grandeur of this period is the main attraction. The themes of the paintings are about the life in the royal court, the nobles, beautiful palaces, pleasant goodness, scenes of battles and banquets. Humans are drawn in sumptuous garments, handsome faces and elegant statues colors are glowingly bright. Artists paid more attention to generalities and, avoided unnecessary details, as used in Harat and Tabriz styles. The smoothness of lines, the quick expression of feelings, and condensing the subjects are the characteristics of the Safavid style of painting. Since the end of the Safavid era, perspective and shading, a result of the European style, appeared in the Iranian paintings. Paintings of the Qajar era, are a combination of the classic European arts and Safavid miniature techniques. In this period, Mohammad Gaffari Kamal-ul-Molk, pushed forward the European classical style of painting in Iran. Under the qajars, a kind of painting known as the “Teahouse” painting found its place. This kind of painting is a new phenomenon in the history of the Iranian art.
The great Iranian master miniaturist, Hossein Behzad the son of pen-holder designer, Mirza Lotfollah Esfahani was born in Tehran in 1894. He was greatly interested in painting in his early childhood, and his father put him under the care of Molla Ali in Madjma-os-Sanayeh, the Art Center to gain miniature painting skills. Behzad once said an unknown and obscure feeling, pulled me toward painting, and when I took pencil or pen following this feeling, I felt like a thirsty man who reaches a limpid and refreshing spring. It was not long before his father and his trainer died by the attack of cholera. The hard and tragic period of the life of this sensitive and talented child started since this time. Now Hossein become the apprentice of Hossein Peikar-Negar who once was Molla Ali’s apprentice. Behzad worked for him for twelve years developing his experience while making a living. He finally left Peikar-Negar in the age of 18, and opened a work shop of his own at Haji- Rahim Khan Caraavansarai near Sabzeh Maidan. At first Behzad followed the style of old masters like Kamaleddin Behzad and Reza Abbassi. His works was so skillfully that one could not tell the difference between his works and the old masters’. He got married to Azizeh Khanam in 1921, who gave birth to their only child, Parviz.

Behzad left for France in 1934, stayed in Paris for thirteen months during which he surveyed various Eastern and Western painting styles in Louvre, Guimet and Versailles museums. The result of this trip was the invention of a new style in miniature art by Behzad. He states about this travel as My talent budded and I become aware of my ability, my fingers attained new sensation and passion. After his return from Paris, Behzad stopped imitating old masters works, while pursuing the miniature principles.

My study in various Iranian and foreign miniature styles aimed to create a new Iranian style conformed with the modern art. Miniature painting which had been turned to undesirable and unbecoming art, was gradually disappearing and I tried to bring a new style to save it from falling into oblivion.


In 1893 a section devoted to &ldquoMuslim Art&rdquo was created within the Département des objets d&rsquoart, and from the outset objects from Persia have been a most important part of this collection. A few pieces of Persian Islamic art belonged to the collections before the 1880s when Emile Molinier served as curator, prior to Gaston Migeon (1861-1930) and the introduction and display of important acquisitions in the collection. At least one piece, a famous Timurid jade bowl, belonged to Louis XIV (MR 199) indeed until quite recently almost all the gemstones belonging to Louis XIV were attributed to Iran. They all entered the &ldquoMusée Central des Arts&rdquo in 1793.

The first acquisitions were devoted to ceramics and were arranged by Migeon. Persian medieval ceramics were acquired by the Museum either through a number of connoisseurs or through direct purchases. In 1893, a large group of luster tiles from the Saljuqid and Il-khanid periods were bought from the Paris art dealer Mme. Duffeuty, along with the first Iranian metalwares. More pieces, including some Safavid metalwares were obtained in 1895 through W. Schultz (the author of Persian Islamic Miniature Painting). Several pieces of Iranian ceramics were given to the museum in the bequests of the French collectors Dr. Fouquet and Léon Dru, both in 1905. The large Lajavardina plate (OA 6456) was acquired from M. Tabbagh in 1911 and is the only example of this group with a turquoise glaze. During the years 1890-1914 most of the acquisitions of ceramics were of Persian provenance, with a special focus on the &ldquoarchaic&rdquo period, as defined by Maurice Pezard. Many pieces came through the Vignier brothers, art dealers mainly active in Iran they were given through the Société des Amis du Louvre (the Friends of the Louvre Museum) between 1914 and 1921. They were mostly Saljuq ceramics including the famous epigraphic molded turquoise bowl (OA 6703), a fine pure white bowl with an arabesque drawing (OA 7477), the Abu Ṭālib hare bowl (OA 7478), a famous example of the so called Āḡkand (q.v.) pottery and fine pieces attributed in provenance to Zanjān and Āmol (OA 7475, 7480). One of the best-preserved mina bowls in the collection (OA 6452) was also given by the Société des Amis du Louvre in 1911. The bequest of Georges Marteau (1916) included his collection of Persian and Mughal paintings, ninety-one items in all, many of which were donated to the Museum. Among them three pages from the great Il-khanid &Scaronāh-nāma (see &ldquoDEMOTTE&rdquo &ScaronĀH-NĀMA), and many pages from a moraqqaʿ, or album, are the most outstanding items. Most of the pages of the moraqqaʿ are Safavid one of the most famous pages in the collection is a tinted drawing by Moḥammadi, one of the only two dated pages by the artist (from 1578) another page in the collection has been recently attributed to the same master (Makariou, 1999). The collection includes a beautiful drawing signed by Siyāvo&scaron, and pages by &Scaronayḵ Moḥammad, Moḥammad ʿAli and Reżā ʿAbbāsi, among others.

After World War I the acquisitions of objects slowed down somewhat. Among the gifts that enlarged the collections, Iranian objects were not as numerous as in the pre-World War II years. In the 1970s the museum acquired some remarkable pieces: namely the cock spout ewer (MAO 442) which once belonged to the collection of the art dealer Acheroff and was exhibited in the Pavillon de Marsan, at the famous Exposition des arts musulmans of 1903. It was a gift of the Friends of the Louvre Museum. A luster ewer adorned with Persian verses as well as Arabic verses by Ebn al-Moʿtazz was also given by the Société des Amis du Louvre in 1993 (MAO 897 Makariou, 2002, p. 63). The famous mina bowl with a riding falconer (MAO 440) was bought in 1970, enriching the collection with a most impressive piece, which combines minai and luster techniques in a single object (illustrated Bernus-Taylor, p. 53). In the same year the great luster ewer adorned with dragons (MAO 444) was acquired. It is a good example of ceramic whose form imitates metalwork. In 2003 one of the three molded bowls signed by Ḥasan al-Kā&scaronāni was acquired by the Museum from a private collection in Paris.

Most of the acquisitions had focused on earlier periods but lately the Museum has tried to fill its gaps concerning later ceramic. A huge blue and white plate, adorned with a peony, and datable to around 1500, is an example of this it illustrates the transitional style between late Timurid and early Safavid (MAO 710). Qajar ceramics are also attracting more interest, and more pieces of Safavid ceramics have been acquired by the Museum, including a panel probably originating from the gate built by Shah Ṭahmāsp in the Ardabil shrine, a gate that was destroyed in the early 20th century (MAO 1189 Makariou, 2002, p. 59).

In the field of metal ware, the main part of the collection had been assembled at the end of the 19th century and in the very beginning of the 20th century. In 1893 the Museum purchased an Il-khanid box in the form of a mausoleum, a model known only through three examples (OA 3355). In 1897, the falcon shaped incense burner (OA 4044) was bought from Raoul Duseigneur and the Khorasan ewer, adorned with the signs of the zodiac (OA 5548), was purchased in 1902. Along with a group of Persian ceramics and other items, the bequest of Charles Piet-Lataudrie (1909) has brought to the Museum the great &ldquoducks candlestick&rdquo (OA 6315), made from one sheet of metal in a workshop in Khorasan, as well as other masterpieces in metalwork. Piet-Lataudrie was an extraordinary collector, mainly interested in metalwork and a large part of his collection was given to the museum of his native city, Niort (Deux-Sèvres). In 1916, among the bequest of Georges Marteau, was the great candlestick ordered by Timur for Aḥmad Yasavi&rsquos mausoleum and dated 1396. From the six candlesticks made for the mausoleum, four are still in Yasi in Turkestan, one is in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and the sixth one, which is incomplete, is in the Louvre. More examples of metalwork from Fārs were transferred from the Cluny Museum (Musée de Cluny, Paris) to the Louvre in 1926, including some candlesticks and basins which provide the evidence for the existence of a specific school of metalwork in the south of Iran. In 1933, Jean David-Weill, a curator of the Islamic collection in the Louvre and a member of a prominent family of connoisseurs and collectors with strong connections to the French museums, gave the well-known lion incense burner (AA 19) to the Museum.

During the years 1932-1945, the Islamic section was separated from the Department of Decorative Arts (Departement des objets d&rsquoart) and included in the newly created Department of Asian Art. The number of acquisitions also declined steadily between 1932 and 1945. During this period some archaeological metalwares entered the collection through the mission of the sinologist Joseph Hackin in 1933 and some more after the mission sponsored by the French industrialist André Citroën to Afghanistan in 1936. But on the whole very few Iranian artifacts entered the collection during these years. During the months before the outbreak of the war, the whole collection was packed under the supervision of J. David-Weill, assisted by the well-known art historian David Storm Rice (1913-1962), who was engaged in research in Paris at the time.

After the end of the war, the Islamic collection went back to the Louvre and meanwhile the Asian art collection gave birth to a new museum, independent from the Louvre. The opening of the Musée Guimet in 1945 marked a new episode for the history of Islamic art in French museums. The Islamic section was from then on subordinated to the Near Eastern antiquities department in the Louvre. The decision was based on the relatively common geographical ground and the partly common institutional tools (namely French institutes in the Near East).

The main advantage for the Islamic field was the complete transfer of the archaeological material excavated by the French mission at Susa. It coincided with the first attempts at registering the finds from the excavations there, although some of this material, though without any stratigraphical evidence, had been already published in 1928 by Raymond Koechlin (1860-1931 curator of the Decorative arts and collector, as well as one of the founder of the Friends of the Louvre Museum in 1897). Since the 1970s, Guillermina Joel has been engaged in providing a complete inventory of the material. The MAO S. (S standing for Susa) inventory includes, at the last count, more than 2000 items (Joel P&rsquoeli Makariou, forthcoming).

Textiles are clearly a weak spot in the collection. This can be explained by the strong links between the Musée des arts décoratifs&ndashhosted in the same building&ndashand the Musée du Louvre, and more specifically, by the different fields covered by both institutions. In the era of major acquisitions between the years 1890 and 1920, the notion and study of textiles were limited to decorative arts and for this reason their acquisition was assigned to the Musée des arts décoratifs and inscribed pieces were shared between the Louvre and the Musée de Cluny.

It was in this context that one of the most famous textiles from the Iranian world was bought. The &ldquoShroud of Saint-Josse&rdquo was acquired by the Museum in 1922 from the mayor of Saint-Josse-sur-Mer (Pas-de-Calais). The precious silk had been reused as a shroud for Saint Josse&rsquos relics (d. 699) it had arrived at the Abbey of Saint-Josse probably in 1134 as a gift by Etienne de Blois. He was king of England and his father-in law was the brother of Godefroy de Bouillon and Baudouin de Jérusalem (the misidentification of the donor as the father of the king of England has been repeated in almost all publications (including EIr. X, fasc. 2, p. 156). It is through this family link that Etienne de Blois might have obtained this textile. It is however difficult to trace back the history of the piece from Khorasan to France. The inscription mentions Boḵtegin, a Samanid Turkish emir who died in 961. His name is composed from &ldquoTegin,&rdquo &ldquoprince,&rdquo and &ldquoBoḵ&rdquo which can be translated as &ldquocamel.&rdquo The small camels depicted on the side could be an allusion to the name of the owner. This textile is a unique example of Samanid weavers&rsquo art of the middle of the 10th century. Other silk pieces&ndashvelvets or lampas&ndashwhich were bought later, are almost all Safavid

The carpets, although few in number, are of some importance. The great Safavid piece known as &ldquotapis de Mantes&rdquo used to be spread out on the floor of the parish church of Mantes, not far from Paris. Its velvet texture is in perfect condition and having been cut to fit the plan of an altar, it gives information about the way it was displayed. It is a huge medallion carpet with bright colors, and vivid decorations including men with firearms, a clue which had initially led to the assignment of this carpet to the beginning of the 17th century, though the second half of the 16th century seems to be a more plausible date.

Recently an effort has been made to expand the collection in new directions. A special interest has been shown in well documented objects from old collections: pages from the Louis Gonse collection, first published in 1903, were bought in 1990 a page which belonged to Mme. Duffeuty entered the museum in 1998. It once was part of the St. Petersburg album and is attributed to Moḥammad Zamān a beautiful stucco head, related to two others pieces in Berlin, thought to be from a palace in Ray (MAO 1226, Makariou, forthcoming, 2005), and formerly in the collection of Jean Soustiel and a stone mould from the end of the 12th century, previously in the collection of the former vice-president of the Société des Amis du Louvre, Jacques Schumann. A large collection of Qajar paintings has also been acquired, some of them belonging to André Godard (q.v. 1881-1965), the former director of the archaeological services of Iran (bequest of 1977). More pages were bought in 1987, and form altogether a collection of 58 pages (New York, 1999).

The development of the Islamic art collection, and especially of Iranian objects, have benefited from various factors. The French mission in Susa has given to the Museum its archaeological collection of the early period, especially tin-glaze pottery and luster pottery. The expansion and development also owes much to the talent and energy of the already mentioned curator in the Département des objets d&rsquoart, Gaston Migeon. His excellent relation with collectors and donors such as, for example, the Marquess Arconati-Visconti, and Charles Piet-Lataudrie was instrumental in bringing important objects to the Louvre. Friendly relations with Iran were buttressed by the presence of André Godard in that country from 1926 to 1960. After his death in 1977 his wife Yedda offered their entire collection, 78 ceramics and paintings, and their archives to the Museum. In 2003 an independent department of Islamic art was established in the Louvre Museum.

Metalwork: Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani, &ldquoBronzes et cuivres iraniens du Louvre. I: L&rsquoécole du Fars au XIVe siècle,&rdquo JA, 257, 1969, pp. 21-36.

Idem, &ldquoUn chandelier iranien du XIVe siècle,&rdquo Bulletin des Musées et monuments lyonnais, 4, 1969, pp. 213-24.

Idem, &ldquoNouvelles remarques sur l&rsquoécole du Fars,&rdquo Bulletin des Musées et monuments lyonnais,n. 3, 1971, pp. 361-91 Le bronze iranien, Musée des arts décoratifs, Paris, 1973.

Idem, &ldquoLes bronzes du Khorâssân,&rdquo Studia Iranica,pt. I, 3/1, 1974,pp. 29-50 II, 4/1, 1975,pp. 51-71 IV/2, 1976, pp. 203-12 V, 6-2, 1977, pp. 185-210 Gemstones: D. Alcouffe, Les gemmes de la couronne, Réunion des Musées nationaux, Paris, 2002.

Painting: G. Marteau and H. Vever, Les miniatures persanes, Paris, 1913.

I. Stchoukine, Les miniatures persanes. Musée national du Louvre, Paris, 1932.

Layla S. Diba, Royal Persian Paintings. The Qajar Epoch, 1785-1925, Brooklyn Museum of Art Gallery Guide, New York, 1999.

Sophie Makariou, &ldquoUne nouvelle page attribuée à Muhammedi dans les collections du Louvre,&rdquo Revue du Louvre et des musées de France, 1999/5, pp. 46-52.

Varia: G. Migeon, L&rsquoOrient musulman, Musée du Louvre, 2 vols., Paris, 1922.

G. Salle and M. J. Ballot, Les collections de l&rsquoOrient musulman, Musées nationaux, Palais du Louvre, Paris, 1928.

A. U. Pope and P. Ackerman, eds., A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present, 4 vols., London, 1938-39 2nd ed., 16 vols., Tehran, 1964, with addenda 1967 3rd ed. with bibliography and addenda, Tehran, 1977.

L&rsquoIslam dans les collections nationales, Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, 1971.

Marthe Bernus-Taylor,ed. Arabesques et jardins de paradis, musée du Louvre, Paris, 1989.

Idem, Les arts de l&rsquoIslam, guide, Musée du Louvre, Réunion des Musées nationaux, Paris, 1993 revised edition 2001.

Idem, &ldquoNouvelles acquisitions de céramiques iranienne,&rdquo Revue du Louvre et des musées de France 3, 1973, pp. 198-200.

G. Joel, A. P&rsquoeli, and S. Makariou, &ldquoLes terres cuites islamiques de Susa,&rdquo ed. Snoek/Musée de Louvre, forthcoming (October 2005).

R. Koechlin, La céramique de Suse, mémoires de la DAFI, Paris, 1928.

Sophie Makariou ed., Nouvelles acquisitions, arts de l&rsquoIslam, Musée du Louvre, Réunion des Musées nationaux, Paris, 2002.

Collectors: Les donateurs du Louvre, Musée du Louvre, Paris, Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1989.

Des mécènes par milliers, un siècle de dons par les Amis du Louvre, Musée du Louvre, Paris, Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1997.

Stephen Vernoit, ed., Discovering Islamic Art: Scholars, Collectors, and Collections, 1850-1950, London and New York, 2000.


In 1793, when the Louvre Museum (Musée du Louvre) was created under the name of Central Museum of Arts (Musée Centrale des Arts), antiquities were exclusively represented by Greek and Roman sculptures. The items of Sassanid gold and silverware (which were not recognized as such) from the royal abbey of Saint Denis had been placed in the Medal Room of the National Library. That was where, among other things, the famous cup of Khosrow II was preserved. This cup had been traditionally attributed to Solomon and was said to have been sent to Charlemagne or to Charles the Bald.

The true nature of ancient Persian civilization was to be revealed in the 19th century thanks to archaeological explorations in which the Louvre Museum participated. The Department of Oriental Antiquities was created in 1881 as a separate section from the &ldquoAntiques&rdquo because of the discovery of Sumerian art at Tello. In the following year, the engineer Marcel Dieulafoy, was sent on a mission to Persia subsidized by the Administration of French Museums, which gave him the opportunity to explore the site of Susa. Two campaigns of excavation, in 1885 and 1886, led to locating the palace that the inscriptions in Old Persian referred to as the Apadāna, built by Darius the Great or Darius I and restored by Artaxerxes II in the fourth century B.C.E. The work could not be carried on beyond a wall adorned with an enameled frieze representing lions, which had fallen on the ground of the adjoining courtyard. The other elements of the polychrome decor had been dismembered in antiquity and were discovered lying in a heap. After being sent to France, the bricks had disintegrated and had to be consolidated at great cost before the friezes could be assembled. These immediately became famous due to their featuring certain colors that had been lost elsewhere. They were exhibited on the first floor of the gallery south of the Colonnade built during the reign of Louis XIV. Displayed within this framework was the only capital which could be repaired, with its double protome of a bull above the voluted element, as at Persepolis. The two halves of the frieze of lions facing one another preceded it. The black and white archers have been identified as the Immortals mentioned by Herodotus. Above these friezes were merlon against a white background, &ldquoshowing that this was an open-air decoration.&rdquo Dieulafoy also mentions that apart from an Elamite stela dating from the twelfth century B. C., there was a statue from the Parthian period that may be attributed to the art of the Elymaïde (Ir. Ant. XXXVI 2001 p. 252, ill. 24).

What was known at the time was only the Iran of the Medes and the Persians, although the Assyrian texts had revealed the importance of the old kingdom of Elam that had preceded them. Iranian antiquities usually reached Europe by way of the Ottoman Empire and, as a result, the merchants assumed that they were of Armenian or Anatolian origin. The first of the bronzes of Luristan which arrived at the Louvre in 1893 after having been acquired in Tehran, is a curious &ldquostandard&rdquo consisting of a round of figures within a ring (AO 2397). Upon analyzing it, Léon Alexandre (1831-1922) and Heuzey, a great Hellenist, thought that &ldquothe movement is such as Greek art has given to the Gorgons&rdquo and, as a result, he recognized it as a work of the Parthian period. Shortly afterward, the first Luristan &ldquoidols&rdquo (AO 3075 3086 4720 6267) were acquired and were considered to be &ldquosceptre heads of a Cappadocian style,&rdquo although it was cautiously noted: &ldquoperiod and style to be clarified.&rdquo This took another thirty years.

Remarkable objects, which remained incomparable among the Louvre collections, were acquired during the late nineteenth century and, oddly enough, did not appear to have awakened any particular enthusiasm. This was because the prejudice regarding the pre-eminence of Greek art was strong and that scholars knew hardly anything about the Achaemenid art of jewelry. An expert on ancient art objects, Gaston Migeon, was unaware of the &ldquoOxus Treasure,&rdquo which had been acquired by the British Museum shortly before this. He merely wrote a brief article in 1902 in the Revue des Arts, where he published the famous vase handle in gilt silver representing a winged ibex. This object belonged to the Tyszkiewicz Collection and was said to be of Armenian origin (AO 2748). Its base in the shape of a Silenus mask showed the influence of Greek art that had been well assimilated by the Iranian craftsman. In addition, a large rhyton in ribbed silver with a deer&rsquos head, and a deep silver cup were acquired, apparently from a tomb in Erzerum. Their attribution (AO 3095 and 3094) to Persian art was confirmed by the similarity of the decor of the cup to that of the base of the Susa column found by Dieulafoy shortly before: the reference to field archaeology thus proved to be decisive.

At the time, the Susa excavations were greatly stimulated by the initiative of Jacques de Morgan (De Morgan, Jacques) who managed, through French diplomatic means, to obtain a monopoly for France with regard to &ldquoscientific&rdquo research throughout the Persian Empire territory. Morgan&rsquos aim was twofold: first, to reveal the evidences of Elamite civilization, the importance of which was indirectly known by allusions from the Assyrians who destroyed Susa in 648 B.C.E. Second, to discover the very &ldquoorigins&rdquo of eastern civilization, which Morgan assumed to have stemmed from Susiana. Consequently, Darius&rsquos palace was considered as &ldquolow period&rdquo and the work was centered on the thirty-eight-meter-high Acropolis. To start with, however, there was the surprise discovery of a series of impressive examples of Babylonian civilization brought as war booty in the twelfth century B. C. by an Elamite conqueror. No immediate decision was taken about these findings but in 1900, Moẓaffar al-Din Shah signed a special treaty granting to France (see Délégations Archéologiques) all the antiquities that had been, or would be, discovered in Susiana. Thus, the Louvre was to function as the depository of a complete set of archaeological material, which was unprecedented among archaeological expeditions. The initial shipment in 1901 was of unique importance, containing the Code of Hammurabi, the victory stele of Naram-Sin and Elamite antiquities such as a large bronze table displaying the unique skill of the Elamite metalworkers of the time. These great monuments were appropriately displayed with those of Mesopotamia in an Assyrian room. A number of them also belonged to Elamite history, according to an inscription added by the conqueror who had brought them to Susa. New space had to be found at the Trémouille Pavillon, west of the Louvre counters display cases. Finally, contrary to the habits of those days, they had to refrain from exhibiting all of their finds. The Galérie de Delphes, under the seventeenth-century Colonnade, was devoted to archaeological material and reserved exclusively for archaeologists. This became or proved more indispensable, as more and more discoveries were made in the course of the following years. The originality of Elamite art was thus confirmed, with the enormous bronze statue of Queen Napir-Asu, the fragments of the stele of her royal spouse (later repaired), and the astonishing ex voto called sîtshamshi, which, oddly enough, suggests a Canaanite &ldquohigh place.&rdquo

Above the level of these objects, one of the rare testimonies to the Achaemenid occupation of the Acropolis was discovered: the tomb of a prince, dating from the mid-fourth century on the evidence of Phoenician coins. It contained the only complete and truly remarkable treasure of jewelry that has so far come down to us. The large coil and the golden bracelets with colored inlays, the silver cup and the multiple necklaces in gold, carnelian and agate are masterpieces, though, for some odd reason, despised by J. de Morgan. According to the latter, &ldquoAchaemenid art, if this incoherent amalgam, which was favored at the court of Cyrus&rsquos successors can by any means be qualified as art, was nothing but a mixture of Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, Lycian, Cappadocian and Phrygian. These diverse elements were often associated with the worst taste.&rdquo (Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse, VIII 1905, p. 46). Although the judgment may be wrong, the analysis was quite right.

Anxious to discover the origins of Susa, Morgan reached virgin soil in 1906 and thus discovered the pre-historic necropolis. This created a sensation with its elaborately decorated painted vases, the study of which was entrusted to the great specialist of Greek ceramics, E. Pottier (Mémoires . XIII 1912). J. de Morgan handed over the project to his disciple R. de Mecquenem, who continued exploring and expanding the excavation of Darius&rsquos palace, of which Dieulafoy had merely recognized the columned hall called the Apādana, which resembled the one at Persepolis. Thus, the levels of the mud-brick dwellings were explored, revealing further elements of the decor in enameled brick. This called for a reconstruction of the displays installed at the Louvre. At the same time, just after World War I, the works were extended to the other tells of the vast Susan agglomerations termed &ldquoRoyal City&rdquo and &ldquoArtisan&rsquos City.&rdquo Thus, examples from all the periods of Elamite history were gradually sent to the Louvre and, beginning in 1928, divided with the Tehran Museum according to the new law concerning antiquities that had been promulgated in Iran under the Pahlavi dynasty.

From then on, the extension of archaeological research to the Iranian plateau, combined with the acquisition of scattered antiquities, made it necessary to re-organize the entire presentation of the collections. On the one hand, the opening of Iran to modernity inevitably led to the disaster of illicit excavations, which were almost unknown before then. On the other hand, this led to the appearance of the &ldquoLuristan bronzes,&rdquo which could hardly be ignored. The Louvre acquired a modest series of them that were representative in principle but still difficult to classify. In order to attempt a more precise approach towards understanding the archaeological history of the plateau, a mission from the Louvre museum, led by Georges Contenau and Roman Ghirshman, set out in 1931-32 to explore Tepe Giyan, which had already been greatly disturbed by clandestine searchers. An institutional authority connected with archaeological research was, in this case, greatly acclaimed. This excavation was difficult, but it led to establishing provisionally &ldquothe succession of the ceramics (major witnesses of civilizations), of which similar ones were known at Susa, . and at Sumer.&rdquo (M. Rutten, Guide des Antiquités Orientales, 1934, p. 83).

Clandestine excavators, still tolerated, discovered Tepe Sialk, near Kashan, much further to the east. Roman Ghirshman explored this new site in 1933, 1934 and 1938. The two cemeteries near the large prehistoric tell testified to the immigration of Iranians from the end of the second millennium. Very beautiful painted vases or gray lusterware of this period, which were already scattered among collections, thus found their relative place within history. The display at the Louvre of so many acquisitions called for a radical reorganization. This began in the thirties but was interrupted by World War II. Following the war, André Parrot took over from G. Contenau as Head Curator, while the latter remained honorary director of the Susa excavations, which were entrusted to R. Girshman. The work proceeded according to a better method until 1967, with the aim of establishing the precise stratigraphy of the periods called &ldquolate,&rdquo and finally Elamite, as immediately recognized by R. de Mecquenem. At the same time, the royal city founded by Untash Napirisha, i. e. Choḡa Zanbil, with its famous ziggurat, was being explored. As in previous years, half of the objects discovered, with the exception of unique pieces that remained in Iran, were sent to the Louvre annually. This, for the most part, consisted of material tending to illustrate the archaeological environment of the antiquities previously collected by early excavators. All of this material had to be distributed within the rooms preceding the ones where the vast enameled décor of Darius&rsquos palace had been permanently reinstalled around the great capital, which had also been taken out of the old rooms on the first floor of the Colonnade.

Meanwhile a diplomat, J. Coiffard, had bought a considerable number of Luristan antiques that the Louvre was able to acquire from him in 1958. In this way, it became possible to illustrate the great periods of the civilization of nomadic metalworkers. These were, to begin with, Sumerians and early Babylonians, and from the end of the second millennium, contemporaries of the Iranians, who presumably had settled on the stratified sites of Tepe Giyan and Tepe Sialk. This was shown with reference to the Belgian excavations led by Louis Vanden Berghe. The &ldquoorphan antiquities&rdquo scattered around illicitly thus recovered their identity.

In the course of the thirty-odd years preceding the Islamic Revolution the foreign missions were exceptionally active, expanding their plundering of Luristan to the north-eastern provinces, especially Gilān, which was rich in easily found graveyards. From about 1955, the furnishings of these tombs revealed new aspects of an art that provided fresh questions by their novelty and needed a good scholar to sort them out. Edith Porada provided an example of a serious classification .In 1956, the Louvre acquired a large goblet in electrum (AO 20281), the décor of which showed similarities with those of Kassite Babylonia and the Mitannian. The village of Amlash temporarily lent its name to other examples from the same civilization. The great collector Mohsen Foroughi donated the characteristic bull-shaped vases, concerning which the Iranian archaeologist E. Negahban was soon to prove that Marlik was their site of archaeological reference.

At the same time, research was continued further east, towards the region bordering on Gorgān. That is how Jean Deshayes was able to send a fine series of gray luster-ceramic vases to the Louvre. These might appear as ancestors of the Marlik vase, which was more recent by several centuries after their demise at the end of the great period that may be called that of &ldquoInter-Iranian exchanges.&rdquo

The extension of the area of research in central Iran, in Kermān and Sistān, was to reach modern borders in Afghanistan where the Soviets explored the urbanized sites of the Bronze Age, and in ancient Bactria. Immediately, clandestine thieves, who were completely tolerated, began to plunder the tombs of the nearby cemeteries and to offer the contents in the Kabul bazaar. V. Sarianidi was shrewd enough to take an interest in them, in order to complete the information he had gathered from his own excavations. Similarly, the Louvre did so to acquire a modest series to serve as reference before the material was all dispersed by the international antiquities trade. This highly varied material: &ldquobronzes&rdquo (in fact arsenized copper), alabaster vases, etc., was found by the Iranian archaeologist ʿAli Ḥākemi to have affinities with Elamite civilization and similarities to what was then discovered at &Scaronāhdād on the edge of the Lut desert. What could be acquired from the Louvre could lead to restoring the exchange network at the time when the law about dividing the antiquities discovered by the archaeological missions in Iran had been suspended.

As a result, the series of archaeological materials discovered at Susa by J. Perrot&rsquos mission remained in place after Ghirshman&rsquos departure. Those that had been previously sent to the Louvre have become the object of special interest, owing to the vicinity of complementary institutions: libraries, laboratories, etc. The prestigious antiquities and the materials for study were collected in 1993 in new areas of the &ldquoGrand Louvre,&rdquo i.e., in the northern wing of the &ldquoold Louvre,&rdquo thanks to the donors (R. and B. Sackler).

Although Susa, its vast plain extending eastward towards Mesopotamia, may appear marginal within the whole of the Iranian highlands, its rank as the capital of ancient Elam, the only historical entity before the Persian period, stands out as a major reference to illustrate Iranian history. That is why the relics from its founding period, or Susa I, at the end of the fifth millennium, are exhibited near the most ancient mountainous sites. The earliest Susans were their close relatives, as testified by the strictly stylized art of the potters, featuring the ibex with its immense horns, as well as other animals, such as the panther.

However, in the mid-4th millennium, Susa joined the antithetical world of the proto-Sumerians of Uruk, the creators of writing and of an expressive art of an entirely new form of humanism, breaking with those stylizations that were current in prehistoric societies. This is expressed by a small, very delicate and indeed humorous statuary, contrasting with the elaborate repertoire of cylindrical seals affixed to bookkeeping documents. One of these seals bears the effigy of the potentate who might be defined as the &ldquoKing-priest,&rdquo well known at Uruk and revealing the advent of an archaic but incontestable form of a potentially historical state. This second period of the history of Susa ended when the mountain dwellers, who came down from present-day Fars, seized power and created, in a preliminary way, the specific civilization that we call Proto-Elamite or &ldquoSusa III.&rdquo This civilization, with its script and a highly original art almost exclusively depicting animals, had two major centers: Susa on the plain, and Anshan, today&rsquos Tal-e Maliān, in the highlands where it was difficult to lead an urban life. Hence, there was a return to nomadism, which defies archaeological investigation. At the same time, a network of inter-Iranian exchanges was already being formed. Susa, in the middle of the third millennium, was a small city of a Sumerian type with temples on its acropolis. Here the inhabitants perpetuated their presence as worshippers by statues exactly resembling those on exhibit in the Louvre&rsquos Mesopotamian rooms but in an awkward, stylized form often suggesting &ldquocubism.&rdquo The religious appurtenances were often made of artificially hardened resin. They consisted mainly of supports for offerings, which displayed their rough Elamite origins. This specifically Susan art may have been inspired by that of the carvers working in the soft green or black stone called chlorite, which was also used outside of Elam, in present-day Kerman. At the same time, the people of the Luristan Mountains created a rich metallurgy of early bronze, decorating their ceremonial weapons with figures in high relief. An example is a small war chariot placed on a mass of tubular arms, belonging to the David-Weill collection. Their painted vases resemble those of the Susans. This &ldquosecond style,&rdquo as defined by the first excavators of Susa, was quite different from that of the period when the city was founded, although it was related to the most authentic mountain tradition. One such vase served as a small treasury or &ldquohiding-place&rdquo containing bronze utensils and dishes, alabaster vases imported from eastern Iran, and Mesopotamian cylinder seals and tokens, testifying to the survival of the most archaic accounting system. Susa thus appears as well situated at the crossing place of roads linking the highlands with the lowlands.

After 2300 B. C., the Semitic emperors of Agade annexed Susiana, the administrative practices of which were adopted by the vassal princes. One of them paid homage to his suzerain by presenting to him a statue with his name inscribed on it. Finally, the prince of Susa, Puzur-Inshushinak, recovered his independence. He patronized an official art, while adopting a linear script adapted to his Elamite language, along with the cuneiform script recording that of his Semitic Akkadian subjects. Thus, the ethnic duality was clearly expressed, explaining Susiana&rsquos alternate integration within the two antithetic and complementary worlds of Mesopotamia and the &ldquoIranian&rdquo highlands. The statue of the great goddess enthroned on lions, (Sb 54) having thus been inscribed in both languages, still reflects a dependence on the characteristic art of the so-called Sumerian renaissance, at this period contemporary with the great Gudea of Lagash. Puzur-Inshushinak&rsquos ambition was premature, for soon afterwards the kings of Ur, who built the temples of the Poliad couple, Inshushinak &ldquoLord of Susa&rdquo and Ninhursag called &ldquoSusienne,&rdquo reconquered Susa. The builder, Shulgi, dedicated among other things a hammer decorated with birds&rsquo heads similar to the ceremonial axes discovered as far away as Bactria. In the hinterland, the Elamite princes lived as seminomads. Combining their dynamism with the literary culture of the Susans, they initiated the royal Elamite tradition by assuming the title of &ldquoKing of An&scaronān and Susa,&rdquo and later the imperial title of Sukkalmah. Their seals represented the god-patron of Elam enthroned on a coiled serpent and the queen dressed in a &ldquocrinoline.&rdquo In the early second millennium, bronzes must have been dedicated to the temples and later collected in funerary deposits. In these varying figures, Sumerian humanism alternated with Elamite austerity as shown in the effigy of the god seated in his chariot with a serpent decorating his tiara. The luxury dishes in bitumen mastic featured highly stylized animals in low and high relief.

Exchanges with far-away countries brought to Susa Egyptian and Levantine objects on the one hand, and objects from India and Oman on the other. At the same time, Elamite culture shone forth from &Scaronāhdād, in central Iran, as far as Bactriana and Margiana. This is illustrated by composite statues of ladies dressed in the Elamite fashion, highly elaborate ceremonial axes, gold and silver dinner service, and metal seals. However, these civilizations beyond the twin kingdom of Elam disappeared in the seventeenth century, at the same time as did that of India. Yet, Susa continued to be a great city that even grew, and in the vaulted family tombs of the mid-second millennium, Mecquenem and Ghirshman found portraits of the dead in painted earth, of a sober realism, side by side with much furniture.

In the fourteenth century, a new dynasty under King Untash Napirisha sponsored an official art in the new city with its ziggurat at the top, decorated with enameled tiles. Steles and statues were later sent to Susa: the statue of Queen Napir-Asu and the table for offerings, masterpieces in bronze, as well as the high stele on which the king was shown at the top, facing his god, while the base was protected by entities composed of genies with fishes on the one hand and men with mouflons on the other.

In the 12th century, the Elamite conquerors brought to Susa the masterpieces of Babylonian sculpture, the effigy of the king of Elam being replaced by that of a vanquished Kassite on a stele (Sb 9). Royal effigies in enameled green and yellow brick decorated a temple, while ancient and contemporary mementoes, such as gold and silver statuettes, were collected in tombs that were probably royal.

At the same period, the gold and silver dishes from Marlik that are on view at the Louvre, together with vases in animal shape, showed the creativity of the Iron Age immigrants (without iron!), who lent their name to Iran. Some time later, the majority of the Luristan mountaineers returned to nomadism and resumed the tradition of decorated &ldquobronzes,&rdquo which had ceased in the 17th century, having reached their peak between the 12th and 7th centuries. The Louvre collection provides a good idea of their art, which expresses a culture inherited from prehistoric times with the theme of &ldquothe master of animals,&rdquo while at the same time preparing for the advent of Mazdean ideology, as witnessed by the votive pins. In addition, at the same time, the old kingdom of Elam blossomed forth once more, even after the destruction of Susa by Assurbanipal in 648. The enameled dishes and the polychrome decoration of a temple revealing great technical mastery, testify to this fact. It was Darius I (522-486) who again made Susa a capital, a kind of twin city of Persepolis, replacing the deserted An&scaronān. The syncretism he sponsored in the architectural conception as well as in the decoration of his palace is illustrated at the Louvre by the friezes featuring symbolic archers of the Persian people and king upholding the nations of the empire, also shown in detail in the décor at Persepolis. The animals borrowed from the Assyro-Babylonian repertory were from then on devoid of mythological symbolism, but the lions with human heads connected with the winged disk may have had an astrological meaning. The Founding Charter of the palace, inscribed on a clay tablet and stone slabs, explains the imperial ideology of this décor by presenting the Persian Empire as a haven of universal peace.

Susa continued to be a great city after Alexander&rsquos conquest, but it lost its rank as a capital. Its Hellenized population attracted excellent artists, as witnessed by the fragments of fine terracotta objects and sculptures. Here we notice how the rough Elymean mountain folks, who were hardly cultured, developed into superficially Hellenized Iranians. A royal bust in bronze and a ewer in gilded silver illustrate the Iranian reaction against Parthian philhellenism under the reign of the Sassanids, with its décor featuring a nude female dancer. This recalls the age-old tradition of terracotta figurines in popular art.

Pierre Amiet, Elam. Auvers-sur-Oise, 1966.

Id., Suse, 6000 ans d&rsquohistoire, Ed. de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux,Paris, 1988.

Idem, &ldquoLa sculpture susienne à l&rsquoépoque de l&rsquoempire parthe.&rdquo Iranica Antiqua XXXVI, 2001, pp. 239-91.

Nicole Chevalier (under the direction of), Une mission en Perse 1897-1912, Réunion des Musées Nationaux,Paris, 1997.

Nicole Chevalier, La Recherche archéologique française au Moyen-Orient, 1842-1947, Ed. Recherche sur les Civilisations, Paris, 2002.

P. O. Harper, H. Aruz, F. Tallon, eds., The Royal City of Susa. Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre, Metropolitan Museum of Art,New York, 1992.

M. Rutten, Musée du Louvre, Antiquités orientales. Guide, Musées Naionaux, Paris, 1934.


The Persian rug Edit

The art of rug weaving in has its roots 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 made 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. And some rugs, such as Gabbeh, and Gelim have a variations in their textures and number of knots as well. Out of about 2 million Iranians who work in the trade, 1.2 million are weavers producing the largest amount of hand woven artistic carpets in the world. exported $517 million worth of carpets in 2002. [1]

The exceptional craftsmanship in weaving these carpets and silken textile thus caught the attention of the likes of Xuanzang, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, and Jean Chardin.

Painting and miniature Edit

Oriental historian Basil Gray [2] believes Iran (Persia) " has o unique [sic] art to the world which is excellent in its kind".

Caves in Iran's Lorestan province exhibit painted imagery of animals and hunting scenes. Some such as those in Fars Province and Sialk are at least 5,000 years old.

Painting in Iran is thought to have reached a climax during the Tamerlane era when outstanding masters such as Kamaleddin Behzad gave birth to a new style of painting.

Paintings of the Qajar period, 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 "Coffee House painting" emerged. Subjects of this style were often religious in nature depicting scenes from Shia epics and the like.

Pottery and ceramics Edit

Prominent archeologist Roman Ghirshman believes "the taste and talent of this people [Iranians] can be seen through the designs of their earthen wares".

Of the thousands of archeological sites and historic ruins of Iran, almost every single one 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 ("kuzeh gar") has a special place in Persian literature.

Music Edit

During the course of Iran's recorded history, a unique distinctive music developed accompanied by numerous musical instruments, several of which came to be the first prototypes of some modern musical instruments of today.

The earliest references to musicians in Iran are found in Susa and Elam in the 3rd millennium BC. Reliefs, sculptures, and mosaics such as those in Bishapur from periods of antiquity depict a vibrant musical culture.

Persian music in its contemporary form has its inception in the Naseri era, who ordered the opening of a "House of Crafts," where all master craftsmen would gather for designing instruments and practicing their art.

Literature Edit

Persian literature is by far the most stalwart expression of the Iranian genius. While there are interesting works in prose, it is poetry where the Iranian literature shines at its most. Flourishing over a period of more than a millennium, it was esteemed and imitated well beyond the confines of the Iranian homeland. The literature of Iran's direct and recently lost territories in the Caucasus (most notably Azerbaijan), as well as Turkey and indirectly the Mughal Empire developed under its influence.

Environmental design Edit

Architecture Edit

The architecture of Iran is one with an exceedingly 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".

Persian gardens Edit

The tradition and style in the garden design of Persian gardens (Persian باغ ایرانی) has influenced the design of gardens from Andalusia to India and beyond. The gardens of the Alhambra show the influence of Persian Paradise garden philosophy and style in a Moorish Palace scale from the era of Al-Andalus in Spain. The Taj Mahal is one of the largest Persian Garden interpretations in the world, from the era of the Mughal Empire in India.

Calligraphy Edit

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, metallic vessels, and historic buildings is such that they are deemed lacking without the adorning decorative calligraphy.

Illuminations, and especially the Quran and works such as the Shahnameh, Divan Hafez, Golestan, Bostan et al. 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. Styles:

Tilework Edit

The tilework is a unique feature of the blue mosques of . In the old days, Kashan (kash + an which literally means "land of tiles") and Tabriz were the two famous centers of Iranian mosaic and tile industry.

Cinema Edit

With 300 international awards in the past 25 years, films from Iran continue to be celebrated worldwide. Few of the best known directors are Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Majid Majidi.

Metalwork (Ghalam-zani) Edit

Luristan bronzes, probably from around 1000-650 BCE, are a distinctive group of small objects decorated with figures of animals and human in inventive and vigorous poses.

Khatam-kari Edit

Delicate and meticulous marquetry, produced since the Safavid period: at this time, khatam was so popular in the court that princes learned this technique at the same level of music or painting. In the 18th and 19th centuries, katahm declined, before being stimulated under the reign of Reza Shah, with the creation of craft schools in Tehran, Isfahan, and Shiraz. "Khatam" means "incrustation", and "Khatam-kari" (Persian: خاتم‌کاری ‎), "incrustation work". This craft consists in the production of incrustation patterns (generally star shaped), with thin sticks of wood (ebony, teak, ziziphus, orange, rose), brass (for golden parts), 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 tranches. These sections are ready to be plated and glued on the object to be decorated, before lacquer finishing. The tranche can also be softened through heating in order to wrap around objects. Many objects can be decorated in this fashion, such as: jewellery/decorative boxes, chessboards, cadres, pipes, desks, frames or some musical instruments. Khatam can be used on Persian miniature, realizing true work of art.

Coming from techniques imported from China and improved by Persian know-how, this craft existed for more than 700 years and is still perennial in Shiraz and Isfahan.

Mina-kari Edit

Enamel working and decorating metals with colorful and baked coats is one of the distinguished courses of art in Isfahan . Mina, is defined as some sort of glasslike colored coat which can be stabilized by heat on different metals particularly copper. 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 long times ago.

In the world, it is categorized into three kinds as below:

What of more availability in Isfahan is the painting enamel of which a few have remained in the museums of Iran and abroad indicting that Iranian artists have been interested in this art and used it in their metal works since the Achaemenian and the Sassanid dynasties. The enamels being so delicate, we do not have many of them left from the 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 between the years 1810–1890 AD. There have also remained some earrings. Bangles, boxes, water pipe heads, vases, and golden dishes with beautiful paintings in blue and green colors from that time, Afterwards, fifty years of stagnation caused by the World War I and the social revolution followed. However, again the enamel red color, having been prepared, this art was fostered from the quantity and quality points of view through the attempts bestowed by Ostad Shokrollah Sani'e zadeh, the outstanding painter of Isfahan in 1935 and up to then for forty years.

Now after a few years of stagnation since 1992, this art has started to continue its briskness having a lot of distinguished artists working in this field. To prepare an enameled dish, the following steps are used. First, choose the suitable dish by the needed size and shape which is usually made by a coppersmith. Then, it is bleached through enameled working which is known as the first coat. It is then put into a seven hundred and fifty degree furnace. At this stage, the enameled metal will be coated with better enamels a few more times and again reheated. The dish is then ready to be painted. The Isfahanian artists, having been inspired by their traditional plans as arabesque, khataii (flowers and birds) and using fireproof paints and special brushes, have made painting of Isfahan monuments such as step, the enameled material is put into the furnace again and heated at five hundred degrees. This causes the enameled painting to be stabilized on the undercoat, creating a special "shining" effect. Most of today's enamel workings are performed on dishes, vases, boxes and frames in various size.

Relief and sculpture Edit

Relief carving has a history dating back thousands of years, especially in rock reliefs. Elamite reliefs are still to be found in Iran with Persepolis being a mecca of relief creations of antiquity.

Main Article


The richest collection of Achaemenid ruins is found at Persepolis, Iran (a capital of the First Persian Empire). The greatest structure is a palace known as the Apadana. H59

The most distinctive feature of Persian architecture is the column . Though modelled after Greek columns, Persian columns are thinner, heightening their sense of verticality. The Persians also developed a unique style of capital (the topmost section of a column), in which the front portion of an animal emerges from either side this design may be termed the Persian animal capital . D34

While architecture of the Achaemenid Empire features post-and-beam (column-supported) construction, the Sassanid Empire preferred arched (arch-supported) construction, which was adopted from the Romans. The most famous Sassanid ruin is the palace at Ctesiphon, Iraq (capital of the Second Persian Empire). Roman influence is evident in wall compositions of engaged columns and blind arches. 5


Along with animal capitals, large-scale Persian sculpture has survived mainly in the form of reliefs , upon the walls of palaces and the faces of cliffs. Some are quite stylized with a strong Mesopotamian flavour, while others feature the striking realism of classical Europe. H60 Indeed, these two contrasting aesthetics are found in all forms of Persian sculpture.

In addition to monumental sculpture (of which relatively little survives), the Persians are responsible for a magnificent body of metalwork . Common forms include statuettes, rhytons, and jewellery. (A rhyton is a vessel, usually featuring an animal design, that serves as either a goblet or pitcher.)

Persian art and architecture

Although earlier civilizations are known, the first archaelogical finds of artistic importance are the superb ceramics from Susa and Persepolis (c.3500 B.C.). On tall goblets and large bowls are symmetrical designs that cover the surfaces with stylized abstractions of animals, particularly water birds and ibex. The choice of subjects from nature, simplified into almost unrecognizable patterns, may be called the formative principle of Persian art. Much of 4th-millennium Iranian art is strongly influenced by that of Mesopotamia. The 3d-millennium art of Elam, found at Sialk and Susa, also follows Mesopotamian styles, and this trend is continued in the less well-known Elam and Urartu art of the 2d millennium.

The art that comes from mountainous Luristan has aroused a good deal of controversy. Probably dated 1200� B.C., the many small bronze objects are thought to be mostly weapons and horse trappings&mdashbits, bridle ornaments, rein rings, and pole tops. The treasure of Ziwiye (Sakiz), a hoard containing gold, silver, and ivory objects, included a few Luristan pieces. These provide a definite link with the art of the Scythians known as the animal style. The Ziwiye Treasure is roughly divided into four styles: Assyrian, Scythian, proto-Achaemenid (with strong Greek influences), and native, or provincial. Dated c.700 B.C., this remarkable collection of objects illustrates the heterogeneity of types and sources in early Iranian art.

The Achaemenid Period

A unified style emerges in the Achaemenid period (c.550� B.C.). Influenced by the Greeks, the Egyptians, and those from other provinces of the Persian Empire, the Achaemenids evolved a monumental style in which relief sculpture is used as an adjunct to massive architectural complexes. Foundations of the palace of Cyrus at Pasargadae, of Artaxerxes I at Susa, and above all extensive remains of the magnificent palace complex of Darius I and Xerxes I at Persepolis reveal plans that characteristically show great columned audience halls. In front of the halls were colonnaded porticoes, flanked by square towers and set on high terraces. The palaces were approached by double flights of steps converging at the top. Although there are marked analogies to Egyptian, Greek, and Assyrian architecture, the style as a whole and the feeling for space and scale are distinctive. The Persepolitan columns are slenderer and more closely fluted than those of Greece. Bases are high, often bell-shaped capitals are composed of the foreparts of two bulls set back to back or of other animals above volutes with rosette ornament.

In the sculpture, of an ordered clarity and simplicity, heraldic stylization is subtly combined with effects of realism. Typical are the low stone reliefs of a procession of tribute bearers that adorn the great double staircase approaching the audience hall of Xerxes I (Persepolis) and the famous Frieze of Archers (Louvre, from the palace of Darius I at Susa), executed in molded and enameled brick, a technique of Babylonian-Assyrian origin. The great care lavished on every stone detail is also found in the fine gold and silver rhytons (drinking horns), bowls, jewelry, and other objects produced by this culture.

Parthian and Sassanid Contributions

After the death of Alexander the Great (323 B.C.), there was turmoil in Iran until the rise of the Parthians (c.250 B.C.). Theirs is essentially a crude art, synthesizing Hellenistic motifs with Iranian forms. Buildings of dressed stone and rubble and brick were decorated with sculpted heads and mural paintings. The larger-than-life-size bronze statue from Shami of a ruler is the most outstanding remaining Parthian monument.

Of far greater artistic importance is the contribution of the Sassanids, who ruled Iran from A.D. 226 to the middle of the 7th cent. Adapting and expanding previous styles and techniques, they rebuilt the Parthian capital at Ctesiphon. There a great palace with a huge barrel vault was constructed of rubble and brick. Sassanid architecture is decorated with carved stone or stucco reliefs and makes use of colorful stone mosaics. Beautiful gold and silver dishes, bowls, and ewers, often decorated with hunting scenes or animals in high relief, and textiles with symmetrical heraldic designs also remain. The Sassanids recorded their triumphs on immense outdoor rock reliefs scattered throughout Iran, often using the same sites that the Achaemenids had covered with reliefs and inscriptions.

In Afghanistan at Bamian Bamian
or Bamiyan
, town (1984 est. pop. 52,000), capital of Bamian prov., N central Afghanistan, on the Kunduz River. The population is predominantly Hazara. It was long a major caravan center on the route across the Hindu Kush between India and central Asia.
. Click the link for more information. are ruins that show the great impact of Iranian art forms on works from the 4th to the 8th cent. Frescoes and colossal Buddhas adorn Bamian's monasteries, revealing a fusion of Greco-Buddhist and Sassano-Iranian elements.

The Coming of Islam

Little remains from the early centuries of Islam in Iran, but the influence of Persia on Islamic art and architecture Islamic art and architecture,
works of art and architecture created in countries where Islam has been dominant and embodying Muslim precepts in its themes. Background

In the century after the death (A.D.
. Click the link for more information. in Syria and Palestine is very strong. A significant innovation by the Persians is the raising of a dome over a square hall by means of squinches squinch,
in architecture, a piece of construction used for filling in the upper angles of a square room so as to form a proper base to receive an octagonal or spherical dome.
. Click the link for more information. . Also influential was their use of cut-stucco decoration, various intricate motifs, and ever-apparent symmetry.

The earliest important Islamic monument extant in Iran is the mausoleum of Ismail the Samanid at Bukhara. Dated 907, it is a solid, square building in cut-brick style, covered by a dome. During this early period, ceramics were raised to a major art form. The finest were the "calligraphy wares" of Nishapur and Samarkand. The star-shaped tomb tower of Qabus (1006) presents a form with far-reaching influence. Both pottery and metalwork were further developed under the Seljuk Turks in the 11th and 12th cent. Luster and "minai" ceramics&mdashusing overglaze enamel colors including leaf gilding&mdashboth with intricate scenes of court life, were produced at Rayy, Kashan, and elsewhere.

The Mongol and Timurid Periods

The Mongol invasions of the first half of the 13th cent. destroyed many towns and much art. We know little of Persian painting until the so-called Mongol school of the 14th cent. The most famous work of this period is the magnificent Demotte Shah Namah (The History of Kings). The book has been divided up, and many leaves are in American collections. The pictures are large, somber in color, and free and lively in execution, with landscape playing an important role. Small Shah Namahs have simple illustrations in yellow, red, blue, and gold.

Timurid Timurids
, dynasty founded by Timur (or Tamerlane). After the death of Timur (1405) there was a struggle for power over his empire, which then extended from the Euphrates River to the Jaxartes (Syr Darya) and Indus rivers.
. Click the link for more information. painting of the 15th cent. employs smaller figures and more static compositions. Chinese influences have been integrated and patterned symmetry reemerges. Bihzad, the greatest painter in this style, is renowned for his fine, firm line and exquisite delicacy. The Blue Mosque at Tabriz, named for its brilliant faience casing, is contemporary. Mosaic faience-covered architecture reached its height in 16th-century Isfahan in the great building complex Maidan-i Shah.

The Safavid Dynasty

Under the Safavid Safavid
, Iranian dynasty (1499�), that established Shiite Islam in Iran as an official state religion. The Safavid state provided both the territorial and societal foundations of modern Iran.
. Click the link for more information. dynasty (1499�) palaces were decorated with mural paintings, which have been heavily restored. Single-figure portraits and ink drawings were also made for the Safavids. In book illustrations, figures became sinuous, color and pattern ran riot, and, at best, the effect was that of ornate jewelry. A masterpiece of Safavid illumination was the Shah Namah of Shah Tamasp, which incorporates the greatest developments in painting of the early 1520s to the mid-1530s (published in facsimile as The King's Book of Kings, 1972).

Later Developments

In the 17th-century Persian art fell under European and Indian influences and rapidly degenerated. Under the Qajar dynasty (1779�) a distinctive, theatrical style was developed in architecture, painting, and the decorative arts. The so-called Neo-Achaemenid style, which characterizes the public buildings of modern Tehran, points to a conscious effort at reviving and integrating the ancient heritage in modern Iran.


See D. Schmandt-Besserat, Ancient Persia: The Art of an Empire (1980).

New Islamic Art Galleries at the Louvre

Paris: Last year we featured a series of blog posts about the new Islamic wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 2012 was also the year of another significant opening in the world of Islamic art: Islam, at the Louvre in Paris.

Director of Islamic Art, Sophie Makariou explains the title was chosen to incorporate the expanse of the Islamic world throughout the centuries from Spain to India, The Empire of Islam, as it was known. Islam highlights cultural value of these works and their historical contribution spanning 1,300 years and three continents.

Bellini Structure
Image credit:

Comprising 18,000 objects dating from the 7 th to the 19 th century, the gallery explores the breadth and creativity of the civilization and is the largest collection of Islamic art in Europe. The collection is housed under an undulating structure made of aluminum and glass in the Louvre’s Visconti Courtyard, the most significant architectural addition to the museum since I.M. Pei’s glass pyramids of 1989. The project, by Italian architects Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti, took six years to complete. Modeled on a silk scarf, the structure seems to float in mid air between the neoclassical buildings. Walking in to the gallery, there is an immediate sensation of being in a tent, with light pouring in from all sides.

The collection opens with an introduction to the Islamic world, beginning with the Prophet’s exile in 632 (Hegira in Arabic) and the subsequent conquest of Persia, Byzantium and beyond. The early period of Islam is represented by glass, metal and ceramics.

Vitrines of glass stamps, Egypt, 700

The gallery focuses on the intricacies of decorative texts on religious and secular objects and its various influences. Arabic writing predates Islam by a century. Then different forms of writing, Qu’ranic script and secular were used to adorn pieces, describe their function or offer protection to an object. The later incorporation of Persian, an indo-European language, further developed the use of decorative text and many objects with Persian poetry are on view. Read more about decorative calligraphy here.

A sleek, industrial looking metal staircase leads to the lower-ground floor. Large Turkish mosaics greet you at the bottom. They were found by a team of French-American archaeologists in the 1930s at Antioch (Antakya), once the capital of Syria, in the residential neighborhood of Daphne. A Roman tradition, mosaic making spread across the Roman Empire and was then used by subsequent civilizations for religious, public and private use.

Phoenix Mosaic, Antakya, 6th Century

This particular mosaic depicts a phoenix, a mythical bird that rises from ashes, bordered by pairs of ram heads. It was discovered in 1936 almost completely intact. Greek and Roman classical sculpture can be found in a two small rooms above the mosaics. Statues of Greek and Roman gods are housed there, a memory of an earlier civilization that had occupied parts of the region covered in the rest of the galleries.

Marble sculpture of goddess, Artemis, Akshehir, Turkey, 2nd Century

There are large vitrines of Egyptian textiles dating from the 6 th century. They bear Roman and Byzantine iconography that later evoked Christian interpretations. Cherubs picking grapes, playing instruments and dancing references the Roman god of wine, Bacchus while Christians interpreted this theme of wine as reference from a passage from the Gospel of John in which Jesus is a vine and God the vine grower.

Cupid Picking Grapes
Linen and wool tapestry, Egypt, 6th Century

The Islamic conquest of Persia (633–656) ended the Sassanid Empire. Iran became a part of the Islamic Empire and many of the objects in the gallery are associated with the mix of cultures that ensued.

A silver and gold inlaid casket, Iran, 14th-century
Image credit: Hughes Dubois/Musée du Louvre

The Islamic Empire expanded west to Spain and east to India. By the 16 th century the Islamic world made up 30% of the global population.

Carved ivory pyxis of al-Mughira, Cordoba, c. 968
Image credit: Hughes Dubois/Musée du Louvre

Wood doors inlaid with ebony and ivory, Egypt c. 1380-1420

An extensive collection from the Mughal Empire (about 1526-1858) includes intricate armor, elaborate daggers, ceramic tiles and Indian carpets. Many of the carpets were made in factories founded by Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) in Fatehpur Sikri, capital of the Mughal Empire for only about 10 years. To learn more carpets, click here.

Louvre Islamic Galleries
Image credit: Philippe Ruault/Musée du Louvre

Jade dagger with horse head handle inlaid with rubies, emeralds and gold, Mughal
Period, 17th Century
Image credit:

The Ottoman Empire (14th–20th Century) stretched from the Balkans and Anatolia, around the Mediterranean basin, and as far as Morocco. Ottoman carpets are displayed, as well as large and small scale Iznik ceramics.

Ottoman ceramic wall, Turkey, c. 1560–80
Image credit: Raphaël Chipault /Musée du Louvre

Funding for the 98 million Euro gallery was provided by the French government and supported by endowments from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Kuwait, Oman and Azerbaijan. Of the 18,000 objects in the collection, 3,000 are currently on view and 300 objects will move to the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2017.

Guest contributor Saranna Biel-Cohen lives and works in London. She holds a Master’s Degree in History of Art from University College London with a focus on Modern Indian Art.


The Louvre-Lens Museum is proud to present the very rst retrospective in continental Europe dedicated to the magni cent art of the Qajar dynasty, the glorious sovereigns who ruled Iran from 1786 to 1925. This period is one of the most fascinating in the history of the country, one in which it embraced innovation and modernisation while still seeking to maintain its identity. The original and surprising art created during this period was particularly rich and bountiful, driven in part by exceptionally talented court artists. The latter are the focus of this exhibition, which displays over 400 works, many of them appearing here for the rst time anywhere in the world. They come from a wide range of private collections and famous European, North American and Middle Eastern institutions. The exhibition also bene ts from exceptional loans from major Iranian museums. This comprehensive overview of Qajar art brings together paintings, drawings, jewellery, enamels, rugs, clothing, photographs and ceremonial weapons, all showcased by Christian Lacroix’s immersive and vibrant design.

Qajar Iran: a rich but little-known history

While historians have studied the ancient civilisations that once ourished in this area three times the size of France, very few have examined the 18th and 19th centuries, and it is only recently that this period has received the attention it deserves from Islamic art scholars, after the very rst retrospective in 1998 devoted to Qajar painting. As a key transitional period, it remains a major point of reference for contemporary Iranian artists working today.

In 1786, Agha Muhammad, an army general, eunuch and tribal chief, seized power and settled in a small town that he made his capital: Tehran.
Following his assassination in 1797, his nephew Fath Ali Shah ascended to the throne. The Qajar dynasty was born, and with it began a 19th century of great upheaval in terms of both politics and art. There were seven Qajar rulers in total, with the last being Ahmad Shah. He was deposed in 1925 by Reza Khan, who went on to found the Pahlavi dynasty.

During this extraordinary period, the artistic development of pieces intended for the court focused on traditional techniques such as painting, glasswork and metalworking, elevating these elds to a new level of excellence. The Qajar sovereigns themselves were experts in drawing and calligraphy. At the same time, new techniques began to appear, including photography, which played a central role following its introduction in the 1840s. While the major iconographical themes endured, the styles used to depict them changed considerably and had a profound impact on Iranian art.

Exhibition overview

The introductory section of the exhibition lets visitors follow in the footsteps of a number of European travellers, particularly the painter Jules Laurens and the architect Pascal Coste. Both published books drawing on their travels in Persia, promoting a growing European interest in the art and architecture of Iran in the 19th century. This introduction presents the drawings, surveys, paintings and works of these two important travellers side-by-side.

The second section oŽers a cultural overview of the Qajar period. After passing through a portrait gallery featuring the various sovereigns, visitors are invited to reect on the close links that the dynasty maintained with its European counterparts from the start of the century onwards. As in Europe, the rediscovery of the nation’s history sowed the seeds for the birth of nationalism, while Iranian society was profoundly a˜ected by a range of religious movements interwoven with political disagreements.

The third section examines the courtly arts and how they became codi ed according to an aesthetic unique to the Qajar dynasty. As artists themselves, the Shahs were conscious of the importance of artistic production from a political standpoint. Shrewdly exploiting their own image, they created a new backdrop for their sometimes fragile power, establishing a luxurious, sophisticated court and redesigning its architecture. Ceramic panels, vast oil paintings, rugs, jewellery, clothes and musical instruments all played a role in moulding this image.

The last section presents the artists, the way their status developed throughout the century, and their encounters with modernity. In doing so, it sheds light on the artists of the time and on the major themes explored in painting, pottery and metalworking. The artists’ search for excellence using traditional techniques and for an Iranian modernity dovetailed with the
needs of the Shahs they were fascinated by European innovations such as
photography and lithography, which went on to revolutionise Iranian art. This final section of the exhibition is punctuated by exceptional works such as an enormous Baccarat crystal chandelier.

Scenography by Mr Christian Lacroix

An art history enthusiast himself, designer Christian Lacroix has fashioned the exhibition as a stroll through the rooms of an opulent Qajar palace.

Visitors enter the gallery through a monumental doorway inspired by the triple arcade depicted in the Ruines du palais d’Ashra, a 19th-century painting by Jules Laurens on loan from the Bibliothèque Inguimbertine in Carpentras. Immediately, visitors are greeted by a splendid theatrical costume created by Christian Lacroix in 2001 for Bianca Li’s ballet Shéhérazade at the Paris Opera.
Within the exhibition gallery, the succession of rooms is inspired by the palatial residence constructed by Fath Ali Shah in Sulaymaniyah, the plans for which – now preserved in the Bibliothèque municipale de l’Alcazar in Marseille – were drawn up in 1840 by architect Pascal Coste.

The rooms are therefore grouped into four architectural units that correspond to the four main sections of the exhibition, separated by alleys. Each unit can be identied by varying shades of a certain colour, characteristic of both Qajar art and the world of Christian Lacroix: blue, red, green and yellow. Walls hung with silk and walkways covered with rugs created by the designer recall the sumptuousness of Iranian textiles. By contrast, the Napoleon III style chairs loaned by the Mobilier National and display cases from the early 20th century remind visitors that the later Qajar sovereigns were influenced by the art of the Second French Empire.

Cultural programme

Alongside the exhibition, the museum is organising a series of events and conferences hosted at La Scène, the venue’s auditorium. The programme explores the founding myths of Iran, recalls the discovery of the country by European artists in the 19th century, and showcases contemporary Iranian art. It takes visitors on a journey from medieval initiation stories (The Conference of the Birds) to the percussion of the Chemirani Ensemble via the Mélodies persanes of Saint-Saëns and the lms of Abbas Kiarostami and Marjane Satrapi. An event
not to be missed is the literary banquet and costume ball, a festive and unconventional trip back in time to Qajar Iran.
The Resource Centre auditorium, meanwhile, will host an international colloquium reviewing current research on the art of the Qajar dynasty.

Within the framework of the 2016-19 agreement between the ICHHTO and the musée du Louvre, the exhibition The Musée du Louvre in Tehran. Treasuries of the French national collections will be presented in the national Museum of Iran, from March 5th until June 3rd, 2018.

Curator: Gwenaëlle Fellinger, Senior Curator, department of Islamic Art at the Louvre Museum.
Associate curator: Hana Chidiac, head of the North African and Near Eastern collections at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac.

The exhibition, together with the accompanying colloquium, has benefited from the generous support of the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Fund, established by Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, as part of the Louvre Endowment Fund.
The exhibition has been made possible thanks to the special support from Crédit Mutuel Nord Europe Foundation and Total Foundation. Lelièvre Paris has also supported the exhibition by providing remarkable furniture silks.

Persia & Persian Art at the Louvre - History

Louvre Museum will be hosting exhibitions of Safavid and Achaemenid eras of ancient Persia in 2007, 2008.

Tehran, 26 October 2005 - Allocating a 1200 square meter space to the exhibitions, Louvre will be displaying Persian artifacts dating back to the Achaemenid and Safavid eras in 2007/2008.

As announced by director of Iran's National Museum, Mohammad Reza Kargar, after his trip to Paris, Louvre will be allocating its temporary exhibitions' space for two consecutive years to Persian art and culture.

The Safavid legacy will contribute to make up the first temporary exhibition of Persian history in the Louvre after the Islamic Revolution of 1977. Then, in 2008, works from the Achaemenid Empire will go on show in the Museum.

In return for the Persian artifacts to be showcased in Louvre, works from France are foreseen to be traveling to Iran.

The thought of having a Persian exhibition in Louvre was kindled in the Museum's director and president, Henry Loyrette, after his visit to Iran 2 years ago, when he was amazed by the beauty and grandeur of paintings and other works of art from the Safavid era.

Louvre's permanent collection of the Achaemenid Empire is one of the most comprehensive of the era after those of Iran's museums and now the Museum is eager to set up a unique temporary exhibition of the Empire and its occupied lands by bringing together works from museums around the world.

Watch the video: Rumi Poetry - Persian Music and Singing Reaction (June 2022).


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