Tayir Bayramov, Art Critic
The first surviving samples of the miniatures of the book miniatures of the subsequently famous Azerbaijani school date back to the XII-XIII centuries. Its origins lie in the Mosul school, since Mosul (Iraq) at that time was making a part of the state of Atabeg-Ildegizids of Azerbaijan. These samples of the miniature are stylistically similar among themselves and to a certain extent relate to the Ildegizid painting miniatures from manuscripts on ceramics, executed in Mosul, such as “Kitab al-Mani” (“The Book of Songs”) of the beginning of the XII century, “Kitab al-Tiriac” (“The Book of Antidotes”) of the end of the XII century, and the book “Varga and Gulshah” executed in the XIII century in the Azerbaijani town of Hoya, illustrated by the seventy one miniature painted by the artist Abdullah Al Mumin Ibn Muhammad al-Hoyi.
The miniatures of this school that can be called Ildegizid miniatures combine the moonlike faces characteristic of the Turkic people and painted in Turkic style. The articles made of ceramics and metal testify the influence of this school of miniature. Both in the miniatures and the ceramics painting the rounded Oguz faces with high cheekbones and slanted, narrow eyes are depicted, men are represented sometimes wearing moustache and a characteristic beard. In accordance with the Muslim belief, an image of the human being is sublime, often times the heads of the characters are highlighted by a sacred halo. And, as correctly noted by the academician Ch. O. Kadjar, “Those art critics, who believe that the round Ildegizid faces is some kind of fashion of that epoch or the influence of the image of Buddha, are not right. Most likely, this can be explained by the fact that the artists were mostly Turks, depicting the images dear to them” (1, p. 22-23). Besides, it is possible that the Seljuks brought with them the samples of Uyghur painting or Uyghur artists and the local craftsmen were very well trained by them. Anyway, Uyghur influence sometimes shows through very clearly.
The wonderful miniatures to the manuscript “Manafi al-Hayawan” or the Bestiary of Ibn-Bakhtishu of the late XIII century, executed in the city of Maragh, date back to the era of the Hulagu Dynasty. The manuscript was copied for Gazan Khan from the Ilkhanid Dynasty between 1297 and 1299 in Maragh, and was illustrated with 94 miniatures. The scholars have noted the impact of the Bagdad-Mesopotamian schools and Chinese-Uyghur art on these miniatures. The admiration of nature, flora and fauna is a distinctive feature of these miniatures. Amazing craftsmanship in construction of the composition is distinguishing the miniature “The Lion and the Lioness”, where the figures of the animals caressing each other are perfectly painted in a right triangle. According to S. Dadashev, it is typical for Turkic “formal pictorial art” (2).
The miniatures “A Mare with a Colt” and “The Phoenix” are made in the Uyghur-Chinese style. However, the portrayal approach here is Turkic, not Chinese. The main objective here is not a self-sufficient emptiness (there are merely no empty spaces), but the object of depiction.
The Mongols have actually joined the cultural life of their subordinate Turkic-Muslim countries only after their official conversion to Islam under Gazan Khan. Furthermore, the true creator of the prosperous reign of Gazan Khan and Oljeitu was a prominent political figure, the vizier of the three Hulaguids – Gazan Khan, Oljeitu and Abu Said – a brilliant philanthropist, the patron of arts and sciences – Fazlallah Rashiduddin of Oguz origin. Being an actual ruler of the Hulaguid State for many years, Rashiduddin has turned one of the outskirts of Tabriz into a scientific and cultural center – Rubiee-Rashidi, which has gathered the outstanding scientists and artists of the Turkic-Muslim East and the neighboring regions.
“Jami at-Tavarikh” or “The Code of History” is the most significant piece of the Ilhanid painting of the first quarter of the XIV century. Creation of the manuscript was the idea of Gazan Khan that was accomplished by Rashiduddin. Ironically, out of a huge number of manuscripts created during the life of Rashiduddin, only two incomplete copies remained – the Edinburgh and the London ones. More than a hundred of the existing miniatures of these fragmentary lists, a huge number of other subjects of the later lists, and historical information indicate that it was not a private order, but a broad campaign on a high state level.
As evidenced by J. Gasanzadeh, “a process of adaptation and creative understanding of different faiths and cultures is the fruit of the intellectual efforts of many generations of Turkic peoples inhabiting Central Asia along the Silk Road, which allowed in such a short time to generate the incomparable artistic language of the so-called ‘historical style of the workshops of Rashiduddin’. Therefore, the assumption about participation of Chinese people seems highly questionable” (3, p. 39). More correct is to speak about the involvement of Turkic Uyghurs in the design of the “Jami at-Tavarikh” as the agents of Chinese influence.
Another majestic heritage of the history, not only of Tabriz miniature, but also the entire Turkic miniatures is “The Grand Tabriz Shah-Nameh,” or the “Shah-Nameh” of Demott, named after its first European owner. If “Jami at-Tavarikh” still is somewhat eclectic because of the diversity of the synthesized traditions, the Demott’s “Shah-Nameh” is a paragon of the wholeness and completeness. And all this became possible thanks to the Turkic craftsmen – Ahmed Musa and Shamsuddin Tebrizi. The compositions that he created stand out by an unprecedented drama and psychology in depiction of the human soul moves that later, in the XV-XVI centuries, will not be a characteristic of the Tabriz miniature school of the classical period.
The illustrations to the Grand Tabriz “Shah-nameh”, the so-called Demotte’s “Shah-nameh” of 1330-1340, represent a new, higher level in the development of the Turkic miniature in general. The miniatures of this unique manuscript deservedly are considered the masterpieces of the Oriental miniature painting, and are being characterized by monumental compositions, the psychological representation of characters, and the richness of color. Therefore, a crucial role in formation of the Azeri school of book miniature had played the Turkic painters, and not Chinese, Persian or Arab artists.
In this regard, I would like to say about the reinterpretation of the genesis of the handwritten books of the Turkic peoples in the article by Uzbek author, Erkin Ahundjanov (4, pp. 159-168), who associates the origin of the art of manuscript illustrating in Turan – Turkestan with the first centuries of our era, when the Turkic artists used to create the manuscripts of Manichaean and Buddhist content. This circumstance, as well as the fact that in the first centuries of Islam the books did not have illustrations, urges us to put a different accents in the problem of the genesis of the illustrative traditions in the Muslim East: a decisive factor here is not Islam, and not even the Muslim Renaissance, but the Turkic-Turanian aspect in the context of the Muslim culture.
In the XV century Tabriz still retains its significance as the largest cultural centre and a prominent school of miniature painting. During this period, many outstanding artists and craftsmen of the bookmaking art of Azerbaijan used to be invited to Herat of the Timurids, where they were working on special orders of the Shah. Among them were Pir Seyid Ahmed, Khoja Ali Mussavir, Qavam ad-Din, Giyasuddin, and others. The famous calligrapher and poet, Jafar Tabrizi, was leading the work of the kitabkhana of the Baysonkur Palace. In the XV century under the influence of the Tabriz school the miniature painting was developing in other cities of Azerbaijan, as evidenced by Shamakha anthology of the Eastern poets and the Baku miniatures by Abdulbaghi Bakuvi. In Tabriz of that period, under the dynasties of Tamerlane, Ak-Koyunlu and Kara-Koyunlu, the so-called “Turkmen” style of miniature painting was evolving. This style was named so, because of the distinctively Central Asian Turkic phenotype of the characters portrayed.
In XVI, the fact that the highly educated rulers were at the head of the Safavid State, who were patronizing the artists and scientists, to a large extent had contributed to the development of the culture and arts. Just so, Shah Ismail was a talented poet, who wrote the lyric poetry – ghazals (under the pseudonym of “Hatayi”). Besides, he indited the poem “Dech-nameh” in Azeri language, which also confirms that he was a Turk and not a Persian. A great connoisseur and lover of the arts was also the son of Shah Ismail, Shah Tahmasp (Takhmasib).
During the reign of Shah Ismail and of Tahmasp later on, under the general guidance of the great master of brush – Ustad Sultan Muhammad – a constellation of such talented artists as Agha Mirek Isfahani, Mir Musavvir, Mir Seyid Ali, Mirza Ali, Doust Muhammad, Muzaffar Ali, Sadigh-Bek Afshar, and Muhammadi have worked in the library of the Palace. These masters of the brush under the leadership of Ustad Nizam ad-Din Sultan Muhammad have played a significant role in the development of Tabriz school of miniature of the XVI century and in the history of the Oriental painting in general.
The Professor, Kerim Kerimov, has dedicated his monograph “Sultan Muhammad and his school” to the creative legacy of Sultan Muhammad (5). It should be noted that the art of Sultan Muhammad and his disciples was of purely Turkish, not Persian character, which is evidenced by his miniatures as the “Shah’s Gaming” and “In the Meyhane” (“Drunk Party”) filled with expression and pure Turkic sense of rhythm. Only in the XVII century, under Rizayi-Abbasi, traditions of the Azerbaijani miniature will turn into the pure Persian art both in its form and in spirit.