Persian Tile

Qajar Lamp

Sar Ghalian

Persian Kashkul

Traveling Samovar

Qajar Photographs

Qajar Helmet

miniature Painting

Qajar Painting

Persian Plate

Indian Painting

Persian Art

Persian Art - art with the texture of human experience, illuminating the humble and the commonplace, exalting the royal and the divine. From early times, although art was natural and taken for granted, the Persians consciously placed a high value on beauty. A widespread and expert appreciation sustained excellence through many centuries. Royal patronage, enthusiastic and generous was never lacking; beauty was always and in all things accorded to high status. One with life, the arts were also united with one another. Craft borrowed from craft. There were common themes and mutual inspiration throughout the arts. They were engaged on a common task which absorbed their uttermost, with surprisingly little thought of individual pride and glory. Scarcely one in a hundred of important Persian works of art is signed. It was an anonymous art and thereby gaining in sincerity, in devotion, and in authority.

It is primarily an art of decoration. It became in devout symbolism, and symbolism some philosophers regard as the primary characteristic of the mind. It interprets reality in a new form which clarifies and controls it. Symbolism is a method of synthesis and transformation, the beginning of intellectual and artistic life. It presents objects in abstract but yet emotional forms, and when it is sanctified by custom and religion, it can evoke the deepest response.

Persia, a place deserving respectable antiquity, is one of the very few countries where there exists today a complex culture, still capable of expressing its aspirations in literature, art and philosophy, and which can yet claim a continuous tradition going far back into the pre-Christian world. In the matter of such expressive culture, Europeans were mere up starters and parvenus compared with the Persians. Nonetheless, when we try to define what, in the matter of artistic creation, is distinctively and exclusively Persian we find ourselves at a loss. We feel sure that there is a Persian quality in certain objects of art, we know there is quite a specific attitude to life expressed by Persian artists, and that this attitude repeats itself at various epochs, but it is almost impossible to distinguish it sharply from the expression of neighboring cultures.

From the seventh to the thirteenth centuries, Persian Art produced some of its greatest masterpieces. And here, in the potter's craft Persia was during three centuries almost unrivalled. For nicety of proportions, for unanalysable delicacy of curvature, some of these bowls and pots, for all their unpretentiousness, must count as great artistic expressions. And no less striking is the genius of painters who decorated these exquisitely modeled surfaces. Here an exuberant and joyous fantasy prompts the invention of motives in which animal forms play a leading part. In this, perhaps, we may see a well-assimilated inheritance of earlier Scythian influences. But no less striking than the free play of imagination which these designs show is the controlling taste which keeps this invention strictly within the limits appropriate to the object in view, namely, the decoration and enhancement of a particular plastic form.

The solemn and ritual character of early Persian Art is at the foundation of its magnificent achievement in pure decoration. Decoration, the main resource and goal of Persian Art is not merely to delight the eye or to entertain the mind, but it has far deeper meaning. It is doubtful if decorative design has ever been at once more delicately sensitive, more free in its rhythmic flow, and at the same time more aware of its limiting conditions.

A word must be said about this linear rhythm of pottery painters, and the same applies to the miniature painters of the time. The Persians, like many Eastern nations, have always held beautiful handwriting in much greater esteem than Western nations have done, and in the Arabic script - it was one of the gifts of Muhammadanism - they possessed an instrument exactly suited to their feeling. It is unrivalled in its variety of forms; now severely architectural and rectangular, and now allowing of development of long and flexible rhythmic phrases. And this free flowing rhythm could be adapted to pictorial rhythms without break of continuity. So that the artist was almost perforce a calligrapher; already half an artist.

A collection of Antique Qajar photographs from Hamid Tavakoli.

It may be said that the golden age of Iranian photography was from the mid 1840's to the mid 1920's. During this period hard working and enthusiastic men with large, slow and heavy cameras equipped with fragile sensitive glasses took pictures of everything within their sight and perfected the art of printing and development of photographs. They pointed their cameras at formal occasions, hunts, summer quarters, historic structures and ordinary people recording thousands of important documents from their era, which are without any doubt the most important pictorial evidence of the era in Iranian history. Their photographs tell a lot about the period, clothes, architecture, customs, faces, types of buildings, jokes and a lot of other information. Besides documentary value, Qajar era photographs present pure,creative and artistic viewpoints without any previous pictorial experience to guide them.

Composition of images, moods, backgrounds and the use of furniture such as chairs and tables attest to the creativity of the photographers.

In the beginning because of its high cost, photography was at the service of the nobility. As a consequence there exists a large number of photographs depicting life in the Qajar court and in the upper classes. Photography expanded during Naser-od-Din Shah's reign, who himself was an enthusiast. He photographed everything that surrounded him: court ceremonies, religious rituals, grand receptions, summering camps, hunts, vazirs and even his own harem women. Naser-od-Din Shah diligently cared for his photographs and organized them into brautiful binded collections. Surviving photographs of this particular era are treasures of pictorial information and documentation about the land, culture and people of Iran during a sensitive period.
Less than ten years had passed the advent of photography in Europe when this technique found its way to Iran.

It was during the latter years of the reign of Mohammed Shah Qajar and the early years of that of his son Naser al-Din Shah, that the royal court took special interest in this mag­ical innovation. Indeed, Naser al-Din Shah was among the first to master the art of photography. He enjoyed working on themes as diverse as the women of his harem, architecture, landscapes, hunting escapades and even political prisoners. He also left behind an excellent collection of self-portraits.

Historical records refer to two French men, Carlion and Richard, whose services were engaged by the court for the purpose of photography and instruction of methods of devel­oping and printing as early as 1844. The European diplomatic missions along with technical and military advisors stationed in Iran were also instrumental in introducing the different methods of printing as they developed in Europe. Furthermore they were active in documenting their sojourn in this part of the orient. August Kerziz Austrian military instructor (1851-59), Focchetti Italian engineer (1847), Luigi Pesce Italian general and military attaché (1848-61), Luigi Montabone Italian photographer (1862) and Ernst Holtzer German engineer (1860’s) are a few examples of such Europeans.

By 1860 photography was taught at Dar al-Fonoun (polytechnic institute) in Tehran. Many students of the institute left for Europe in to pursue and perfect their education in photography. Reza Khan Eghbal al-Saltaneh, Abdollah Khan Qajar, Mohammed Jafar Khan Khadem are Iranians whose photography careers began in the late 1850’s. Roussi Khan, a pupil of Abdollah Khan Qajar, inaugurated the first public photography studio in Tehran in 1878. By 1890 such studios had been established in the main cities such as Tabriz, Isfahan, Bushehr and Shiraz.

Considering the fact that the ground breaking innovations in photography and printing took place between 1839-41 in Europe, the early years of Iranian photography are almost coincidental with and run parallel to that of Europe. As such early Iranian photographers and the Europeans who lived or traveled through Iran at the time, documenting their lives and surroundings through photography are among the forerunners of this art and propagators of this technique in the history of photography.These men have left behind a legacy of photographs depicting their epoch which have found their way to European and American museums, archives of collectors here and abroad, and the vaults of men and women who guard their family heritage.