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The Timurids

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As in other periods of 'book art', painting was only one of the aspects in Islamic decoration. Calligraphy was always considered one of the highest forms of art in Islam, and was practised not only by professional calligraphers but also by Timurid princes and nobles themselves. The same artist often practised the arts of calligraphy, illumination and painting. Mirak Naqqash, for example, began as a calligrapher, went on to illuminate manuscripts, and finally became one of the greatest painters in the Herat court school.

Nastaliq calligraphy by Sultan 'Ali Mashad

Nastaliq calligraphy by Sultan 'Ali Mashadi taken from an anthology (the Makhzan al-Asrar, Tabriz, 1478). Executed in black ink on pale blue Chinese paper with drawings of architecture and landscapes in gold.

Persian calligraphers excelled in all styles of cursive writing; the elegant large muhaqqaq, the finer rihani, (both with sharp final endings), the dusk-like ghubar, and the heavy pliable thuluth script. In the late 14th century 'Umar Aqta' (with amputated hand), wrote a miniature Koran for Timur, which was so small that it could be fitted under the socket of a signet ring. When Timur disapproved of it because, according to a Prophetic tradition the Word of God should be written in big letters, the calligrapher produced another copy each of whose letters were a cubit1 in length.

This was also a time of great development in the decorative arts - textiles (in particular carpets), metalwork, ceramics etc.

Although no carpets have survived, miniatures afford ample documentation of the beautiful carpets made in the 15th century. In these, geometric motifs after the Turko-Asiatic fashion seemed to have been preferred.

Relatively little high quality metalwork has survived from the Timurid dynasty, though again miniatures of the period (whose obsessive detail makes them an excellent guide to contemporary objects) show that ewers with long curved spouts were developed at this time. A few spectacular but isolated objects give a clue to this largely vanished industry, which include a candlestick base formed by knotted dragon heads and a pair of massive bronze cauldrons.

Bronze Cauldron

Bronze Jug

Bronze Cauldron
Made by 'Abd al-'Aziz ibn Sharaf al-Din Tabrizi in 1399 by order of Timur.

Bronze Jug
Inlaid with silver. Probably Heart, signed Habib Allah ibn 'Ali Baharjani, dated 1461.

Of gold and silver work apart from a very few pieces, nothing has survived from what must have been a superb output of articles and ornaments in precious metals. Miniatures show gold jewellery sometimes incrusted with stones. The use of precious and semiprecious stones for household objects was widespread under the direct influence of Chinese models. Jade in particular was employed for small bowls, jugs with dragon-shaped handles, and seal rings.

Recent research has demonstrated that the number of surviving Timurid ceramics is not nearly as small as it was once thought to be. In the early Timurid period no centre of ceramic production is known. However, it is certain that the Timurid capitals (Mashad and Herat in Khurassan, Bukhara and Samarkand in Central Asia) possessed large factories, where not only the magnificent tiles that decorated buildings of the period were produced, but also pottery.

Chinese blue and white porcelain (mainly bowls and large wide rim plates), introduced into Persia in the second half of the 14th century started a new fashion that dominated the production of ceramics throughout the 15th century. Against the white background, lotus flowers, ribbon shaped clouds, dragons, ducks on stylised waves etc. were drawn in various shades of cobalt blue. This style was to continue into the 16th century, when bolder motifs were developed with landscape and large animal figures.

Detail of a faience mosaic panel, Friday Mosque, Isfahan

Timurid faience mosaic decoration, Friday Mosque, Yazd

Detail of a faience mosaic panel, which decorates the iwan on the south side of the Friday Mosque, at Isfahan. The subject is treated in Timurid style.

Timurid faience mosaic decoration, which adorns the façade of the principle iwan giving access to the Friday Mosque at Yazd.

From an architectural point of view, few innovations were made during the Timurid period with mosques constructed on an old Seljuk plan. The most important contribution of Timurid architecture; however, is in its decoration.

The introduction of faience mosaic ('tile mosaic') transformed the whole appearance of Timurid architecture and together with the use of patterned brickwork, became the most characteristic feature of architectural decoration. Huge surfaces were decorated with facings of carved arabesques and glazed tile work. The glaze was turquoise or deep blue, with white for the inscriptions.



1. Cubit - an ancient measurement of length equal to the length of the arm between the wrist and the elbow; between 18" to 22" or 45cm to 56cm.


Persian Art Through The Centuries

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