Iranian Art through the Ages
From The moment, some 3000 years ago, when an ingenious artist shaped and
painted the magnificent bridge-spouted vessels at Tepe Sialk to the time
when master craftsmen carved the famous Achaemenian relief’s at Persepolis
and on into the Islamic era when sophisticated glassware and ceramics were
made in the kilns of Ray, Gorgan and Nishapur art has become an inseparable
part of Iranian life.
One just has to stand before the intricately
designed Ardabil carpet, woven for the shrine of Sheikh Saffieddin, to
appreciate that. This artistic tradition, resulting in the creation of
numerous objects of extraordinary beauty, has meant that most of today’s
Iranian cities boast at least one museum. However, the capital, Tehran, is
particularly rich in this respect, allowing the traveler to Iran to begin or
end his visit with a tour of very fine collections.
Archaeological Museum, along with the magnificent collection of the Islamic
Museum, forms Iran's National Museum. The Abguineh offers a wonderful
exhibition of delicate glass and ceramics housed in an elegant early 20th
century building. The Carpet Museum justifies the worldwide fame of Persian
carpet weaving with its display of beautiful new and old carpets created in
the workshops of Kerman, Qom, Tabriz, Isfahan and Kashan, etc. Persian
miniatures and calligraphy – two more artistic traditions in which the
Iranians excel – can be seen at the Reza Abbasi Museum. These are just a
selection from the fabulous collections to be visited in Tehran – 'the City
- Literature: Persian Literature
(Persian: ادبیات پارسی) spans two and a
half millennia, though much of the pre-Islamic material has been lost. Its
sources have been within historical Persia including present-day Iran as
well as reigions of Central Asia where the Persian language has been the
national language through history. For instance, Rumi, one of Persia's
best-loved poets, born in Balkh, wrote in Persian, and lived in Konya then
the capital of the Seljuks. The Ghaznavids conquered large territories in
Central and South Asia and adopted Persian as their court language. There is
thus Persian literature
from areas that are now part of
Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia. Not all this literature is
written in Persian, as some consider works written by ethnic Persians in
other languages, such as Greek and Arabic, to be included.
by some as one of the great literatures of mankind, the Persian
has its roots in surviving works in Old Persian or
Middle Persian dating back as far as 522 BCE, the date of the earliest
surviving Achaemenid inscription, the Behistun Inscription. The bulk of the
surviving Persian literature, however, comes from the times following the
Islamic conquest of Persia circa 650 CE. After the Abbasids came to power
(750 CE), the Persians became the scribes and bureaucrats of the Islamic
empire and, increasingly, also its writers and poets. Persians wrote both in
Persian and Arabic; Persian predominated in later literary circles. Persian
poets such as Sa'di, Hafiz , Rumi and Omar Khayyam are well known in the
world and have influenced the literature of many countries.
literary works survived from ancient Persia. This is partly due to the
destruction of the library at Persepolis. Most of what remains consists of
the royal inscriptions of Achaemenid kings, particularly Darius I (522–486
BC) and his son Xerxes. Zoroastrian writings mainly were destroyed in the
Islamic conquest of Persia. The Parsis who fled to India, however, took with
them some of the books of the Zoroastrian canon, including some of the
Avesta and ancient commentaries (Zend) thereof. Some works of Sassanid
geography and travel also survived albeit in Arabic translations.
single text devoted to literary criticism has survived from pre-Islamic
Persia. However, some essays in Pahlavi such as "Ayin-e name nebeshtan"
(Principles of Writing Book) and "Bab-e edteda’I-ye" (Kalileh o Demneh) have
been considered as literary criticism (Zarrinkoub, 1959). Some researchers
have quoted the Sho'ubiyye as asserting that the pre-Islamic Persians had
books on eloquence, such as 'Karvand'. No trace remains of such books. There
are some indications that some among the Persian elite were familiar with
Greek rhetoric and literary criticism (Zarrinkoub, 1947).
- Traditional Music: Achaemenian dynasty (550-331 BC). The writing of
Herodotus and Xenophon suggests that music played an important role in
court life and religious rituals during this period. However, little
else is known about musical activity in the Persian Empire.
Sassanian Dynasty (AD 226-642). Exalted status was conferred to court
musicians. Barbod, the most famous of these court musicians, reportedly
conceived a musical system consisting of seven royal modes, thirty
derivative modes, and three-hundred sixty melodies. (He is playing the 'ud
in the painting at the bottom of the index page.) This was the oldest Middle
Eastern musical system of which some traces still exist. Its enduring
heritage is the names given to some dastgahs in the modern system of
Arab Invasion (AD 643-750). Musical activity
was suppressed during this period.
Abbasid dynasty (AD 750-1258).
This increasingly secular dynasty reestablished music at the courts, and
Iranian musicians were scattered throughout the Muslim world. Abu Nasr
Farabi, whose Kitab al-musiqi al-kabir laid the foundations of the musical
tradition of the core Muslim world, for example worked at the royal court in
Baghdad. Abu Ali Sina, Safiaddin Ormavi, who codified the mode into twelve
divisions with six melodies, also lived at this time.
for the next few centuries was dominated by Shiite clerics who frowned on
musical expression, and were responsible for its suppression. The imperial
courts of the Safavid and Qajar dynasties did patronize the arts, however,
maintaining a faint link to the traditions of the past. The modern dastgah
system, a codification and reorganization of the old modes, dates back to
the late Qajar dynasty.
The Pahlavi Dynasty brought with it an
intense push towards westernization. In response to this pressure and in a
misdirected effort to "raise" Iranian songs
to the level of
Western music, two theories on the intervals and scales of Iranian
were proposed in the twentieth century:
The 24 quarter tone scale
This conception of Persian music
was published by Ali Naqi
Vaziri in his Musiqi-ye Nazari. He proposed this reformulation to facilitate
the composition of polyphonic pieces in a system which was traditionally
monophonic. His efforts also brought about the notation of microtonal rising
and lowering of pitches.
The 22 tone scale
A 22 tone scale was proposed by Mehdi Barkesli. This system is grounded in
the origininal theories of the Abassid dynasty theoreticians, Farabi and
After extensive laboratory studies of the Persian musical
repertoire, Hormoz Farhat has come to the conclusion that the notion of
scale or octave is entirely foreign to Persian musical
performance, being no more than an artificial construct imposed on the
system to make it agree with certain Western notions of what is essential to
the concept of music. Mr. Farhat insists that the more important concept in
this music is that of the mayeh or melodic type. These are melodic formulas
through which the music is articulated, and they transcend the notions of
octaves or scales.