The Persian Empire, centered in modern-day Iran, was exhausted by 600 CE. After decades of war with the Byzantine Empire, Persia was financially and militarily vulnerable, and in 651 the powerful Muslim caliph Umar planned and executed a decisive conquest. And so Persia was subsumed into the massive Islamic Empire. However, unlike other Islamic territories, including former Byzantine states, Persian culture and language was not Arabized, instead it subtly evolved and influenced the entire Islamic culture, from Iran to Central and Southern Asia, for the next 1400 years.
How does art and culture to triumph over politics and power? In this case, through stories. One of the defining moments of Persian influence came in the form of a book written in 1010. The Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, a 50,000 verse epic poem written by the author Ferdowsi, so persuasively described the Persian history of honorable, moral Kings that it was adopted by the Islamic ruling classes as a manual for ethical leadership. Century after century, power changed hands in Iran, and the Persian culture only grew richer — the Mongol invasions of the 13th and 14th centuries drove Indian scholars, poets, and musicians to Iran, and the 14th century Ottoman dynasties were devoted to Persian literature.
So what are the arts of this Persian culture? Poetry was a mainstay for Persian artists — as Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, developed in the Muslim world as a counterpoint to the more formal and legalistic forms of Islam, Persian lyrical poetry became a primary expression of the new theology of mystic devotion and love. Painting too was evolved by Persian artists, including the ‘Persian School of Herat’ who developed the finely-detailed style of miniature painting that would become a staple of the later Mughal arts.
So dig in, read about the honorable Persian Kings, and explore their delicate artworks, perhaps our contemporary culture needs a little Persianizing.
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Reed Enger, "Medieval Persian Art, Persia brings a wealth of art, poetry, and mysticism to Islam.," in Obelisk Art History, Published July 20, 2017; last modified July 20, 2019, http://arthistoryproject.com/timeline/middle-ages/medieval-persian-art/.
The honorable Kings of Persia are an example to us all
Wake! For the Sun, who scatter'd into flight The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
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