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The Story of Persian Art

An introduction to any subject is the first thing to read but the last thing to write. Any one of the topics dealt in this writing might properly occupy a lifetime’s study, and concerning every one of them our knowledge is still seriously incomplete. In this writing of Iranian civilization, or more accurately of the art which is its visual expression, we have concentrated on five aspects: the formation and evolution of Iranian architecture, which can be properly examined and understood in the country itself, the sculpture which was its normal accompaniment up to the Islamic period, the glazed ceramic decoration which subsequently fulfilled the same role, the metalwork and extremely informative numismatics. We have dealt more briefly with ceramics, fabrics, carpets and paintings. Instead, we have tried to retrace the continuous line of Iranian art which went on superimposed foreign fashion and influences.

It may well be that what has given the best idea of the artistic significance of Islam and its effects on ancient Iranian civilization is the re-appearance of traditional Iranian works of architecture in the Islamic period. However, until 1926, the art of Iran was only represented in the eyes of the world by the minor arts, masterpieces of which occupy the showcase of the great national museums of the world, both public and private. Nothing or almost nothing was known, even in Iran, about Iranian architecture, because of the indifference of the country’s inhabitants of their ancient civilization as well as fanaticism which prohibited foreigners from entering religious buildings. Because of the difficulty of traveling, in not so distant time of caravans and atrocious roads, the few monuments described by travelers were nearly always the same:

Those they found on the two routes which traverse Iran in the shape of a cross, from Tabriz to Bushehr, via Soltaniyeh, Qazvin, Qom, Isfahan and Shiraz, and from Qasr-e-Shirin to Mashhad, via Kermanshah, Hamedan, Qazvin, Tehran, Damghan and Nishapur. In addition we should point out that the descriptions and drawings brought back by these travelers are by no means compatible with one another.

The Zagros regions seems to have been occupied at a very remote time by peoples whose origin is still unknown. I