Book Review: The Arts Of Persia

The Arts Of Persia, edited by R.W. Ferrier

If you care about the arts of Persia [1] in the period before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, this is definitely a worthwhile book to read.  It certainly is a massive tome, one that could knock out an unwary person who puts it on a high shelf or could double as a shield, but for all that the book is actually much less imposing than its massive size would indicate.  I do not think this is a book that would be all that common for someone to read, but there are so many different types of art that the author covers in detail with vivid color photography that if you like any art over the entire course of Persia’s history, there is likely going to be something here that is of interest and that is worth reading or at least looking at and pondering over.  The fact that the author has an obvious degree of knowledge about Persian art history only makes this a more interesting book for its readers, even if the book weighs several pounds and is the size of a laptop computer from the 1980’s.

In terms of its contents, this book contains only a bit more than 200 pages, but they happen to be large pages.  Included in its contents are some twenty chapters after a foreword, maps, and glossary.  The editor begins with a historical introduction into what counts as Persian art (1) before someone writes about the early art that remains from the Elamite period (2).  The next three chapters cover the art of the Achaemenians, Parthians, and Sasanians respectively (2, 3, 4) as the author moves from the ancient period of prehistory and early history to the Muslim conquest of Iran.  From this point the book changes tack from being a historical survey to being about different types of art.  First comes architecture (6), mostly palaces and mosques, before another chapter contains very striking discussion of vernacular buildings of the Iranian plateau, including dovecotes and icehouses (7).  Chapters on carpets (8), textiles (9), metalwork (10), jewelry (11), coins (12), painting (13), painting in the post-Safavid period (14), and the arts of the book follow (15).  The last few chapters wrap up the art with discussions of lacquerwork (16), ceramics (17), tilework (18), glass (19), and caligraphy (20).  The discussion of ceramics, and the way that Iranian pottery suffered because of its imitation of Chinese products for Western consumption, is particularly interesting.  The book ends with notes and bibliographies and an index and acknowledgements for the various photographs used in the book.

Although I am by no means an expert in the art of Persia, of any kind or in any period, I found a lot to appreciate about the book.  The authors are forthright and honest where information and knowledge was lacking and where it was difficult to come to conclusions.  One author notes, for example, the paucity of art from the Parthian period and the narrow scope of what was ruled over by the imperial dynasty in the face of large amounts of local autonomy.  Another one notes the scarcity of ancient mosques and the fact that they can most often be found in smaller and less important provincial towns rather than more important cities where mosques were torn down and rebuilt later on in a grander and more contemporary style.  Another author notes the lamentable fact that vernacular buildings do not often get a lot of attention and only remain present when a use is found for them.  And so it goes throughout this volume, making this volume an example where a collaborative approach to an obscure subject makes for deeply compelling and worthwhile reading.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: The Arts Of Persia

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Catalan Painting | Edge Induced Cohesion

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