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Persian Art
Through The Centuries

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1256 - 1394

The Mongols; Ilkhans Contd.

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The Mongol invasions in the 13th century changed life in Iran radically and permanently. Genghis Khan's invasion in the 1220s, destroyed lives and property in north-eastern Iran on a grand scale. In 1258 Hulagu Khan, Genghis Khan's grandson completed the conquest of Iran, and consolidated his control over Iraq, Iran and much of Anatolia. With his capital in Maragha in north-western Iran, he founded the Ilkhanid kingdom, nominally subject to the great Khan, Qubilai, ruler of China and Mongolia.

The Ilkhan dynasty, lasting from 1251 to 1335, represents in Persian art (paintings, ceramics and metalwork) the period of greatest Far Eastern influence. The later Ilkhanids tried to repair some of the destruction caused by their devastating invasion in the early 13th century, by building new cities and employing native officials to administer the country.

Tile mosaic on south-west of the entrance portal to the shrine of Bayazid Bistami, Bistam, 1313

Detail of the mosaic, entrance to Dervishes monastery, Natanz, 1304

Tile mosaic on south-west of the entrance portal to the shrine of Bayazid Bistami, Bistam, 1313.

Detail of the mosaic, entrance to Dervishes monastery, Natanz, 1304.

Ilkhanid architecture did not constitute a new style in its time, but continued the Seljuk plans and techniques. Seljuk double dome architecture was very popular under the Ilkhans and decorative brick displays while not completely abandoned, gave way to an ever-growing use of glazed ceramics. In Iran, large interior and exterior surfaces were first covered with great faience mosaics ('tile mosaic') of geometric, floral and calligraphic motifs in the 13th century.

The technique was probably re-imported at the time from Asia Minor, where the Persian artists had fled before the Mongol invasion. One of the first Iranian monuments with large areas of faience mosaics is the Mausoleum of Oljeitu at Sultaniya.

Mausoleum of Oljeitu, Sultaniya

Mausoleum of Oljeitu, Sultaniya, 1304-15.

Two cross tiles and two star tiles, Kashan

As far as ceramics are concerned, all activity at Rayy ceased following the Mongol destruction in 1220, but Kashan pottery recovered immediately from the hardships suffered in 1224. Tiles were widely used both in architectural decoration and in mihrab1, as in the Imamzada Yahya of Varamin, which has a mihrab dating back to c. 1265, bearing the signature of the famous Kashan potter Ali ibn-Muhammad ibn Ali Tahir. These were called kashi after their production centre in Kashan.

Two cross tiles and two star tiles, Kashan, c. 1260-1270

There are two types of pottery most associated with the Ilkhans, one is "Sultanabad" ware (whose name was taken from where the first pieces were discovered in the Sultanabad region) and the other "Lajvardina" (a simple successor to the minai technique). Gold over-painting set against a deep royal blue glaze makes Lajvardina ware one of the most spectacular ever produced in Persia.

In contrast to this, Sultanabad ware is heavily potted and makes frequent use of grey slip with thick outlines, while another type displays black painting under a turquoise glaze. The drawing is of indifferent quality, but the ware as a whole has a special interest as a classic example of the way Chinese motifs invaded the Persian ceramic tradition.

Pottery bowl with lobed sides, Sultanadad style

Pottery bowl with lobed sides, Sultanadad style, early 14th century.



1. Mihrab - arched niche, usually concave but sometimes flat, indicating the direction of Mecca (the qibla) and thus of prayer


Persian Art Through The Centuries

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Persian Art
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