On the History of Qajar Painting

Persian painting, particularly miniature and monumental painting, dates back to the late Safavid period when Iran’s relations with Europe began to expand considerably. While miniature painting was exclusively used in manuscripts, wall painting was adopted from Europe and used for decorating an expanding number of royal palaces with lavish scenes depicting the splendor of royal life style or details of the ruler’s military prowess. It was indeed in this period that a mixture of Persian and European styles of painting created a unique art form. The Iranian painter utilized European style in rendering his perception of form and objects.

Painting in the first period of Qajar reign was almost exclusively prevalent within the space of the royal court and, therefore, highly influenced by other courtly arts, specifically poetry and calligraphy. Furthermore, unlike Europe, where the Christian church was actively involved in the promotion of painting as an art form, Islam frowned upon imagery of all kind. The works of this period, therefore, represent themes, motifs and styles not of popular origin but appealing to royal tastes and world-view.

The second period in Qajar painting began with the reign of Nasir al Din-Shah when Iran’s contact with Europe entered a new phase. Internal developments, including the introduction of printing press and photography, the advent of newspapers, and, above all, the spread of democratic ideas and values, also helped transform painting as an art form. Henceforth, the life style of ordinary Iranians began to supplant courtly themes and motifs in the works of Iranian painters.

Shahrokh Meskoob
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