Art of the Persian Courts

ART OF THE PERSIAN COURTS contains 474 color illustrations of selections from the Soudavar family’s collection, housed in the Art and History Trust Collection in Houston, Texas. The traveling exhibition that comprised them, as well as this volume, a catalogue for that exhibition, is divided chronologically into ten parts, ranging from Persian art created during the Mongol dynasties in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries—which saw the renaissance of Persian court painting—through the European-influenced art produced during the period of Afghan occupation during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

As Abolala Soudavar’s introduction makes clear, the history of Persian art is a history of reaction to invasions of this crossroads of migration and trade routes. With each successive wave of occupation, Persian artists adopted and adapted new visual attitudes to their existing conceptual framework, which has always emphasized idealized, stylized modes of expression. Consequently, one can find, for example, marked similarities between a fifteenth century painting featuring a broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted Tamerlane and princely oil portraits painted four centuries later.

Some of the most stunning art featured in this volume consists of illuminated pages and other examples of Persian calligraphy. As Soudavar’s introduction points out, representational figural art was, of necessity, subordinated to such arts as calligraphy after the advent of Islam in the seventh century. But although Persian calligraphers adopted Arabic script in order to glorify the word of God while copying the Koran, they developed their own version of this script to accommodate the subtle lyricism of Persian court poetry.

The selections that constitute this volume all abundantly illustrate the proposition that the art of the book—both its text and its illustrations—reached an apogee in the medieval courts of the Persian world.