Dienstag, 22. März 2011

The Travelogue, Part IX - Iran: Masters of the Ornament

Even long before the arrival of Islam, the Persians have excelled at the decorative arts. Both prehistoric pottery and the stunning murals and statues of Persepolis are witness to the Iranian love for the arts and crafts. With Islam came a new wave of cultural exchange and artistic direction. As the Quran forbids the depiction of human beings* (and indeed all living things), the energy of the Persian craftsmen turned towards the geometric forms so often associated with Muslim architecture. From the "pixel-style" mosaic of the early periods to the swirling flower designs found on the walls of later buildings, the complexity of forms is stunning. Geometric symmetries are found from the little, hand-carved inlay mosaics of treasure chests to complete city plans, and cover mosques and palaces to the very last detail, even where visitors can never reach. Sometimes, the artist will deliberately flaw the perfection of his work, as a sign that he is but a humble human, and does not dare emulate the perfection of Allah's creation.
This perfection of the ornamental, abstract style permeates through all Iranian visual art: while Qurans (unlike bibles) are not illuminated, they feature bold and playful calligraphy to stimulate the readers mind, with dozens of different styles and masters. Persian carpets, famous for their quality, draw from the same geometric styles and patterns. This also serves as a visual explanation for all the people who asked: "So why do you go there?"

The following is a selection of some magnificent ornamental artworks I came across.

Ancient Persia
Gate wall murals at Persepolis
Mural detail at Persepolis


A decorated Oud (Lute)
Carpet from the Carpet Museum (Tehran)

Another Carpet (Tehran)

 Islamic Architecture

While even older mosques are stunning, the colourfully tiled Safavid mosques are so intricately detailed that you discover new patterns the closer you get. They are also masters of the "stalactite" arches, like the one below.

Shah mosque door on Imam Square (Esfahan)
Shah Mosque courtyard

Lotfollah Mosque hallway


 The royal jewels of Iran are safely kept under the Central Bank Melli. I was not allowed to photograph these, so I had to nick these from wikipedia. Efforts have been made to estimate the value of these jewels, but no satisfactory conclusion could be made, but they are enough to back the Iranian currency even today. Let's just say that for everything you see on these pictures, if it looks like gold or diamonds, it is gold and diamonds.

The Peacock Throne
Yes, that actually is sapphires and rubies on the dish

The Darya-e Noor, largest diamond in the world

*There is some ambivalence about that, and some people did not (and do not) care.

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