The courts of the Safavid rulers of Iran in the 15th century fostered what is considered to be the ultimate refinement of Islamic art. Under their patronage artists from the Timurid and Turkoman courts converged to create a distinctive style that was highly influential on the arts of Mughal India and Ottoman Turkey. Most fêted of the arts of Safavid courts were those of the book—calligraphy, illustration and binding—and royal commissions such as the “Houghton” Shah-nama made for Shah Tahmasp at Tabriz, which contain some of the most sumptuous and finely conceived painting, calligraphy and binding in the history of Islamic manuscript production. This exhibition (16 October-18 January 2004) includes important examples of miniature painting including the illustrations for Shah Tamasp’s Khamsa of Nizami from the British Library. Such fabulous paintings are too often seen out of context; it is creditable therefore that a wider range of the Safavid courtly arts are included such as ceramics, carpets, textiles and metalwork (above, a steel and gold royal standard from the Royal Armoury, Stockholm). The curators include the British Museum’s Sheila Canby with assistance from Ralph Pinder-Wilson and Christie’s William Robinson. The exhibition is co-organised by the Asia Society and the Museo Poldi Pelozzi.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Hunt for paradise: Court arts of Iran, 1501-76. Asia Society'