Jointly organized by NN Gallery and Art & Identity Sdn. Bhd., Persian Miniature Paintings – Sufi Spirit with Chinese Character is an exhibition which showcases 30 miniature paintings that display a blend of traditional Iranian and Chinese influence.
Literature and poetry have always played a prominent role in Iranian culture. Persian miniature painting, aptly named because of its diminutive size, has always been an important element of the ‘art of the book’. The most important function of such fine works of art was to illustrate various manuscripts. Artistic and poetic language reached a pinnacle of perfect equilibrium in the world of Persian illustrated manuscripts.
Examples of these magnificent manuscripts included great literary works by Ferdowsi, the 10th century poet who created his immortal epic “Shahnama” (The Book of Kings); Nizami, the 12th century poet who created “Khamsah” – a masterpiece which influenced several Indian poets of Persian language; Saadi, the famous composer of “Bustan” and “Golestan” and many other works that have continued to enrich Persian culture throughout its history up to the present day.
This great artistic heritage gave rise to the emergence of many important miniature schools, each with its own unique style, creating a great diversity of paintings. It was through these schools that miniature painting achieved its impressive development both in Iran and central Asia.
As time passed, and with the advancement of printing techniques, miniature painting developed a somewhat independent identity (i.e. independent of manuscripts). From 16th century onwards, independent miniatures were produced, but the images were still associated with literature. In the 17th Century, however, the subject matter progressed to love scenes, portraits. By the 18th Century, new images and genres of flowers and birds appeared.
Strong economic trade between Iran and China was made possible through the Silk Route. Iranian traders played an important role in spreading Islam to China. Persian words began to manifest itself in the liturgical vocabulary of the Chinese Muslims. Besides trade, artistic traditions and techniques were also exchanged. The Iranian fascination for Chinese art is well documented in Persian literature. This Chinese influence manifested itself in Persian miniature paintings - evidenced by images of swirling clouds and figures with Chinese like eyes.
Mongols occupied Iran in the 13th century. During this time, China was also under Mongolian rule. As a result, cultural interaction between the two nations developed further. Dragons appeared in the Persian miniature paintings during this period. Persian miniature painting reached its peak mainly during the Mongol and Timurid periods between 13 and 16 Centuries. Mongolian rulers brought a great number of Chinese artisans into Iran, and they in turn greatly influenced traditional Persian miniature paintings. This trend has continued till today.