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Art, Allegory and the Rise of Shiʻism in Iran, 1487-1565

Transforming our understanding of Persian art, this impressive interdisciplinary book decodes some of the world’s most exquisite medieval paintings. It reveals the hidden meaning behind enigmatic figures and scenes that have puzzled modern scholars, focusing on five ‘miniature’ paintings. Chad Kia shows how the cryptic elements in these works of art from Timurid Persia conveyed the mystical teachings of Sufi poets like Rumi, Attar and Jami, and heralded one of the most significant events in the history of Islam: the takeover by the Safavids in 1501 and the conversion of Iran to Shiism.

The experience of considering a Persian manuscript painting for the first time may be both perplexing and beguiling. As an outstanding example from the mid- sixteenth century shows (see Plate 1), the impression of vivid colours and the compositional intricacy of the image could be as instantly striking as encountering a contemporary Flemish painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. 1 ‘Depraved Man Commits Bestiality’ – an important work from Safavid Iran – is reminiscent of Bruegel’s visual allegories, with their rich mosaic sociology. 2 However, beyond the sharp differences in form, style and patronage between this painting and an early modern Flemish work, we might also note that ‘Depraved Man’, like many Persian paintings of its period, is an illustration in a manuscript and as such programmatically bound by a narrative text. 3 Indeed, as the second of twenty- eight paintings in a deluxe manuscript made for Prince Ibrahim Mirza in Mashhad between 1556 and 1565, the most historically comparable counterpart to the ‘Depraved Man’ may be the late Gothic Parisian illustrations. 4 In contrast to some of Bruegel’s great ‘figurative anthologies’, 5 the ambiguities in the elaborate content of ‘Depraved Man Commits Bestiality’ ought to be resolved by consulting the text it illustrates. 6 Such ambiguities are the starting point of this study…..

 

About the Author

Chad Kia has been a Smithsonian Fellow at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art in Washington DC, and has taught Persian and Arabic literatures and Islamic art and intellectual history at Harvard University and Brown University.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Coming to Terms with Meaning in Persian Painting

Chapter 1: Poetics of the Picture: Verbal Imagery and Visual Language

Chapter 2: Remaking Persian Painting: Didactic Sufism in a Timurid Manuscript

Chapter 3: The Third Station on the Path to Sufism: The Bearded Man Drowning

Chapter 4: Fixed-Figure Prototypes and the Symbolic Order

Chapter 5: The Culmination of a Trend: “Depraved Man Commits Bestiality”

Conclusion: The Sufi Synthesis

Bibliographic Information

Title: Art, Allegory and the Rise of Shiʻism in Iran, 1487-1565

Author(s): Chad Kia

Publisher: Edinburgh University Press

Length: 304 pages

ISBN: 978-1474450393

Pub. Date: February 16, 2021

Art, Allegory and the Rise of Shi’ism in Iran, 1487-1565

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