Persian Art

T he art of Iran encompassesmany disciplines, including architecture, stonemasonry,metalworking, weaving, pottery,painting, and calligraphy. Iranianworks of art show a great varietyin style, in different regions andperiods. The art of the Medesremains obscure, but has beentheoretically attributed to theScythian style. The Achaemenidsborrowed heavily from the art oftheir neighboring civilizations,but produced a synthesis of aunique style, with an eclecticarchitecture remaining at sitessuch as Persepolis and Pasargadae.Greek iconography was importedby the Seleucids, followed by therecombination of Hellenistic andearlier Near Eastern elementsin the art of the Parthians, withremains such as the Temple ofAnahita and the Statue of theParthian Nobleman. By the timeof the Sasanians, Iranian art cameacross a general renaissance.Although of unclear development,Sasanian art was highly influential,and spread into far regions. Taq-eBostan, Taq-e-Kasra, Naqsh-eRostam, and the Shapur-KhwastCastle are among the surviving monuments from the Sasanian period. During the Middle Ages, Sasanianart played a prominent role in theformation of both European andAsian medieval art, which carriedforward to the Islamic world, andmuch of what later became knownas Islamic learning—includingmedicine, architecture, philosophy,philology, and literature—were ofSasanian basis. The Safavid era is known as theGolden Age of Iranian art, andSafavid works of art show a farmore unitary development thanin any other period, as part of apolitical evolution that reunifiedIran as a cultural entity. Safavidart exerted noticeable influencesupon the neighboring Ottomans, the Mughals, and the Deccans, and was also influential through itsfashion and garden architecture on11 th –17 th -century Europe. Iran’s contemporary art traces its origins back to the time of Kamalol-Molk, a prominent realist painter at the court of the Qajar dynasty who affected the norms of painting and adopted a naturalistic style that would compete with photographic works. A new Iranian school of fine art was established by Kamal-olMolk in 1928, and was followed by the so-called “coffeehouse” style of painting. Qajar dynasty rock reliefs in Tangeh Savashi, of the Fath Ali Shah era, c. 1800 Star-tile, Kashan, 13-14th century Half of a “Salting carpet”, Safavid, in wool, silk and metal thread, about 1600 Persian art or Iranian art has one of the richest art heritages in world history and has been strong in many media including architecture, painting, weaving, pottery, calligraphy, metalworking and sculpture. At different times, influences from the art of neighbouring civilizations have been very important, and latterly Persian art gave and received major influences as part of the wider styles of Islamic art. From the Achaemenid Empire of 550 BC–330 BC for most of the time a large Iranian-speaking state has ruled over areas similar to the modern boundaries of Iran, and often much wider areas, sometimes called Greater Iran, where a process of cultural Persianization left enduring results even when the predomination was separated. The courts of successive dynasties have generally led the style of Persian art, and courtsponsored art has left many of the most impressive survivals. Music M usic of Iran or Music of Persia, as evidenced by the archaeological records of the Fertile Crescent civilization of Elam, the most ancient culture in southwestern Iran, dates back thousands of years. There is a distinction between the science of Music, or Musicology, which has always been held as a branch of mathematics in high regards in Persia/Iran; as opposed to music performance (Tarab, Navakhteh, Tasneef, Taraneh or more recently Music), which has had an uneasy and often acrimonious relationship with the religious authorities and, in times of religious revival, with the society as a whole. Iranian Traditional Music Instruments Iran is the apparent birthplace of the earliest complex instruments, dating back to the third millennium BC. The use of both vertical and horizontal angular harps have been documented at the sites Madaktu and Kul-e Farah, with the largest collection of Elamite instruments documented at Kul-e Farah. Multiple depictions of horizontal harps were also sculpted in Assyrian palaces, dating back between 865 and 650 BC. Xenophon’s Cyropaedia mentions a great number of singing women at the court of the Achaemenid Empire. Athenaeus of Naucratis, in his Deipnosophistae, points out to the capture of Achaemenid singing girls at the court of the last Achaemenid king Darius III (336– 330 BC) by Macedonian general Parmenion. Under the Parthian Empire, the Gōsān (Parthian for “minstrel”) had a prominent role in the society. According to Plutarch’s Life of Crassus (32.3), they praised their national heroes and ridiculed their Roman rivals. Likewise, Strabo’s Geographica reports that the Parthian youth were taught songs about “the deeds both of the gods and of the noblest men”. The history of Sasanian music is better documented than the earlier periods, and is especially more evident in Avestan texts. By the time of Chosroes II, the Sasanian royal court hosted a number of prominent musicians, namely Azad, Bamshad, Barbad, Nagisa, Ramtin, and Sarkash. Iranian traditional musical instruments include string instruments such as chang (harp), qanun, santur, rud (oud, barbat), tar, dotar, setar, tanbur, and kamanche, wind instruments such as sorna (zurna, karna) andney, and percussion instrumentssuch as tompak, kus, daf (dayere),and naqare. Iran’s first symphonyorchestra, the Tehran SymphonyOrchestra, was founded byQolam-Hussein Minbashianin 1933. It was reformed by Parviz Mahmoud in 1946, and is currently Iran’s oldest and largestsymphony orchestra. Later, by thelate 1940s, Rouhollah Khaleqifounded the country’s first nationalmusic society, and established theSchool of National Music in 1949.Iranian pop music has its origins inthe Qajar era. It was significantlydeveloped since the 1950s, usingindigenous instruments and formsaccompanied by electric guitarand other imported characteristics.The emergence of genres such asrock in the 1960s and hip hop inthe 2000s also resulted in majormovements and influences inIranian music. Daf Daf is one of themost ancientframe drumsin Asia andNorth Africa.As a Persianinstrument, in20th century, it is considered as aSufi instrument to be played in Khanghah-s for Zikrmusic but now this percussioninstrument has recently becomevery popular and it has beenintegrated into Persian art musicsuccessfully. Dotar The Dotar (literally in Persian meaning “twostrings”), and it comesfrom a family of longnecked lutes and can be found throughout Central Asia, the Middle East andas far as the North East ofChina in Xinjiang too. In Iran, the Dotar is playedmainly in the north andthe east of Khorasanas well as among theTurkmen of Gorganand Gonbad. The instrument remains the same but its dimensions andthe number of its ligatures varyslightly from region to region.Two types of wood are used inthe fabrication of the Dotar. Thepear-shaped body is carved out ofa single block of mulberry wood.Its neck is made of either the wood of the apricot or the walnut tree. It has two steel strings, which in thepast were made of silk or animalentrails. The Dotar is tuned infourth or fifth intervals. Kamancheh The Kamancheh is abowed spike fiddle.The instrument has four metal strings, and thebody consists of a woodenhemisphere covered withthin sheepskin membrane.Oddly, the instrument’sbridge runs diagonallyacross thismembrane. Theinstrument is highlyornate and is about thesize of a viola. The tuning varies depending uponthe region of the country whereit is being played. In Tehran, theKamancheh is tuned in the samemanner as a violin: G, D, A, E. Ney It is a vertical reed flutewith a long history inPersian classical music. Theinstrument has six finger holesin the front and one in theback. The instrument can bemade with some success fromPVC pipe. Santour Th e Santour is a struck zither in theform of a shallow, regular trapezoidal box. There areseveral sound posts inside the box,and two small rosettes on the toppanel which help to amplify thesound. The Santour has 72 strings,arranged in groups of four, i.e.each of four closely spaced strings are tuned to the same pitch. Each group of four strings is supported by a small, moveable, wooden bridge; the bridges are positioned to give the instrument a range of three octaves. Setar The Setar is a four stringed lute. Two of the strings are made of steel, two are of brass, and they are tuned to c, c semisharp, g, and c semi-sharp, respectively. In the above painting, it is depicted with a zarb. The average Setar is 85 cm long, 20 cm wide, and has a 15 cm deep gourd, and is made entirely of wood. (Unlike the tar which has a membrane stretched across the body.) Also, unlike the tar, the player plucks the strings with the nail of the index finger, instead of using a plectrum. Tar The tar is the most widely used plucked instrument in Iran today. It is a fretted lute with six strings, five of steel and one of brass. It has a long neck and a double bellied sound box, over which is stretched a thin sheep skin membrane. The tunings of the strings are changed according to the dastgah that is being played, and the twentysix frets are movable. Finally, the strings are plucked with a plectrum. Tombak/ Dombak The Dombak is the chief percussion instrument of Persian classical music. It is a one-headed drum that is carved of a single piece of wood, and is open on the bottom. Across the larger, upper part of the body is stretched a sheepskin membrane, that is glued into place. Thus, the instrument cannot be tuned; the performer prepares it for a piece by warming the membrane over a heater. Theater The earliest recorded representations of dancing figures within Iran were found in prehistoric sites such as Tepe Sialk and Tepe Mūsīān. The oldest Iranian initiation of theater and the phenomena of acting can be traced in the ancient epic ceremonial theaters such as Sug-e Siāvush (“Mourning of Siāvash”), as well as dances and theater narrations of Iranian mythological tales reported by Herodotus and Xenophon. Iran’s traditional theatrical genres include Baqqāl-bāzi (“Grocer play”, a form of slapstick comedy), Ruhowzi (or Taxt-howzi, comedy performed over a courtyard pool covered with boards), Siāh-bāzi (in which the central comedian appears in blackface), Sāye-bāzi (shadow play), Kheyme-šab-bāzi (Marionette), and Arusak-bāzi (puppetry), and Ta’zie (religious tragedy plays). Before the 1979 Revolution, the Iranian national stage had become a famous performing scene for known international artists and troupes, with the Roudaki Hall of Tehran constructed to function as the national stage for opera and ballet. Opened on 26 October 1967, the hall is home to the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, the Tehran Opera Orchestra, and the Iranian National Ballet Company, and was officially renamed Vahdat Hall after the 1979 Revolution. Loris Tjeknavorian’s Rostam and Sohrab, based on the tragedy of Rostam and Sohrab from Ferdowsi’s epic poem Šāhnāme, is an example of opera with Persian libretto. Tjeknavorian, a celebrated Iranian Armenian composer and conductor, composed it in 25 years, and it was finally performed for the first time at Tehran’s Roudaki Hall, with Darya Dadvar in the role of Tahmina. Cinema A third-millennium BC earthengoblet discovered at the Burnt City, a Bronze Age urbansettlement in southeastern Iran,depicts what could possibly bethe world’s oldest example ofanimation. The artifact, associatedwith Jiroft, bears five sequentialimages depicting a wild goatjumping up to eat the leaves of atree. The earliest attested Iranianexamples of visual representations,however, are traced back to thebas-reliefs of Persepolis, the ritualcenter of the Achaemenid Empire.The figures at Persepolis remainbound by the rules of grammarand syntax of visual language.The Iranian visual arts reached apinnacle by the Sasanian era, andseveral works from this periodhave been found to articulatemovements and actions in a highlysophisticated manner. It is evenpossible to see a progenitor of thecinematic close-up shot in one ofthese works of art, which shows awounded wild pig escaping fromthe hunting ground. By the early 20th century, thefive-year-old industry of cinemacame to Iran. The first Iranianfilmmaker was probably Mirza Ebrahim (Akkas Bashi), the court photographer of Mozaffar-edDin Shah of the Qajar dynasty.Mirza Ebrahim obtained a cameraand filmed the Qajar ruler’svisit to Europe. Later in 1904,Mirza Ebrahim (Sahhaf Bashi),a businessman, opened the firstpublic movie theater in Tehran.After him, several others likeRussi Khan, Ardeshir Khan, andAli Vakili tried to establish newmovie theaters in Tehran. Untilthe early 1930s, there were around 15 cinema theaters in Tehran and 11 in other provinces. The firstIranian feature film, Abi and Rabi,was a silent comedy directed byOvanes Ohanian in 1930. Thefirst sounded one, Lor Girl, wasproduced by Ardeshir Irani and Abd-ol-Hosein Sepanta in 1932. Iran’s animation industry beganby the 1950s, and was followed bythe establishment of the influential Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults in January 1965. The 1960s was a significant decade for Iranian cinema, with 25 commercial films produced annually on average throughout the early 60s, increasing to 65 by the end of the decade. The majority of the production focused on melodrama and thrillers. With the screening of the films Qeysar and The Cow, directed by Masoud Kimiai and Dariush Mehrjui respectively in 1969, alternative films set out to establish their status in the film industry and Bahram Beyzai’s Downpour and Nasser Taghvai’s Tranquility in the Presence of Others followed soon. Attempts to organize a film festival, which had begun in 1954 within the framework of the Golrizan Festival, resulted in the festival of Sepas in 1969. The endeavors also resulted in the formation of the Tehran’s World Film Festival in 1973. After the Revolution of 1979, and following the Cultural Revolution, a new age emerged in Iranian cinema, starting with Long Live! by Khosrow Sinai and followed by many other directors, such as Abbas Kia-Rostami and Ja’far Panahi. Kia-Rostami, an acclaimed Iranian director, planted Iran firmly on the map of world cinema when he won the Palme d’Or for Taste of Cherry in 1997. The continuous presence of Iranian films in prestigious international festivals, such as the Cannes Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, and the Berlin International Film Festival, attracted world attention to Iranian masterpieces. In 2006, six Iranian films, of six different styles, represented Iranian cinema at the Berlin International Film Festival. Critics considered this a remarkable event in the history of Iranian cinema. Asqar Farhadi, a well-known Iranian director, has received a Golden Globe Award and two Academy Awards, representing Iran for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012 and 2017. In 2012, he was named as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world by the American news magazine Time. The cinema of Iran or cinema of Persia refers to the cinema and film industries in Iran which produce a variety of commercial films annually. Iranian art films have garnered international fame and now enjoy a global following. Along with China, Iran has been lauded as one of the best exporters of cinema in the 1990s. Some critics now rank Iran as the world’s most important national cinema, artistically, with a significance that invites comparison to Italian neorealism and similar movements in past decades. A range of international film festivals have honored Iranian cinema in the last twenty years. Worldrenowned Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke and German filmmaker Werner Herzog have praised Iranian cinema as one of the world’s most important artistic cinemas along with many film critics from around the world.