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Persian Painting


Painting in Iran dates back to those prehistoric times when the first inhabitants of the plateau recorded their observations of the world around them on the walls of their cave-dwellings or on pottery, some specimens of which survive to this day. A study of these early drawings reveals similarities with specimens of primitive art found elsewhere, but one also finds a number of characteristics that are unique.

Persian painting, with its freedom of action, its boundless imaginativeness, its softly moving lines and its brilliant colours, allows the artist to create works of great beauty by expressing his true feelings with a skill, which his hands and his fingers have acquired over many years of apprenticeship and hard work.

Beauty, which is a manifestation of God Almighty’s primeval and eternal qualities of perfection. is present in all elements of Persian painting, from the overall composition down to the last details. By drawing upon beauty, the Persian artist has been able to convey his intellectual precepts and his ideas to the viewer in a pleasing manner, so that the latter feels at home in the atmosphere which is created by the artist with his findings.

His love of natural beauty, encouraged the Persian painter to depict the world from an ever- blooming, evergreen point of view; the flowers and the greenery that are to be seen throughout many a painting, not only impart a decorative touch to the composition, but also Tie the various elements together and give a sense of balance to the work.

The artist must be knowledgeable about the psychological philosophy of human behavior and the true nature of objects, animals and plants, so that he can combine in his mind his ideas with the visual observations he makes, and so that eventually aided by a hand which is guided by reason, and a reason which is controlled by emotions and ideas his concepts are rendered on paper, effortlessly and yet precisely in accordance with the rules of the art.

The form and content in Persian painting are so intertwined that a work of art devoid of content will have no intellectual challenge for the viewer, remaining simply and plainly a piece of decoration. Whereas a work bereft of an attractive form will also lack the power arid attraction with which to convey to the viewer the message embedded in the content.

The Iranian artist is adept in his knowledge of colours; he is especially audacious in combining two or more contrasting, even clashing, tones. He can often bring together several different colours within a given composition, reconciling them in such a way that the end- result is a harmonious and pleasing combination, with its own distinct character. Colours used by the persian artist are usually mineral pigments extracted from the surrounding mountains, and are mostly fast, capable of preserving their properties permanently.

The music of colours, and the dance of the lines, can go on and on, acquiring endless variations, and yet restraining all the while the excessive dynamism of the subjects, and leading the viewer’s eyes, in a circular and dynamic composition, from the peripheries to the centre and back again. Yes, the lines in a Persian painting, forever graceful, softly flowing and interwined, are capable of rendering many a message to the viewer on their own, without the support that may be provided by the colours. On the other hand, any work of art, no matter how rich its colour scheme, will not succeed without the intervention of the lines-lines drawn with a steady hand, smoothly flowing, vibration-free, vibrant, and pleasing to the eye-to separate the different areas of the composition and to set off the boundaries.

The effects of light, the brilliant sunshine and the natural daylight of the Eastern lands, is something else. In the distant past, when manifestations of mysticism illuminated the mind of the Persian artist, and he saw everything in the world around him bathed in the rays of Divine Light, in such a bright atmosphere, he came to the conculsion that he should totally banish shadows from his work, and instead rely on the richness and delicacy of the lines to evoke effects of light and shade. Yes, he would use thicker lines whenever he was dealing with curvatures and there was much light and shade to depict, and he would use thinner lines when he was dealing with light shining upon flat surfaces.

Garments and decorative elements are also a means of enhancing the expressiveness of a work for the Persian artist. The original shape of any given garment is transformed by the movements or gestures of the person wearing it, becoming in the process a reflection of the curved lines of the body underneath, and adding to the beauty of the from and facilitating the expression of the content. The broken lines depicting the folds and wrinkles of a garment are an asset to the artist, for they help him to improve his design and to evoke a sense of space in the viewer.

Geometric perspective gives a material aspect to a work of art, creating an effect of precise observation; it was deliberately shunned by the Persian painter who was not bothered with the question of distances; he felt that perspective would compress his shapes and forms together, whereas he wanted to portray every object in its prime and to show every episode at its climax, at that breathtaking moment before the final act. Thus the Persian painter concluded that he should forget about the real side of nature, and concentrate instead on the metaphysical; he should paint the truth behind the objects and not their superficial appearances. By relying on philosophical and spiritual criteria, he would be able to impart a sense of the mystical and spiritual to his work.

And this is the borderline that separates Persian art from Chinese art, for the Chinese artist regards his ultimate goal in rendering a most perfect and objective picture of his natural surrounding. The Persian artist, on the other hand, is bent on sending his mind and imagination soaring up into the world of the infinite, towards the Kingdom of Heaven.

Attention to minute details, working on a miniature scale, and employment of the noqteh pardaz technique (a method of painting not unlike Pointillism that uses a mass of dots, rather than solid lines) are well-known tools of the Oriental artist, the Persian artist Included; he has been using them to add to the beauty of his works for many centuries. In this part of the world, human beings act with subtle gestures when they wish to reveal their inner feelings, and this practice has found its counterpart in the slow and deliberate method in which the introspective and free-spirited artist tackles his work, going patiently on and on, mindless of the passage of time, until a work is created which is faultless in every sense.

The kha’ti (Chinese style floral scrolls) and the eslimi (arabesque) patterns, originally based on interlacing leaf, flower and animal motifs, have been transformed in the hands of the Persian artist in a most intelligent manner. So has tazhib, the practice of illuminating the page with gold and silver tints. In their present form, they have not only a distinct Iranian character; they each constitute a powerful tool for decoration and for enhancing the beauty of the finished painting. Thus a Persian artist is required to be equally skillful in the arts and crafts of decoration.

The written script, too, has had its evolution in the course of centuries. For many years painting has been used as a means of illustrating the ideas of poets, storytellers and writers, especially at times when certain taboos made manuscripts the only safe haven for painting. But the Persian artist, the miniature painter who was commissioned to undertake the illustrations of a manuscript, never contented himself to stay meekly within the boundaries reserved for his work; figures and motifs broke into the margins, cypress trees pierced the top, cloud bands clinging to mountain peaks were scattered about, and birds flew all over the page, adding a decorative touch of their own to the work. The interaction of the text and the illustration was carried forth to the degree of happy marriage, where one aided the effectiveness of the other and vice versa. And then came a time when apt lines of poetry were placed in panels and cartouches somewhat like floral scrolls that are found in medallions of spandrels in and around paintings that are destined to be viewed individually or placed in an album. This age-old association of painting with letters has helped to create a dreamlike and poetic atmosphere in paintings.

Humility has always been a characteristic trait of the Persian artist, especially whenever he finds himself face to face with the magnitude and splendour of the universe. Ambition and flights of fancy have never been the shortest course to the Hidden Truth, and seekers of this truth have always realized their own insignificance the harder and longer that they have searched the boundless length and breadth of the universe. That is why many artists refrain from signing their work, or hide their identity In a phrase or line of poetry that refers to the Holy Prophet or to one of the Imams.

The Persian artist is attached to the Hidden World more than the familiar environment immediately around him. He is bent on expanding his ideas, and on giving shape to what his Imagination can perceive in the infinite universe. In order to safeguard his work from the corrupting influence of materialistic day-to-day living, he values spirituality above everything else, including the requirements of his transient life. Only that art survives forever which is true and loyal to universal and human concepts.

Mahmoud Farshchian

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