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Iranian Studies
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The Appearance of Persian on Islamic Art
Carol Bier
a a

Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California

Version of record first published: 28 Feb 2012

To cite this article: Carol Bier (2012): The Appearance of Persian on Islamic Art, Iranian Studies, 45:2, 312-314 To link to this article:

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What is presented is an amazing recognition and broad recapitulation of the diffusion of Persian language and literature in the visual arts. and as much to do with poetry as with symbolic forms and the spread of Sufi traditions. Chapter 2 considers Persian verses on lusterware ceramics and tilework. This study covers a broad geographic sweep. as do Afghanistan.” where the term “Persian” seeks an angle of repose. who took over rule in Ghazna to become a Turkish dynasty. which reminds us of historically important connections among neighboring lands today divided into the bickering nation states of Pakistan. for O’Kane treats a complicated subject that has to do as much with script as with language and political affiliation. origins or emergence? The preposition “on” – is it out of place? Where exactly is meant in terms of unspecified place? The title is apt. Throughout this stretch of time and space. Tajikistan. with language bending to accommodate political exigencies. many cultural ambiguities have to do with shifting identities. ISBN 978-1-934283-16-5. O’Kane traces the emergence of the Persian language. luxury silks. xiv + 208pp. first in texts such as the Shahnameh and in the titles of rulers. in the sixteenth century the number of surviving Persian inscriptions increased dramatically. Overall the book addresses the visual appearance of Persian calligraphy. Kashmir. Georgia. Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan. an Iranian dynasty with Turkish governors. centered initially in Khorasan after the Arab conquests with the early patronage of Persian literature under the Samanids. The interplay of cultural identities is complex. xiii). Is “Persian” here used as a noun or an adjective? And what is meant by “Appearance”? Is it visual or temporal? Does it have to do with perception or reception. and its early uses in writing on architecture in chapter 1. Iran. Azerbaijan. India.312 Reviews The Appearance of Persian on Islamic Art. One is at first struck by the impenetrable ambiguities in the title of this work “The Appearance of Persian on Islamic Art. The inquiring reader is richly rewarded in this little book. and architectural ornament. commercial endeavors. that share a Persian literary heritage. often in response to successive invasions and conquests. permeating among diverse peoples not all of whom were Persian-speaking. with monumental inscriptions on architecture still sparse in the period 1150–1350. and considers the relationships between orality and literacy as means of transmission of language and ideas. combining as it does the lyrical form of Persian verses with metal vessels. but the sweetness of cultural exploration is delightful to read. and the Ghaznavids. as well as the perhaps more obvious imperial connections among Turkey. and O’Kane’s succinct enu- Downloaded by [Brunel University] at 23:10 02 July 2012 . Bernard O’Kane. New York: Persian Heritage Foundation (Biennial Ehsan Yarshater Lecture Series on Iranian Art and Archaeology. tracking developments chronologically and spatially from the middle of the seventh century through the sixteenth century. and imagined cultural memories. Bangladesh. and soon inscribed on ceramics and metalwork. or of Iranian ethnic heritage. and the writing of history. and metalwork. 2009. and Armenia. ceramic mosaic. 4). Chapter 4 considers the Timurid and Safavid periods as the culmination of the appearance of Persian language. no. That there is no map is surely an oversight. which covers the period roughly 950–1150. and Turkmenistan. with “the primacy of Persian finally established” (p. while chapter 3 addresses the flourishing of monumental architectural inscriptions in Hindustan.

on) works of Islamic art. works that date to the periods after the Islamic conquests of the Middle East. and the materials of their composition (brick. translations of Kelileh va Demneh from Arabic) composed at the behest of local rulers. that is. 20–21). O’Kane leads us through a chronological journey. it is the inscriptions themselves that are the primary sources. silk). although not necessarily religious in context or intent. bronze. and in Egypt with the American University of Cairo. This book offers a distinctly literate approach to Islamic art. O’Kane enumerates the known examples of Persian inscriptions. And he considers the establishment of independent vassal states in eastern Iran to be the result of national separatist movements. Persian/Sanskrit) and other aspects of the linguistic transmission of cultural values. meandering from the earliest appearance of new Persian in literary and historical texts (Bal’ami’s reworkings of Tabari’s histories. in Iran with the British Institute of Persian Studies. silver. suffused with Arabic vocabulary and written in an Arabic script. glazed ceramic. to the last appearances of Pahlavi inscriptions on tomb monuments (Resget and Radkan. pp. by historical paradox. the patronage of new Persian literary production was primarily at the hands of local Turkish rulers. serve as the basis for O’Kane’s cultural interpretations. 56). With the Arab conquests of the middle of the seventh century. coupled with the functions of the objects and monuments. Persian/Turkish. Central Asia. While the footnotes suggest strong reliance on secondary sources. wine drinking and metal drinking bowls inscribed with Persian poetic verses (p. Although language is often considered to be the root of cultural identity. examining primarily inscriptions in Persian that appear on (yes. and the Indian subcontinent. Persian poetry evolved in imitation of Arabic panegyric and absorbed Arabic meters and rhythms. with the lasting historical result of Persian becoming a language of literature. have facilitated his approach to bilingualism (here expressed as Persian/ Arabic. And he identifies the expressive links between Sufism. copper. O’Kane’s years of experience abroad immersed in cultural pursuits. While Arabic calligraphy in Kufic script came to be normative for architectural inscriptions in the eleventh and twelfth centuries for foundation texts and funerary monuments. based on a Qur’anic passage concerning the equality of all peoples. Downloaded by [Brunel University] at 23:10 02 July 2012 . an interpretation that has not reached a scholarly consensus. which not only occur on some of the same monuments but also are often indistinguishable in style. O’Kane weaves a story with sufficient historical context to develop hypotheses as to how and why Persian inscriptions appear where and when they do. wood. also in Kufic. and providing transliterations and translations with an accompanying selection of photographs in color or black and white. the Sasanian Empire was brought to an end but its Persian language (Pahlavi/Middle Persian) soon reemerged in a new form. which preceded the development of monumental Persian calligraphy. These. stone. Drawing upon an accumulated compilation of references to Persian texts and inscriptions. Persian/Pahlavi.Reviews 313 meration of historical instances calls to question the traditional paradigm of language in its relation to identity formation. He relates the earliest expression of names and dates in Persian to the Sho’ubiyya movement.

O’Kane emphasizes the particular significance of the appearance of Persian in what had been non-Persian speaking lands “on the periphery of the Persian-speaking world. did the very elongated ascending letters of Hindustan with their strict horizontality take precedence over the proportionality of letters in Arab lands. The charm of this small tome leaves one gasping. And the manipulation of metals through various techniques such as engraving. script. and inlay might help explain various styles of calligraphy and why they look as they do. A map is essential. particularly for non-specialist readers. administration. It could be destined for a broader reading public with the simple addition of a glossary of terms. culture. California © 2012. Carol Bier http://dx. and inscriptions. The cultural phenomena of language. different kinds of stone in Hindustan) could be brought to bear. and linguistics.314 Reviews Devoting an entire chapter to the objects and monuments in Hindustan. and literature in the periods and places covered in this volume seem to have followed different paths. Carol Bier Graduate Theological Union. or the more curvilinear cursive styles of Iran and Central Asia? Finally. pinpointing the sites of monuments. All of the calligraphic styles would benefit from more detailed descriptions and an analytical view as to their development over time.” In the Indian subcontinent Persian inscriptions were rare until the fourteenth century. Several leads beg more thorough treatment. Berkeley. as well as for those who study literature.650000 Downloaded by [Brunel University] at 23:10 02 July 2012 . incising. ethnography. with intended literary ambiguities serving distinct purposes. and literature addressed in this book will be of interest in the field of Iranian studies for historians of art and architecture. and explore these two phenomena in contrast to the breadth of the use of Persian language in government. Treatment of the origins and spread of Kufic scripts. and its slow start followed by [a] … fertile flowering of Persian numismatic evidence would yield further interest and result in affirmation (or negation) of the cultural hypotheses O’Kane has put forward. elegant letters that established a rhythmic visual flow in monumental inscriptions. A timeline would also be helpful. its distinction as an Islamic state with a majority of nonMuslims. Of particular importance is the regional variation in lettering – why. and cultural pursuits. one might attempt to address the roles and interactions of language.2012. for example. A graphic map could convey the extent of the Arab conquests in relation to the advent of Turks in the Middle East. but soon became widespread. primarily but not exclusively in funerary contexts. and identity with a more theoretical formulation in relation to identity politics. epigraphy. scripts. with tall. such as that experienced by the Kurds in Turkey today. preferring the term used by Arab geographers. Surely. The precarious yet dynamic balances among languages. crimping. texts.doi. might amplify the discussion of cultural trajectories. and the introduction of cursive Naskhi. brick in Iran. and the later elongated styles that became so popular in Hindustan. Discussions of technology of the various building materials (stone in Anatolia. although they certainly must have been related to local and regional configurations of power and piety.1080/00210862. wishing for more.

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