The Persian Miniature

The Persian miniature is a small paper painting from Persia (modern-day Iran) – usually meant to be kept within an album called muraqqa – that reached its peak between 13th and 16th centuries. The style absorbed a significant Chinese influence owing to Mongol conquests of Persia and gained popularity in Western Asia under the Ottoman Empire and in the Indian subcontinent during the Mughal rule. Overall, it is comparable to Byzantine and medieval European illuminated manuscripts.

The German-Swiss art historian Titus Burckhardt (1908-1984) wrote that the beauty of the art form comes not from the scenes portrayed but from the nobility and simplicity of the poetical atmosphere that pervades them – a kind of Edenic reverberation. One of the basic themes of the miniature is the “transfigured landscape”, symbolizing both the earthly paradise and the heavenly land, which while being hidden from the eyes of fallen humanity, remains existent in the world of spiritual light that is manifest to God’s saints. It is an unshadowed landscape, in which each object is made of exceedingly precious substance and where every tree and flower is unique of its kind. [Art of Islam, Language and Meaning (1976, 2009)]


A Persian miniature from the “Haft Awrang” (“Seven Thrones”, a classic of Persian literature) commissioned by the Safavid Prince Ibrahim Mirza around 1560, now in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Wikipedia [Public Domain]


Barbad Plays for Khusraw, 1539-43, British Library, London. Barbad was a musician under the rule of the Sassanid King Khusraw. Wikipedia [Public Domain]


Majnun (at top wearing orange) spies on his beloved Layla, (standing in tent doorway). Layla-Majnun is a Persian tale of love similar to Romeo and Juliet. Wikipedia [Public Domain]


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