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The Safavids

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As far as architecture is concerned, pride of place goes to the expansion of Isfahan, masterminded by Shah Abbas I from 1598 onwards, which is one of the most ambitious and novel schemes of town planning in Islamic history.

In architectural decoration great importance was given to calligraphy, which was transformed into an art of monumental inscriptions, a development of particular artistic merit in the art of kashi.

A view of the eastern pier of the north iwan of the Imam Mosque

A view of the eastern pier of the north iwan of the Imam Mosque, built in Isfahan during the Safavid period.

Detail of enamelled brick at the Mosque of Sheikh Lutfullah in Isfahan

Its chief exponent was Muhammad Riza-i-Imami who worked in Qum, Qazvin and above all, between 1673 and 1677 in Mashad. The death of Shah Abbas I in 1629 marked the beginning of the end for the golden age of Persian architecture.

Detail of enamelled brick at the Mosque of Sheikh Lutfullah in Isfahan, showing Koranic text in stylised Kufic characters.

The last decade of the 16th century saw a vigorous revival of the pottery industry in Iran. Safavid potters developed new types of Chinese inspired Kubachi blue and white polychrome ware, due perhaps to the influence of the three hundred Chinese potters and their families who were settled in Iran (in Kerman) by Shah Abbas I. Ceramic tiles were produced especially in Tabriz and in Samarkand. Other types of ceramics include bottles and flasks from Isfahan.

Early 18th century ewer

Kubachi earthenware dish

Early 18th century ewer. Here the Chinese blue and white export ware has been imitated in style.

Kubachi earthenware dish with polychrome design of a dancer and a musician. North-west Iran 17th century.

Textiles were greatly developed during the Safavid period. Isfahan, Kashan and Yezd produced silks, and Isfahan and Yezd satin; Kashan was famous for its brocades.

Persian clothes in the 17th century often had a floral decoration on a light background and the old geometric motifs gave way to the depiction of pseudo-realistic scenes full of human figures.

Long-sleeved coat

Long-sleeved coat, with a pattern of drinking dandies, from the first half of the 17th century.

Detail of a Persian hunting carpet

Carpets occupy the major position in the textile field, with key weaving centres in Kerman, Kashan, Shiraz, Yezd, and Isfahan.

There were a great variety of types such as the hunting carpet, the animal carpet, the garden carpet and the flower-vase carpet. The strong pictorial character of so many Safavid carpets owes much to Safavid book painting.

Detail of a Persian hunting carpet from the early Safavid period, Kashan.

In metalwork, the engraving technique developed in Khurassan in the 15th century retained its popularity well into Safavid times. Safavid metalwork produced significant innovations in form, design and technique. They include a type of tall octagonal torch-holder on a circular plinth, a new type of ewer of Chinese inspiration, and the almost total disappearance of Arabic inscriptions in favour of those containing Persian poetry, often by Hafez and Sa'di.

Brass torch stand

Brass torch stand. Western Iran, c. 1579-80

In gold and silver work, Safavid Iran specialised in the production of swords and daggers, and of gold vessels such as bowls and jugs, often set with precious stones.

Safavid metalwork, like so many of the other visual arts, remained the standard for subsequent artists in the Zand and Qajar periods.


Persian Art Through The Centuries

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The Safavids

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