NB- information shown below is subject to change and should be used for reference only.


Ms Samantha Blankenship (Harvard University, USA)

Wings of Darius: The Reception of Achaemenid Imperial Imagery on the Greek Periphery

The precise nature of the transmission of Achaemenid Persian materials to Herodotus, at the frontier of the Persian Empire, remains obscure and intensely debated, since it potentially offers a window onto the larger problem of Greek reception of, and responses to, Persian rule and the visual and textual elements of Achaemenid imperial discourse. A curious passage in Herodotus’ History provides an interesting test case for investigating the transfer and interpretation of these cultural materials. The famous episode in which Cyrus the Great dreams that Darius I, “the eldest of Hystaspes’ sons, had wings upon his shoulders, and with one of these he overshadowed Asia; with the other, Europe” (I.209.1) may reflect a striking conflation of Persian propaganda, both pictorial and textual, to which Herodotus gained access. The similarity of the image of Darius which Herodotus projects in Cyrus’ dream to native Persian visual representations both of Ahuramazdā and of Darius himself as sun-disks with prominent wings is already well-documented. Nevertheless, the fact that Herodotus’ narrative situates this vision within a Reichstraum—at a juncture where the question of royal succession is highlighted as a potential crisis for Cyrus, until Hystaspes reassures him of Darius’ loyalty—makes us wonder whether Herodotus draws here on textual material that complements contemporary artistic propaganda. The oral and/or written traditions that gave Herodotus access to the story recounted in Darius’ Bisotun Inscription (DB) may well have contained some reference to, or reflex of, a difficult word in the Old Persian version of DB: duvitāparanam (1.11). This word has recently been interpreted (after E. Tichy) to mean that the Achaemenids “are kings from the beginning until now,” but here the earlier reading suggested by Oppert, namely, “[a royal line] in two wings/branches,” is more apposite. This sense is supported by the correspondence in Herodotus between the picture of a Darius with “two wings” and a harmonious interaction between the “two branches” of the alleged Achaemenid line and, moreover, lends itself to easy identification with Persian winged imagery of Darius, Ahuramazdā’s champion. Such narrative transformations in the Greek sources illuminate cultural exchange on the periphery of the Achaemenid Empire


Professor Dominic Parviz Brookshaw (University of Oxford, UK)

Writerly Women, Writerly Images: Female Image-making in Qajar Iran

To what extent did women control and mould their image in Qajar Iran? What can portraits of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Iranian women tell us about how they wanted to present themselves, and how they wishes to be seen by others? This paper examines portrait paintings and photographs of women produced in Iran in the period circa 1840-1930 to explore the dynamics around female image-making with a specific focus on images in which women are depicted as producers and/or consumers of the written word. Particular emphasis will be given to questions of female agency in relation to the commissioning, production, and dissemination of such writerly images in Qajar Iran. Starting with a discussion of generic images of females and those of women whose identity is not known, the paper will move onto images of named women who are better known to us through their written works, whether poetry or prose. Through a comparison with contemporaneous portraits of Qajar men of state and European women, it will be argued that a distinct tradition of female depiction can be discerned in images produced in Iran in the period under discussion. The majority of the paintings and photographs discussed in the paper are drawn from Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran, a web archive based at Harvard University Library.


Dr Matteo Compareti (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University, USA)

The Sasanian Figurative Capitals at Taq-i Bustan: Proposals of Identification and Origins

Exactly ten years ago, E. Russo published a paper in which he proposed that not only the figurative capitals and larger grotto rock reliefs at Taq-i Bustan belong to a fifth-century CE complex to be attributed to the Sasanian king Peroz (r. 459-484), but that the similar so-called basket-capital typology should be attributed to Sasanian Persia (“La scultura di San Polieucto e la presenza della Persia nella cultura artistica di Costantinopoli nel VI secolo”, La Persia e Bisanzio, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Roma, 2004, pp. 737-826). The present paper presents some hypotheses to refute such an early chronology and advance the idea that, if there was any borrowing of artistic forms and ideas, it came from Byzantium to Persia and not vice-versa. Moreover, some deities represented on these capitals may be identified through comparison with reliefs in the larger Taq-i Bustan grotto, other less-known Sasanian capitals belonging to the same typology, and late Sasanian coinage. All the collected evidence seems to point to a later chronology for these figurative capitals and the Taq-i Bustan larger grotto rock reliefs (most likely, early seventh century CE). The deities that may be identified on these figurative capitals include Ahura Mazda, Anahita and Bahram.


Ms Elham Etemadi (University of Leuven, Belgium)

Facial Hair as Representative of Superiority in One Thousand and One Nights

The illustration of The Thousand and One Nights was commissioned to Sani’ ol-Molk in 1852. The 6-volume manuscript was completed in 1859 with 3845 watercolor miniatures under the supervision of Sani’ ol-Molk. Of these, only 13 are about Shahrzad and Shahrbaz, 11 at the beginning of the first volume and 2 at the end of the last. In the 19th century Qajar era, the first traces of mustache on an adolescent male made him an object of desire for the male adults and the complete growth of his facial hair translated him into a desiring subject (NajmAbadi, 2005). This socially accepted norm had its aesthetic impact on art since images without a complete beard or mustache would have evoked the submissiveness of an adolescent male in a homoerotic relationship. In spite of the fact that painters in this era hardly ever presented the king or other famous people beardless or un-mustached, Sani’ ol-Molk, exploiting the pre-existing social aesthetics of the facial hair, chose to display the kings otherwise. The appearance of the beardless Shahrbaz in a few of the illustrations of the book signifies him as submissive in contrast to his sovereign position. However, a few pages later the painter suggests a modified position/character in the story by portraying him with complete facial hair. Unlike Sani’ ol-Molk’s single paintings where icons invite the reader to actively participate in the visual text to produce its ensuing meaning, the reader’s reading of the book’s illustrations, dependent upon the narrative and lacking those icons, only embeds him/her passively into the visual text restricted by the narrative line. As such, Sani’ ol-Molk expertly conveys the submissiveness of the viewers (identifying with the king) in the whole story; he exploited social conventions to describe the monarch’s evolution from a passive sovereign to a dominant ruler. The king’s appearance contributes to its symbolic significance in viewers’ perception of power.


Ms Fatema Soudavar Farmanfarmaian (Soudavar Memorial Foundation, Geneva, Switzerland)

Gertrude Bell’s Persian Gardens and the Evolution of Landscaping in 19th-century Iran and Beyond

It is seldom mentioned that Gertrude Bell’s infatuation with the East first began in her early twenties, on a trip to visit her uncle, Sir Franck Lascelles, the British Minister in Iran. Apart from her reluctantly published book ‘Persian Pictures’ and her translation of Hafez, the only written evidence of that early trip made in 1892 is preserved in her only surviving letter from Persia. One chapter of her book and the major part of the letter reveal her love affair with the Persian garden of which she saw several, including the British Legation grounds in Qolhak, but none of which fired her imagination as much as the garden of ‘The King of Merchants.’ To Bell’s gushing descriptions of that garden, this paper proposes to add personal memories of the layout backed by old photographs, as well as a brief history of its genesis and evolution. Although most of that history focuses on the nineteenth century, vanished but still remembered evidence suggests a growing tendency, as of the late Safavid period, to reinvent the traditional level layout of the chaharbagh as known from Achaemenid Pasargadae to Safavid Isfahan and Kashan in order to adapt it to steeper topography where more water was to be found than was available to the terraced gardens celebrated in poetry and prose and still visible in a few surviving samples such as the Bagh-e Takht in Shiraz and the Bagh-e Shahzada in Mahan. One might venture to say that the steeper garden unconsciously harks back to the earliest gardens of Media as intimated by the legend of the Hanging Gardens. The more recent fate of the garden so loved by Bell and other visitors ends on a sad note that falls within the discourse of the reckless destruction and the rampant bad taste that now plagues the once refined elegance and harmony of Persian landscaping and architecture.


Ms Laura Fish (The University of Texas at Austin, USA)

Re-Envisioning Ta`ziyeh: Claiming the Martyr Since the Iranian Green Movement

During the demonstrations following the 2009 presidential elections in Iran, Neda Agha-Soltan’s widely publicized death became the rallying cry for protest against the government. Five months after her death, with her image still resonating in the Iranian and international consciousness, theater students from the University of Tehran gathered to reenact Agha-Soltan’s death in front of the British embassy. The recreation of the event appeared to support the government-backed narrative that the doctor, Arash Hejazi, who had been at Agha-Soltan’s side when she died, had killed her with help from British agents. However, the stylistic qualities of the production and the photographic documentation of the production, distributed through multiple Iranian news sources, served to replicate and reimagine Agha-Soltan’s death as a ritualistic Shi`i ‘ta`ziyeh play in which a female character embodies the male role of Hoseyn, the titular martyr of the Battle of Karbala. This paper argues that the reimagined ‘ta`ziyeh’ allows for a contestation of the national narrative of martyrdom in Iran that questions past representations of martyrdom as an assumed designation primarily for men. Further, the location of the reenactment in front of the British embassy signals that the designation of martyrs in Iranian society will be decided not merely on the national stage but on the global one. The debate amongst commenters on the news sites regarding whether the reenactment articulated satire of government handling of Agha-Soltan’s death or supported the government stance contributes to the maintenance of a national myth around the figure of Neda and what her death and image represents for Iranians, the Iranian government, and the now quieted Green Movement. This new ‘ta`ziyeh’ recalls both the history of Shi`ism and the primacy of the martyr image during the Iran-Iraq War. This project draws upon the display of the reimagined ‘ta`ziyeh’ on Iranian news sites, such as ‘FarsNews ‘ and the ‘Iranian Students’ News Agency’, along with the coinciding comments and discussions on these sites regarding the depictions, to question the male-dominated space of the ‘ta`ziyeh’ and to assess the attainability of martyrdom and the continued creation of a spectacle around it.


Dr Aida Foroutan (University of Manchester, UK)

Decoding Meaning in a Contemporary Surrealist Iranian Painter: Sequence and Inversion as Encryption in the Work of Alireza Espahbod

Alireza Espahbod was one of the pioneer painters who presented modernisation to Iranian culture and society. The quality of Espahbod’s works, according to his contemporaries at the time of his obsequies, was that he had been inspired by current social realities, and represented them in his figurative forms. It was specifically said that most of his paintings were surrealist with a human aspect. In this paper I discuss various aspects of Espahbod’s style that encrypt his work. Largely, his surrealist techniques are based on literary and theatrical styles. The period of his work considered is from the early post-Revolutionary period until his death in 2007: it is now appropriate to discuss him as a historical figure, rather than as a living artist, and to understand his strategies for evading censorship and restrictions in Iran. Apart from striking symbols that recur in his oeuvre, it is noticeable that he favours certain visual metaphors for encryption of humanitarian and satirical meanings. In an overview of his work in this period I discuss the ways in which sequences of his individual paintings create narratives, like scenes in a play or a film. Unlike some preceding modernists, Espahbod is firmly rooted in his Iranian cultural milieu, in spite of the fact that he studied at Goldsmiths College, London, just before and during the Revolution. He is in a line of surrealists, beginning with Sadegh Hedayat in the modern literary world, but following a much older tradition that goes back to classical poetry and miniature art, in which image and word coalesce and are interchangeable. He uses these older techniques to comment allusively on the dramatic events and conditions of his own time.


Dr Yuka Kadoi (University of Edinburgh, UK)

Arthur Upham Pope and His Exhibitions of Persian Architectural Photography in the 1930s

While the history of non-western architectural studies can be observed as an evolutionary academic transition from an antiquarian pursuit to an art-historical discipline that took place in the Euro-American world during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, recent historiographical reassessments on the development of Persian art studies have revealed the pivotal role of charismatic individuals, such as the American art historian and self-made entrepreneur Arthur Upham Pope (1881-1969), in the image-making of Persian cultural showpieces. This paper readdresses Pope’s series of propagandistic exhibitions of Persian architectural photography held in the 1930s and considers how Pope surpassed his contemporary scholars with his mastery of the photographic visualisation of historic buildings not only as study resources but essentially as the subject of a two-dimensional public display. It was indeed Pope who set an indelible benchmark as to how the architectural heritage of Iran should be appreciated, researched and disseminated in the early twentieth century, and his vision of “Persian Art” continues to shape our thinking today.


Mr Farshid Kazemi (University of Edinburgh, UK)

Seeing and Unseeing the Body: The Dialectic of Embodiment and Eroticism in Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh

In his Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche states, “Every table of values, every “thou shalt” known to history or ethnology, requires first a physiological [bodily] investigation…” Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s cinematic oeuvre is generated from the ruptured presences of the body, such as ‘absent bodies,’ ‘body parts,’ and ‘bodies without organs’. Indeed, the representation of the body and the female body in particular, like a spectral presence, haunts the entire landscape of post-revolutionary Iranian cinema, not least the cinema of Makhmalbaf. I will explore the nexus between bodies, movement, gender, poetry, (color) mysticism, religion, and eroticism, among other themes, in this Iranian auteur’s classic art film, Gabbeh (1996). I will focus on several different registers in the representation of the body in both the filmic form (e.g. mise-en-scène, long shot, medium shot, close up) and narrative of Gabbeh, in particular the body as the site of erotic desire, and the site where socio-political and religious tensions are enacted and subverted. This is staged particularly in the representation of the body of the female lead, Gabbeh, who in a dialectical relation with the male body of the youthful lover (whose bodily presence is always either absent within the frame, shown via long shot in the distant background, inscribed on the Gabbeh rug, or gestured by an auditory signifier), frame the tensions that run through Iranian society and politics. It will also be seen how color, the female body, and the nation, are mutually implicated within the filmic form and content of Gabbeh, via the reactivation of the mythological and legendary past, staging Makhmalbaf’s critique of the black and colorless ‘national body’ constructed by the state. In (re)directing the critical gaze on the body, I will also seek to theorize the paradox of censorship in Iranian cinema, where state censorship has sought to de-eroticize/de-sexualize the female body through the development of a new filmic grammar that imposed restrictions on Iranian filmmakers in terms of how they should represent the body on screen, and which has, paradoxically, contributed to a new visual aesthetics to this national cinema, and endowed bodies with a more erotically charged representation. I will frame my reading and analysis based on a range of methodologies and theories which have informed film theory, ranging from theories of embodiment, continental philosophy, critical theory, post-structuralism, feminist theory, psychoanalytic theory, and theories of eroticism.


Mrs Arzu Khasiyeva (Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, Baku, Azerbaijan)

Persian Art and Artistic Traditions between the 13th and 14th Centuries

Mongol invasion in the 13th century brought significant changes to the art tradition of Persia. Despite the loss of valuable cultural monuments caused by mongolian armies, Persia became a centre of cultural and artistic innovation in this time. Rulers of Iran, Il-Khans assumed Iranian culture, customs and language. In the late 13th century and first quarter of the 14th century is considered an epoch of great changes in the history of Persian painting. During the reign of Mongol rulers the art of the Persian book illumination, painting and miniatures experienced some new tendencies. Artists related to books and stories like, Shahnameh, Jami-al-tawarikh, Bustan, Golestan, Khamsa. Illustrated manuscripts of these famous books increased in number and artistic output. 540 painting of The Compendium of Chronicles depicted landscape, people, battle scenes, religious motifs. Shahnameh embellished and accompanied with descriptive, emotional, historic images by different calligraphers and artists. The impact of Chinese painting school ( typical Chinese dragon, pony-like flowers, clouds) is observed in visual world of Mongolian period which lately was mastered by Persian tendencies. However, in contrast with arab school the human elements dominated in this period’s paintings. Some paintings showed the traditional approach as well.( drawings, shape, decoration, colour and composition ; such as ancient Persian Simorgh). During the Mongol invasions important centres of pottery (Kashan, Ray, Nisapur, Gorgan) destroyed significantly. However pottery production in Kashan have quickly recovered after the devastation. By the middle of the century new pottery producing areas emerged and Kerman, Mashad and Arak are considered the main centres of pottery producing with blue and white wares. Wedge-shaped designs with floral and epigraphic patterns usually painted in cobalt blue, turquoise ( reflected the light of sun), black under a clear gaze. Moreover , geometral and colorful floral motifs served for a decorative purpose. Bowls, jugs decorated with foliate, panel, vegetal decoration, lotus blossom were distinctive motifs of this period.


Dr Sara Kuehn (New Europe College, Bucharest, Romania)

‘Ganymede and the Eagle’: Variations of an Airborne Theme in the Iranian World

The image of a human figure being carried off into space by a huge bird of prey has a complex and interesting history. In the medieval Iranian world, the iconography of the miraculous ascension was depicted on diverse media, such as pottery, metalwork, textiles and glass. It is associated with an episode in Firdawsī’s Shāh-nāma (Book of Kings), the abduction of Zāl, son of Sām, who was nurtured and reared by the bird sīmurgh, the story in the Arabian Nights of the giant bird Rukhkh and Sindbād, or another episode in the heroic epic of Iran, that of eagles lifting the mythical Kayānid king Kay Kāʾūs and his throne into the sky. The symbolism parallels the Greek myth of Zeus and Ganymede (Zeus, in the guise of an eagle, kidnapped the baby Ganymede, the cupbearer of the gods), which was known in the greater Iranian world and was epitomised as an eagle holding in its talons a human figure, often a female figure. Its Sasanian-period depictions, such as on a sixth- or seventh-century gilded silver bowl in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg or on a fourth- or fifth-century mural from the Termez region, present-day Uzbekistan, exemplify the Iranian interpretation of the subject. Graeco-Buddhist, rather than purely Greek, peculiarities forged by a cultural syncretism stimulated also by the neighbouring Graeco-Iranian Seleucids, presumably provided models for both Sasanian and Islamic iconographies of the hieratic movement of being borne aloft by a bird. Eschatological and allegorical references to the ritual act of this mystical ascent to Heaven will be sought in the relevant respective contemporary sources as well as the accounts of Bāyazīd Bisṭāmī (d. 261/874 or 264/877–8) recorded in the Risāla-i tawba (Epistle of Repentance), Suhrawardī Maqtūl’s (d. 587/1191) ʿAql-i surkh (The Red Intellect) and Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār’s (d. 627/1230) Manṭiq al-ṭayr (The Conference of Birds). The Ṣūfī mystics pondered the mystery of the visionary avian journey/ascension and seem to have been acquainted with ancient mythological formulations, verbal and visual, which appear to have been – at least to a certain extent – common property in the medieval Iranian world.


Dr Judith A. Lerner (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University, USA)

The Visual World of Greater Iran: The Art of Sasanians, Kushano-Sasanians and “Iranian” Huns in Bactria

Within a few years of its founding in western Iran, the Sasanian dynasty (224 – 650 CE) spread its control into Bactria (present-day Afghanistan). An Iranian land, Bactria came under the sway of successive conquerors: from the west, the Achaemenid Persians, then Alexander and his successors; later, from the east, the nomadic Kushans. First conquering the western part of the Kushan empire, the Sasanians seem to have extended their rule farther east and north so that by the mid-3rd century, Shapur I (r. 241-272) claimed “Hindustan [Sind)], the Kushanshahr up to Peshawar, and up to Kashgar, Sogdiana and to the mountains of Tashkent…” Initially a Sasanian vassal kingdom, this territory became a province governed first by Sasanian princes and then by viceroys who are known as “Kushano-Sasanians.” By the mid-4th century, however, various Hunnic groups had entered Bactria, challenging Persian rule and eventually dominating the region for the next 200 years. Adding to this complexity is the interaction among the different religious traditions (Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Hindu, and indigenous) in the region. Not surprisingly, the art produced during these tumultuous centuries reflects these varied cultures, religions and ethnicities. My talk will explore the the painting, sculpture, metalwork and glyptics produced in Bactria during this time to better define the visual culture of this part of the Persianate world.


Dr Chris Lippard (University of Utah, USA)

Placing Humor and Technology in the Iranian Art Film

My proposal draws on recent work on place in cinema to discuss the peripheral in contemporary Iranian art films—primarily the geographically/spatially peripheral, specifically those films shot in remote regions of the country, distant from Tehran and other major cities. Within this rubric I interrogate how humor functions as an effect of shot-composition and how it relates to images of the marginal/peripheral. These locations may seem exotic to international audiences, and thus may serve as a source of the deadpan visual humor that marks much Iranian art-cinema. I take The Wind Will Carry Us as a first example. Arriving in the Kurdish village, the Tehranis’ car breaks down.  Indeed just as Kiarostami is known for shooting in cars, in his films and others that he has influenced cars are constantly failing.  This is a convenient plot device, often stranding urbanites in remote rural locations.  In Deserted Station, the protagonists, en route to Mashhad, take a short cut on a dirt track and break down. In Mourning, a road accident forces the deaf couple and their nephew to head off across country: the car stops providing a comic opportunity to discover what he knows.  Rather than juxtaposing mechanical failure and character response through editing, long takes and depth of field place the broken-down vehicle in the foreground and display the human reaction in the same shot. I examine similar strategies in my central case-study, Delbaran, directed by Abolfazl Jalili, who favors neo-realist aesthetics and long takes. Set on the Afghan border where technology’s hold seems tenuous, it offers vignettes from the life of undocumented refugee, Kaim, who, after long hiding from the local cop, is arrested once he reveals himself.  Finally I touch on two broadly parodic responses to international film festival interest in ‘remote’ regions: Babak Jalili’s Frontier Blues, set on the Turkmenistan border (“A Turkoman on a white horse on the steppes—that’s what people want to see”), and The Iranian Film, which Moroccan Yassine El Idrissi, returned home to shoot in a mountain village, and is described within the film as “a foreign-made folkloric film about Morocco.”


Dr Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (University of Edinburgh, UK)

The Great King’s Nose …or An Olfactic Reading of the Iconography of Achaemenid Kingship

Iranians are fixated on the nose. It is well known that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the nose-job capital of the world. The obsession with the nose, however, has very ancient roots. In Greek texts, the Great Kings of Persia are noted for their valour, handsome demeanour, and their impressive stature; they are all ‘the most valiant of men’, or ‘the best-looking of men’ (a ‘torment’ for Greek eyes no less) – and Persian kings are habitually tagged as being ‘the best looking in all of Asia’. But the Greeks were merely following a bone fide Persian construction of the striking physical power of their monarchs. In the iconography created at the heart of the Persian Empire, under the patronage of the Achaemenid kings, the same vision of an ideal masculine beauty was propounded and propagated. Without exception, in the Iranian iconography, Great Kings are the handsomest of all men. Observing this constructed truism, Pierre Briant has noted that, ‘a man did not become king because he was handsome…; it was because of his position as king that he was automatically designated as handsome.’ In the Achaemenid relief sculptures, the Great King’s good-looks are in no small way defined by his nose. It is a haughty, proud nose. But it is also a sexily hooked nose. In the royal iconography, the nose of the King of Kings gives him a (distinctly Persian) matinee-idol handsomeness. But there is more to the royal nose than simply its sexy look. The spirit of the body -the breath- passes through the nose, and in Near Eastern culture it was considered to be the seat of the kingly spirit. The nose was also regarded a seat of the Great King’s emotions, and was thought to be heated in anger, and was likened to the flaring nostrils of the war horse. The royal nose also received the smells of the world around it. Therefore precautions were made to ensure that the Great King’s nose experienced only pleasing aromas. Perfumes, oils, floral bouquets, and expensive incense clouded, almost overwhelmed, the monarch’s senses – and something of this olfactory experience can actually be read from the painted reliefs from Persepolis’ Apadana.


Professor Ulrich Marzolph (Enzyklopädie des Märchens Academy of Sciences at Göttingen, Germany)

Mirzâ ‘Ali-Qoli Kho’i: The Master Illustrator of Lithographed Books in the Qajar Period

Research on the art of illustration in lithographed books is a fairly recent field of studies in the context of Persianate culture. The past decade has witnessed a growing awareness for the history of the Persian printed book in general, documented by a fair amount of recently published catalogues of libraries and special collections in Iran, and a growing number of detailed studies on specific works, such as the Me‘râj-nâme and the contemporary martyrological work Tûfân al-bokâ’. Even so, numerous important questions remain to be explored. A point of particular interest relates to the production and impact of specifc artists in the field, the most prominent of whom is Mirzâ ‘Ali-Qoli Kho’i. Even though this artist was active for just about a decade (1846-1855), his tremendous output is not only highly original but also extremely influential for the subsequent development of the field. Mirzâ ‘Ali-Qoli Kho’i produced a total of about 1,500 images in works bearing his signature, and at least an additional 750 images in his unsigned work. While the images in some of the books he illustrated, such as Ferdousi’s Shâhnâme or Nezâmi’s Khamse, closely relate to earlier manuscript illustration, much of his artistic production draws on the artist’s own creativity, as the scenes he chose to illustrate had never been illustrated before. My presentation is to introduce the Göttingen research project that is currently documenting the work of Mirzâ ‘Ali-Qoli Kho’i in view of a detailed assessment of visual culture in the Qajar period. Special attention will be paid to the aspects of tradition and innovation in the work of this creative artist of the Qajar period.


Mr Richard Piran McClary (University of Edinburgh, UK)

The Expansion of the Persianate Aesthetic into Anatolia through the Medium of Brick Architecture in the 6th /12th & 7th /13th Centuries

The introduction of brick building traditions and newly developed glazed tile techniques from Iran into Anatolia in the 6th /12th and 7th/13th centuries by craftsmen working for the various Turco-Muslim dynasties offers an opportunity to expand our understanding of the physical limits of the Persianate world at that time. This paper presents a number of little known examples of Persian epigraphy as well as tombs and minarets with forms and decorations that are entirely Persian in nature and origin. The aim is to demonstrate that, for a short period at least, the central and eastern portions of the Anatolian plateau should be understood as part of the greater Persianate world. Anatolia acted as something of an incubator for elements of Persian architectural style and during the period of Ilkhanid rule prior to their conversion to Islam it was in Anatolia rather than Persia that buildings in a style previously developed in Persia were constructed. A minaret and a tomb in Sivas, along with tombs in Kemah, and Kayseri provide the structural evidence to support the case for a broader interpretation of the scope of the Persian world that this paper argues.


Dr Janett Morgan (University of Cardiff, UK)

Who Has the Biggest Bulls? Royal Power and the Achaemenid Apadana

Relationships between power and architecture are a feature of all empires and the Achaemenid Empire was no exception to this: the architecture of the Achaemenid palaces and their decorations were designed to make a visual impression on the entrant that reinforced the power and status of the king. As Margaret Cool Root has pointed out in her seminal study King and Kingship in Achaemenid Art, this was achieved by the borrowing and blending of art from different peoples in a statement about the king’s ability to control and use the resources of empire. At the heart of this visual program lay the Apadana, as seat of the king and symbol of his power. While the importance of the Apadana is recognised by scholars, we cannot be certain how and why it acted as a symbol of the king’s power. Scholars have put forward a range of possible meanings for the columned interior, such as a symbolic statement of control through the re-use of architecture from conquered peoples or as a symbolic representation of the forest or oasis, amongst others. In my paper I wish to re-examine the meaning of the structure of the Apadana from the perspective of ‘resource control’, paying particular attention to the use of columns and bull imagery. I will draw on anthropological studies of ancient and contemporary pastoral nomads to suggest that the form of the Apadana and its use of bull imagery is designed to reflect the importance of mobility as an expression of royal power and emphasise the role of the king as the head of the tribe by creating for him the ultimate animal tent.


Dr Tobias Nünlist (University of Zurich and University of Basel, Switzerland)

Two Amuletic Scrolls of High Quality Dating from the Safavid Period: Codicological Approach and Historic Contextualization

Humans defend themselves against the various dangers to which they are exposed in their daily life by using different means of protection (e.g. amulets, jewellery in general, as well as written texts). In a Muslim milieu, these menaces are virtually omnipresent and are usually attributed to the jinn. The proposed paper forms part of a larger research project on amuletic scrolls of high quality dating from the 13th–19th centuries approximately. The contribution is dealing with two scrolls from the Safavid period. These items are re-spectively held by the Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cologny/Geneva (CB 542, 12.3 x 969.6 cm), and by the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (Is 1623, 7.0 x 660.0 cm, copied 986/1578). Accor-ding to a note added later and dated 947/1550, the Geneva scroll once belonged to Süley-man the Magnificent. It eventually came into his possession through Alqās Mīrzā (died 1550), Shāh Ṭahmāsp’s brother and rival fighting on the Ottoman side. On the one hand, the contribution has a closer look at these two documents from the point of view of codicology and the history of Islamic art. On both items stylistic elements met with in the late Timurid and early Safavid period can be identified. On the other hand, the paper tries to situate these two scrolls in the context of magical practices apparently in use among Safavid dignitaries during the 16th century. It does so by taking into account infor-mation contained in the lithographed editions of Ibn Sāwajī’s (fl. during the reign of Shāh ʿAbbās), Ḥall ul-mushkilāt, Bombay 1328/1910) Asrār-i Qāsimī (Bombay 1302/1885; reprint 1950). In this second instance, the relevant passa-ges were probably added by a later copyist. Hopefully, it will be possible to identify further textual witnesses to underline the importance of magical practices during the Safavid pe-riod during ongoing research.


Dr Zuzanna Olszewska (University of Oxford, UK)

Visual Poetics and Politics: Image-Sharing and Identity among Afghan Social Media Users

This paper examines the contemporary circulation of images by Persian-speaking Afghan social media users in Afghanistan and its diaspora. They are a relatively new group, having taken en masse to social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter in the last decade. Due to still-restricted literacy and internet access in Afghanistan, they constitute a small but expanding elite cultural group with a personal and political stake in the shape of Afghanistan’s future polity. Their online communities are thus often based on the sharing of political commentary, news, and artistic responses to events, notably poetry. The personal content that is shared often speaks to their lifestyle aspirations as an emerging, relatively liberal professional class, and their online networking helps this class to coalesce and its cultural tastes to be defined. I explore the images shared online and the role they play in people’s visions for Afghanistan’s future and their personal lives. I focus on two categories in particular: 1) political images, especially graphic images of violence, committed e.g. by the Taliban or by men against women, used to evoke powerful emotional reactions and condemnations; and 2) personal images, often related to a nostalgic view of the past (photographs of family members in Western dress in pre-war Kabul) or to projects of individual self-fashioning and aspiration (holiday snaps of those lucky enough to travel; or experiments in self-presentation, e.g. through different styles of hijab). These themes are part of my ongoing ethnographic research on the Afghan diaspora’s social media use and its relation to the consolidation of national identity and self-fashioning. I will consider the ethical and methodological problems of doing digital ethnography of the visual. I will also trace fundamental changes in Afghan communication media: in a society dominated until very recently by verbal forms of communication, both oral and written, the rapidly expanding reach of satellite television and social media has given prominence to the visual in the last decade. I will argue that the verbal and the visual are still powerfully intertwined through the ‘poetic’ quality of images and the way they are deployed for personal and collective projects.


Dr Nacim Pak-Shiraz (University of Edinburgh, UK)

Masculinity, Love, and Fear in Pre-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema

Much of the research on gender in the Middle East has thus far focused on the female body, particularly on veiling. Very little attention has been given to male bodies and masculinities, even less on constructions of masculinities in Iranian cinema. The very term ‘masculinity’, in the way it is understood in academia, is a relatively new concept in Middle Eastern societies where traditional ideas of ‘manhood’ largely dominate what is expected of men. Cinema is a valuable site to study these constructions over time and genre. Forming part of a much larger research project, this paper will explore the constructions of masculinities in the ‘alternative’ films of the 60s and 70s, which fall outside the genre of commercial films known broadly as filmfarsi. It will focus on the films of directors such as Ebrahim Golestan and Bahram Beyzaie.


Ms Jennifer M Scarce (Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design University of Dundee, UK)

The Role of Dress in the Image of Fath Ali Shah Qajar (1797-1834)

Dress offers warmth and protection and is also rich in meaning as visual evidence of the wearer’s public rank, social status, family
and community relationships, wealth, religious affiliation and also personal taste in clothes and ornament. A distinctive dress code was well understood in Persian culture and observed in the beautiful clothes displayed in manuscript illustrations, paintings in varied media, surviving examples of luxurious textiles and descriptions in both Persian and European sources. The rulers of the Qajar Dynasty (1786-1925) especially Fath Ali Shah (r 1797-1834) were aware of the prestige of the royal person dressed in magnificent garments and jewellery as visual propaganda for the stability of Persia. Fath Ali Shah had inherited a country recently pacified after the conflicts of the 18th through the creation of an image. He accomplished this with spectacular success wearing garments which flattered his figure, carefully selecting crowns and embellishments from the regalia of the Crown Jewels, and meticulously grooming his hair and beard. He appeared at court festivals and ceremonies and received foreign delegations who were suitably impressed by his dazzling style. He also circulated his image through life century and needed to demonstrate his authority size portraits in oils which adorned his palaces and were sent abroad as diplomatic gifts, rock carvings, embroidered hangings and on a smaller scale through paintings on lacquer and enamelled metal objects – pen boxes, mirror cases, caskets, book illustrations. The men and women of his court contributed to the image through their choice of equally elegant garments. Fath Ali Shah successfully maintained his youthful image throughout his long reign. I will discuss the paintings, garments, jewellery and texts which contributed to the sartorial iconography of early Qajar kingship and its circulation within Persia and abroad. My presentation will be fully illustrated with images of Fath Ali Shah and the supporting caste of his court.


Mr Stephen Serpell (Ipswich, UK)

Spanning a Dispersed Visual World: A New Database of Persianate Painting

Persianate painting is an especially rich aspect of Islamic Art. However these paintings are dispersed in collections all over the world, and only some have been digitised. This makes it very difficult to access the original works, or even to know where relevant works exist. As a result, students and researchers regularly have to rely on books and catalogues to locate them. But this too presents a difficulty: how to find the relevant references within the mass of printed publications that are available. A similar problem exists when trying to find commentaries on the works. These issues are addressed by a new online database of Persian and related paintings. The Islamic Painted Page database, http://www.islamicpaintedpage.com, currently contains 14,000 entries for paintings from 210 collections worldwide. As well as Persian paintings to about 1750, it covers Arab, Mughal, Ottoman, Sultanate and other sources; and it includes not only figurative paintings but also illuminated “carpet” pages, decorated Qur’an pages, drawings, and bookbindings. Each entry describes a specific work, giving its collection and manuscript or album details, place and date of production, and where it appears in modern publications, plus a link for an online image if one exists. The paper illustrates how this database permits extremely flexible searches across a huge range of Persianate paintings. For example it can locate different interpretations of specific scenes across multiple collections, as well as find reproductions of individual folios, or all the paintings within a manuscript. It can equally provide broader searches such as locating Baghdad paintings produced between 1356 and 1410, or paintings from Sa’di’s Bustan between 1510 and 1550. The paper further presents some statistical analysis of the overall data and the resulting implications about the preferences of the original patrons of the works, the artists, and the resulting profile of their oeuvre. In the process, it also discusses some challenges of classification encountered in building the database, including inconsistent picture descriptions, transliteration, and publication errors.


Mr Francesco Stermotich-Cappellari (University of Edinburgh, UK)

The Calligraphic Art of Mishkīn Qalam

The aim of this paper is to offer a general overview on the calligraphy of Āqā Ḥusayn-i Iṣfahānī (1826–1912), better known under his title Mishkīn Qalam (musk-scented pen). Some light will be shed on both the technical and spiritual features of his art, underlining the symbolism of letters, as well as the symbolism of his zoomorphic and anthropomorphic calligraphic representations. Mishkīn Qalam was a prominent Bahā’ī calligrapher of 19th century Persia. Because of his religious identity, he was expelled from the court of the Shāh and exiled in several cities of the Ottoman Empire. After the ascension of the Prophet-Founder of the Bahā’ī religion in 1892, Mishkīn Qalam travelled in Egypt, Damascus, India and Haifa, disseminating pieces of his calligraphic art in different Bahā’ī communities. His art is deeply rooted in the Persian ṣūfī-shīʿī calligraphic tradition, in which Mishkīn Qalam was immersed when he was a member of the Ni’matu’llāhī order before embracing the Bahā’ī faith. He married the zoomorphic and anthropomorphic calligraphic tendencies exemplified in that shīʿī artistic milieu with new concepts and symbolic references originated in the novel Bahā’ī tradition. His calligraphic works epitomise the transposition of Bahā’ī texts into images. Mystical invocations, salutations, prayers or Divine Names under his pen become roosters, celestial birds, peacocks, trees and human faces, all converging into a rich spiritual symbolism expressed in the holy texts of the new religion. The calligraphic styles utilized by Mishkīn Qalam are the six classic cursive Arabic styles, together with the Persian (nastaʿlīq and shikastih) and Turkish styles (diwānī), enriched by new interpretations, elaborations and by an original usage of colours in the illumination of calligraphic panels, as exemplified by the golden celestial rooster (created through the interwoven words Bismi’llāh’il’Bahiyy’il Abhā) on a radiant blue background kept at the Sackler Museum of Art at Harvard University.


Dr Iván Szántó (Eötvös Loránd University [ELTE], Budapest, Hungary)

From Antiquarianism to Archaeology: Iranian National Heritage and Its 19th-century Depictions

The proposed paper aims to discuss the problem of historical consciousness and its modern foundations in Iran. Given that in current general academic discourse the dichotomy between history and cultural memory is increasingly becoming an independent area of investigation in various contexts, the growing attention to this previously neglected facet of Iranian cultural studies is by no means surprising. As to Iranian studies, such investigations include, for instance, the awareness of Pre-Islamic Iran in the Muslim period, and Sasanian knowledge – or ignorance – of preceding periods. Much less has been written, on the other hand, about the 19th-century re-emergence of factual history on the Iranian mental horizon and the consequent dissolution of the theretofore prevalent fictitious substitute. This paper aims to bring this process into discussion. The shift from the epic to the historic is quite often dated to as late as the Pahlavi dynasty which, of course, contributed greatly to the public awareness of Pre-Islamic Iran amid its progressive shift from an initial Sasanian preference towards the Achaemenids. Others suggest that the emergence of historical awakening preceded the Pahlavis by a century and occurred during the early Qajar period the royalty of which indulged in several aspects of the Pre-Islamic heritage, or at least what it regarded as such. Instead of arguing against or in favour of any of these proposed starting points of modern historical thought, I suggest that the period of resurgence might be understood as an enduring process which was characterised by the coexistence of, and conflict between, traditionalist and modern nationalist views. Throughout this process the view of history bore a heavy ideological charge, yet while during the first Qajars history was shaped single-handedly by the royal court, by the Pahlavi Era a vast network of institutions came into being, far exceeding the national level, to serve the same goal. Although the motivations changed relatively little, the movement that began as a literary-cultural one, by degrees had clearly developed into a scientific one. The paper will scrutinise the second half of the 19th century in order to trace the turning point between mythology and history, as well as antiquarianism and archaeology, and more specifically to identify the reformist elite of Fars province as a driving force behind this transformation. Through a series of rarely-discussed textual and pictorial sources it will demonstrate the nature and degree of the changes that reoriented Iranian historical consciousness during the period.


Ms Shireen Walton (University of Oxford, UK)

Everyday Life Goes On(line) in Iran: Image – Sharing and Visual – Cultural Storytelling in Iranian Photoblogs

Alongside their many ‘universal’ aspects, social networks and blogs foster expressive environments in which social and cultural groups understand their past, make sense of their present and articulate aspirations for the future. The sharing of digital – photographic images is central in these contexts and plays a transformative role in everyday life; how it is experienced, mediated and understood. This paper examines the contemporary genre of popular photography in Iran and its convergence, over the past decade, with online social networks. It specifically looks at photoblogs (photography – specific blogs of Iranian ‘amateur’ photographers), which exhibit daily snapshots of everyday life in Iran on photographic ‘diaries’ known as photoblogs. They provide a timely opportunity for Iranian digital – visual cultural storytelling, where the digital image is no longer just a visual annex to text – based communication, but is itself central to many types of online interaction and socio – cultural critiques, occurring within and beyond the national framework of Iran. Digital images shared on photoblogs traverse ‘real’ and ‘virtual,’ ‘local’ and ‘global’ publics, bringing various aspects of offline visual culture in Iran to an online viewership, amongst whom they are virtually and even sensorially ‘experienced’. But what changes accompany the transference of the ‘real’, material image, as popular graffiti or state – sponsored wall mural, to a virtual context where it forms part of a popular photographic inventory? What can be said of the wholly different viewing context than which such images were originally intended and its impact upon the purchase of the representation? This paper considers these questions, whilst showing how photobloggers occupy a ‘third space’ between visual – ideological narrative tropes propagated inside Iran and in ‘the West’ and which form part of an on-going, post-revolutionary visual legacy, inside and outside of Iran. The paper concludes by reflecting upon the socio – cultural and political impact of popular photography and online image – sharing in transforming contemporary Iranian visual culture in a digital age.


Mr James White (University of Oxford, UK)

Smash All the Idols: Vision in Nizami Ganjavi’s Romances

The medieval Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi begins the first of his three romances, Khusrau u Shirin, with a passage on the deductive reasoning of the gaze and the effectuation of knowledge (istidlal-i nazar va taufiq-i shinakht). This paper aims to examine the relevance of the passage as a programmatic statement for the description of visual experience in Nizami Ganjavi’s three romances, which abound with scenes focussing on optical and interpretative perception. The paper will examine the tension between the exercise of syllogistic reasoning, and the privileging of a unified religious truth, within one poetic image from each of the romances, thereby casting light on Nizami Ganjavi’s own interpretation of the Neoplatonic philosophical legacy. The three images will be: Shirin’s viewing of Khusrau’s portrait for the third time in Khusrau u Shirin; the moment when the eponymous lovers see one another for the first time in Layli u Majnun; Bahram Gur’s viewing of the portraits of the seven princesses in the Haft Paykar. The paper will be accompanied by later illustrations of the scenes discussed, which are themselves informed by debates concerning the role of reason in visual experience. On a broader scale, the paper thus hopes to shed light on both conceptualisations of visual experience in pre-modern Iran, and questions concerning the nature of perception within Islamic frameworks.


Professor Alan Williams (University of Manchester, UK)

Vision and Seeing through Sightedness in Rumi’s Masnavi

Rumi seems obsessed by sight. Eyes and light are everywhere in the Masnavi, and indeed at first sight (sic) he gives the impression of being a most eidetic poet. But just as one of his most famous stories is sometimes mistakenly referred to as ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’ (III.1259 ff.), and should really be known as ‘The Elephant in a Dark House’, so Rumi’s world of vision has nothing to do with ocular eideticism. The eye he wishes to open is the ‘eye of the heart’(chashm-e del): the human eye is the source of envy and lust that must be closed or virtually blinded for spiritual progress to begin. A common experience of readers of the Masnavi is getting lost in mystical darkness: from the bright simple imagery of the initial verses of a story, the reader falls headlong down blind tunnels of mystical exploration, sometimes to emerge blinking in the daylight pages later, sometimes not. In this paper I examine how Rumi’s Masnavi poetry uses imagery to subvert or transcend visuality – a strategy that is analogous to his many other techniques of destabilisation of the reader and our natural immersion in sensuous reading. Just as many of the Masnavi’s discourses end with the poet calling for silence to fall, I suggest that the whole text also ultimately tends towards a ‘visual silence’. This raises what I think are important questions about our ‘sighted’ assumptions that are commonly made about the comprehension of such mystical literature and religious texts in general. Rumi is teaching to see through sightedness, just as much as he is urging the reader to see beyond appearances. It is my contention that if we are to bear this in mind, then many of the poets, writers and artists of ‘The Visual World of Persianate Culture’ may be better understood.



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