The Islamic world art in Moscow

The Islamic world art in Moscow


Interview by Maria Sidelnikova. Exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza


The exhibition “Classic Art of the Islamic World in 9-19th centuries. Ninety Nine Names of Allah” was opened in Moscow. Galina Lazikova, the curator of the exhibition, told Vestnik Kavkaza about the Iranian miniature art.

-    Is not it accidental that the majority of masterpieces are from Iran?

-    It is not accidental. If we imagine the cultural tradition of Iran, which existed before Islam and how it was developing during the Islamic period, we will understand that Iran has been a source of influence on neighboring countries. The art of Mongolian India was formed by Iranian artists who migrated to India. Art of Central Asia – the same thing, artists moved there from Iran. Iran had so many artists that it exported its masters to other countries. We don’t try to present a lot of Iranian artists. It happened on its own. When you choose a masterpiece for an exhibition, you pay attention to its beauty. You cannot skip a really worthy picture and present or buy some other thing, according to a geographic principle. That is why our collection is half-Iranian.

-    The area of the Muslim culture is huge. Are there any differences in arts of Iran, Egypt, India, etc?

-    Even though there are no confessional, religious differences, regional, local schools are very original and expressive. For example, it is well-known that Iran is famous for its miniature art.

-    What are its differences from other traditions? Were there any peculiarities?

-    Of course, there were. First of all, it is brilliant artistic quality. A miniature quality of the 16th century in Iran is much higher than in its contemporary Muslim schools. Even at that period there were collectors of art who bought miniatures, collected them into albums, stored them, and admired. There are portraits of a beautiful girl who is mentioned by Iranian poets. A beautiful maiden is often not a beloved. A poet and an artist always refer to God. God is beautiful, but he should be treated as your beloved, he should always be in your mind. Attitude to God as to a beloved is typical for the whole Muslim culture, Iranian culture. Iranian artists found this expression for the image. Every work of the Iranian art can be read and has one, two, three meanings. It is thought that a classic masterpiece should contain at least seven meaning layers. But in fact it can be interpreted infinitely.

-    How can it be interpreted? Should a person have certain knowledge for this?

-    The whole culture is built on knowledge of the poetry. At that time just like many current Muslims they knew by heart thousands of poems. These images mingled, were combined and compared to each other, creating a chain of meanings, which enables us to read art works.

-    Iran had several cultural centers where miniature art was taught…

-    The art of painting and miniature is closely connected with traditions of court and palace, because it had always been an art of elite. It was directed at those who could appreciate, who understood and who could effort a studio. We can see gold, silver, and amazing paints made of gems. Paper was expensive as well. Thus, major art centers appeared where the court was. In the 15th century the court was situated in Herat. Heart was prospering in the 15th century. The famous artists Behzad worked in Heart under Sultan Husayn Bayqarah. Then, the political axis shifted from Eastern Iran to Western Iran. Instead of art studios in Heart art studios in Tabriz appeared. Establishing a new studio, a new Iranian shah of a new dynasty took artists from the former center and brought them to a new center. He also took local artists and that’s how a new art school in Tabriz was founded. Later shah decided to move the capital to the other city – Kazvin – after 50 years from appearance of the Tabriz art tradition. He moved, but decided that he got bored from some artists and didn’t want to take them. He took new artists in Kazvin. A new art school began its development. Again 50 years later the other Iranian shah decided to move to the center of the country – Isfahan. He moved and took a part of artists. And it depended on his taste. The richest Isfahan tradition was born. Meanwhile, there was an art center in Shiraz, which appeared in the 15th century as a court center. But an outstanding thing happened – the court left, but artists stayed and continued working. It was the only Iranian center of producing commercial books. The tradition was unbroken from the 15th to the 17th century, it was original and differed from any other art centers.

-    Isfahan is famous for its sky-blue paint. Is it true?

-    In fact if you mean turquoise, I can say that not Isfahan, but whole Iran was famous for it. Iran, Central Asia. This color is very popular in Muslim architecture. Tiles, ceramics were sky-blue. When they learnt to produce turquoise glaze with cobalt, it was the greatest invention. Since the 12th century whole Iran, Iranian architecture is blue.

-    Does it mean anything or they just liked the color?

-    Of course, it is a color of the sky. And gold shines as the sun on this glaze.

-    When you watch miniatures, it seems that faces of depicted people are all the same. Why?

-    It is an ideal of beauty. When a perfect God beloved is depicted, she should be accepted by everyone. At the same time, we have historic portraits. Our exhibition presents two portraits of Shah Abbas. On the one picture he is welcoming an Indian ambassador; on another a court ceremony is depicted. We know some analogies where similar characters are presented in different situations, but there are cases when they are subscribed by historic names.

-    Is it connected with influence of the European culture, the culture of portrait.

-    Yes, probably. Perhaps it is influence of the European culture. At that period, under Shah Abbas a big Armenian Diaspora appeared in Isfahan. Shah took a big community of Armenian merchants and craftsmen from Armenian Julfa and established a district in Isfahan called New Julfa. Due to these people who had their own art traditions, who invited their own artists, the Iranian Isfahan art was enriched with new ideas – portraits, new pictures, and monumental paintings.


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