In the history of miniature painting development in Iran, Maverannahr and Khorasan in the 15th century, an importance role belonged to the early Herat school of miniature painting, which outlined key priorities in the art of creating manuscript books, which were of great significance in the spiritual culture of Muslim countries.
In 1381 Timur captured Herat, eliminating the Kurt dynasty, and in 1383 he took power over the whole of Khorasan, which became part of the Temurid Empire for nearly a century. As political and cultural center of the Temurids, Herat reached its greatest prosperity in the 15th century: following Temur’s death and the ensuing unrest caused by power struggle, the capital city of the empire was moved to Herat. Through the efforts of Shahrukh (1397-1447), this large provincial town turned into one of the largest and most beautiful cities, famous for its handicrafts and arts. It became an important art center of the Temurids first, and later on, of the entire Middle East (5). During Shahrukh’s rule, Herat saw a lot of construction that encouraged not only the advancements in architectural art, but also the establishment of a new school of architecture. Unlike contemporary Samarqand that was ruled by Shakhruh’s son Ulugbek, the famous scholar and astronomer, Herat was a plce where Humanities thrived and where arts, literature and history received greater attention compared to natural sciences.
Following his father’s policy, Shahrukh restored diplomatic relations with China and India. During his reign, Chinese ambassadors visited Herat four times (in 1409, 1412, 1417 and 1419). Reciprocal envoy missions to China and India included an artist, Giyasaddin Ali, and a historian, Hafiz-Abru; this not only strengthened political links, but also facilitated cultural exchange. Thanks to the gifts from the Chinese ambassadors, the residents of Maverannahr and Khorasan were fascinated by the porcelain items wrought by Chinese potters, which can be seen in miniatures depicting the scenes of feasts, and local aristocracy enjoyed wearing gold-embroidered robes made of Chinese silk and decorated with dragons and phoenix birds. Chinese art, particularly painting, captivated the minds of Temurid artists too; yielding to its charm, they tried to copy the Chinese specimens (the Istanbul Albums and the Dietz Album). But very soon Temurid masters realized that the Chinese art did not agree with their notion of space, the image of man and landscape; neither did it reconcile with their mentality. So, they kept only a few decorative motifs (such as little “chi” clouds) that could fit naturally into the plane structure of a miniature without disrupting its formula.
Cultural fame of Herat was associated with the name of Baysunkur [Baysonghori] (1397-1433), the son of Shahrukh and his minister, who, from 1414, actually became the ruler of the city. Having a lot of resources and opportunities, he was patron to poets, historians and artists, and himself an excellent calligrapher, a student of Mavlan Shams Baysunkuri, “one of the rare masters of writing”, according to Qazi Ahmad (9). Passion for poetry and arts was characteristic of Temurid princes, who, as reported by Davlatshah Samarqandi, even corresponded on literary matters, giving preference to the work of Nizami (Ulugbek) and Dehlevi (Baysunkur). Alisher Navoi who lived in Herat during that scintillating age, highly praised Baysunkur’s work: “the concentration of calligraphers, artists, musicians and poets at Baysunkur’s court was like never before”. Baysunkur Mirza, according to Navoi, was “a generous and liberal prince who enjoyed pleasures and appreciated talents”. Davlatshah Samarqandi said about him that [the prince] composed verses himself and could appreciate poetry in Persian as well as in Turki, and was able to write in six calligraphic scripts. Baysunkur possessed a rich library containing rare texts from Antiquity and Middle Ages (5).
In Baysunkur’s time, in Herat they set up a workshop for copying and ornamenting manuscripts. It employed a great mumber of artists from all over the Temurid empire. After Sultan Iskandar’s death, Shahrukh brought his treasury from Shiraz to Herat; along with other valuables the treasury contained manuscripts. According to Davletshah Samarqandi, calligraphers alone were about forty (8, p.175), predominantly the Tabriz masters: Mavlana Faridaddin Jafar Tabrizi, Syedi Ahmad Nakkash, Khoja Ali Musavvir, Kavamaddin Tabrizi (this can be explained by the fact that before Baysunkur founded his own workshop in Herat, for a while (in 1420) he was the ruler of Tabriz), and also masters from Shiraz: calligrapher Mavlana Maruf Baghdadi, Mahmoud al-Husayni, and possibly some local calligraphers and artists.
The kitab-khana was not only the place for copying books, but a centre for truly academic study of texts: they created the compillation of Ferdousi’s immortal poem Shahnameh”. Baysunkur, himself a history fan, extended his special favours to historians. Hafiz-i-Abru (Mavlana Nuratdin Abdallah) who was close to Baysunkur, wrote for him a famous essay titled “Zubdat at-tavarikh baysunkuri”, one copy of which was illustrated in Herat in c. 1425. During his time, scholars prepared and saved from oblivion the famous work by Rashid ad Din “Jami at-tavarikh”, which had a great impact on the Temurid historiography and contributed to the emergence of a new tradition of producing illustrated series for historical works.
In the workshops of Herat, during the time of Baysunkur and Shakhrur, the production of miniatures was preceded by major preparatory work. Numerous surviving drawings and sketches evidence the process of creating and artfully designing a manuscript. Fragments of miniatures and pictures of landscapes, fabulous plants, male and female figures found on these sketches testify to the attention that was given to finding the most appropriate composition. The presence of masters from different miniature art centers in one workshop and the synthesis of styles from the previous century contributed to the emergence of a new style and the evolution of the Herat miniature school in the first half of the 15th c. (3, p. 63).
According to some researchers, the Herat school of miniature began to evolve by 1420s. But already in the first decade of the 15th c., following Baysunkur’s order, copies of historical essays were produced: “Shams al-Husn” by Tajiddin Salmani in 1410; the continuation of “Zafar-nama” by Shami-Zayl and “Zafar-nama-i Shami” in 1412; “Muntakkhab al-tavarikh-i Muini (selected chronicles of Muini by Muiniddin Natanzi) in 1414, and others. These facts suggest that the workshop had been functioning from the first decade, given that it had a large staff of calligraphers. Baysunkur’s kitab-khana, reverently referred to as Academy by some researchers, was also known for a well-coordinated organization of manuscript production, in which the important element was the masters’ specific expertise, such as creating human faces, figures or landscapes.
One of the first doings of the new kitab-khana was producing by Tabriz masters a copy of the famous album of Sultan Ahmad of Baghdad (on the Prince’s instruction) “of the same size (of pages), the same number (of lines) and the same layout of illustrations” (8, p.175). It was a kind of benchmark setting for the artists employed by the Baysunkur’ workshop, a deliberate adherence to the traditions of Baghdad Jalairid school, the greatest achievement of which was the innovative art of Junaid Sultani.
Manuscripts with miniatures created during that period include: “Kulliat-i Tarihi” by Hafiz Abru, 819 H.D. (Hijri date)/1415-16, 20 illustrations (Istanbul, Topkapi Sarai); “Gulistan” by Saadi, calligrapher Jafar Baysunkuri, 830 H.D./1426, artist Khalil (?), 8 Miniatures (Chester Beatty Library); “Anthology”, calligrapher Muhammad b.Husam Shamsaddin Baysunkuri, 830 H.D./1426, 7 miniatures (Florence, Berenson Collection); “Humai and Humayun” by Khoju Kirmani, calligrapher Muhammad bin Husam Shamsuddin Baysunkuri, 831 H.D./1427, 3 miniatures (Vienna); “Majma-al-Tavarih/Zubdat al tavarikh-i Baysunkuri” (Collection of Chronicles/ The Cream of Baysunkur’s Chronicles) by Hafiz-i Abru c.1425; “Miraj-nama” (Herat), 1425-1450, rewritten in Arabic and Turki by Hari Malik Bakhshi, 61 miniature (Paris National Library, Suppl.turc 190), between 1425 and 1450. All these pieces demonstrates the most lyrical and innovative techniques used in historical illustration during the time of Shahrukh. They are of different value, but the workshop’s finest items show a genetic connection to the works of Junaid in the picturing of architecture and landscape, while demonstrating new features too: genre solution in picturing secondary characters (a servant grilling a sheep in “Humai and Humayun in the Garden”), better workmanship, fine drawing, rich palette, more accurate proportions between all parts of the composition and the proportional balance in the images of men, nature and architectural environment, which, despite all the pictorial conventions, gives the sense of reality of this dimension-free space. In the majority of miniatures in these manuscripts one can notice the overcoming of the Chinese influence; the miniatures stand out in their splendid compositions, high horizon, excellent quality of paints, and the brilliant work of illuminator. Especially notable in this regard are the “Kulliat-i Tarihi” miniatures by Hafiz Abru (Istanbul. Topkapi Sarai, V.282).
The next stage in the development of early Herat miniature and its heyday in the first half of the 15th c. is associated with miniatures created in 1430s: “Kalila and Dimna” 833 H.D./1429-30 by Nizamutdin Abdul Mali Nasrullah, calligrapher Shamsutdin Baysunkuri, 25 miniatures (Topkapi Sarai, Istanbul); “Khamse” by Nizami, 1431, calligrapher Mahmud, 38 miniatures (St. Petersburg, Hermitage); and illustrations to “Shah-name”, 1429-30, calligrapher Jafar Baysunkuri, 22 miniatures (Teheran. Gulistan Palace). The “Kalila and Dimna” miniatures are among the most remarkable works produced in the Baysunkur workshop (12). Miniatures of this manuscript are stunning in the richness of colour and exquisite combination of turquoise, lilac, silver-grey and bright blue. Along with animal images, they feature a scene of a feast or relaxation in the open air, which was to becomes one of the favourite court themes in oriental miniature.
Of these manuscripts, the most remarkable creation of the Baysunkur workshop is certainly a series of miniatures for the Ferdousi’s “Shah-name” (1430) from the collection of Gulistan Palace in Tehran (13). From the first to the last sheet the manuscript is a masterpiece of book-making art. The work of its calligrapher Mir Jafar Tabrizi Baysunkuri, the wonderful cover, strikingly beautiful and finely wrought ornamental inserts, and, naturally, the miniatures – all very remarkable in their authors’ fine taste, great skill, and unbelievable sense of colour. It is no accident that they had become benchmark for many next generation masters.
Manuscript opens with magnificent two-page frontispiece picturing the Shah’s hunting. For illustrating the poem’s manuscript, the authors selected the most characteristic themes, both canonical and original. These include hunting, feasts and battles of the kings (Kei Kaus, Kei Khosrov, Yezdigerd, Isfandiyar, Anushirvan), duels and feats of heroes (Rustam, Zal), and romantic scenes (Zal and Rudabe). They hone compositional arrangement and improve the technology; the drawing becomes masterfully refined in graphically clear-cut silhouettes of men and architectural structures; it gets sophisticated and intricate in the twists of fantastically beautiful rocks; fine and clear in the shape of each petal or a blade of grass. The colouring is stunning in the resounding combination of azure and gold and serene shades of delicate pink, grey and pistachio.
Generally speaking, no matter which aspect of the Herat miniature of the Baysunkur period we consider, be it the picturing of space, a landscape or human images, everything proves that the art of miniature painting reached an apogee in its development.
High level of professionalism is retained in the works of 1540s too. Quite remarkable among them are the manuscript of Nizami’s “Khamse, 849 H.D./1445-46, calligrapher Yusuf al Jalal, artist and illuminator Hoja Ali at-Terizi, which was commissioned by Ismat at-Dunya, the wife of Muhammad Juki, the son of Shahrukh; and “Shah-name” by Ferdousi, the so-called “Shah-name” of Muhammad Juki (Herat, 1440, 31 miniatures. London). Both manuscripts demonstrate the already evolved features of the Temurid style defined primarily by harmonious unity of all parts of the composition, their clarity, perfect and fine drawing, single confident line around the figure, be it a horse, a human, or a building, and rich, captivating and sonorous palette, a festive landscape with blossoming trees, shrubs and glades. The space solution combines two concepts: the Iranian tradition, which is plane-based, and the Middle Eastern one that creates the illusion of depth through the vertically interchanging planes. Following the Jalairid masters, a new concept of space was devised: the space unfolds upwards and shows the interior and exterior at the same time, reducing the size of humans and animals. Artists start employing cosmogonical solution for space – as if viewed by God. Colour has great importance in the creation of spatial environment. Using colour gradation the Temurid masters create capacious space, taking in grand natural scenery and monumental architecture, and retaining the decorative potential of colour. They introduce gold as the embodiment of fire, and on its background other colours gain their full voice.
The early Herat school of miniature of the first half of the 15th century played an important role in the evolution of the Temurid school of miniature and oriental painting in general. Taking the best achievements of its predecessors – the masters of Shiraz, Baghdad and Tabriz, the school crystallized their heritage into the most relevant things, from its point of view. The researchers note, however, that “in the understanding of a character, in spatial solution, and in colour, the School is a very unique and original phenomenon.
Themes explored by the early Herat painting are rich and diverse. These include illustrations for historical treatises, where the Temurid miniature reached remarkable heights by developing further the concept of illustrating historical events with primary focus on sieges, battles, victories, feasts and duels (“Zafar-name”, “Majah at-tavarikh”, “Kulliat-i Tarihi”), religious essays (“Miraj-nama”); literary works (Ferdousi, Kalila and Dimna, poetry anthology, “Khamsa” by Nizami and illustrations for selected poems); illustrations for academic treatises and horoscopes, and genealogies.
New in the Temurid miniature is the creation of shah-centred compositions and a model image of a ruler; the evolution of court genre where feasts, entertainment, hunting and battles of the ruler become the main theme in the miniatures; it is a landscape solution, the development of a certain formula of paradise built of the blossoming trees, mallows and cypress and scattered clusters of grass on the glades, and picturesque rocks with coral-shaped ridges, awaking the sense of the fabulous beauty of nature as God’s creation. Also new was the creation of type-characters migrating from miniature to miniature, and further development of a human image that retained its conventionality along with intensified realistic detail.
The art of Kamaletdin Behzad, the outstanding miniaturist from Herat of the last quarter of the 15th century, further developed and perfected the achievements of the early Herat school of miniature paining of the first half of the fifteenth century.
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