Cover image for Mostly miniatures : an introduction to Persian painting
Mostly miniatures : an introduction to Persian painting
Grabar, Oleg.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Peinture persane. English
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
vii, 168 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 29 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ND3241 .G6713 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

On Order



The mention of Persian painting conjures up images of beautifully illuminated manuscripts filled with tiny, intricate pictures, each a miniature festival of color. Anyone who has seen Persian miniatures up close will attest to their captivating power. In this book, the renowned historian of Islamic art Oleg Grabar introduces Western audiences to Persian painting, which consists primarily of miniatures illustrating works of literature, but also includes murals and small ceramics decorated with pictures. The masterpieces of this painting have a visual richness that requires the use of the intellect as well as the eye for their appreciation, and Grabar seeks to situate the reader within their world, that of Islamic culture in Iran from the Middle Ages to Modern times. Through a series of chapters on various aspects of Persian painting, he helps us understand its history, the characteristics that define it, and the delights to be discovered in it.

Grabar argues that this genre of painting offers a remarkable example of how books are illustrated in general and of how an Iranian secular taste emerged during centuries dominated by religious art. He shows that the peculiarities of its historical background gave rise to specific characteristics: striking colors, dematerialization of space, subtle evocations of emotions, simultaneous lyricism and epic. The qualities of Persian painting created a unique aesthetic mood that is related to Persian poetry and Islamic mysticism.

It was only at the beginning of the twentieth century that the Western art world began to discover Persian painting. Inspired by its use of pure geometry and vivid palette, Matisse and Kandinsky were among the first modernists to incorporate attributes of Persian art into their work. And now, a century later, interest among museum-goers continues to increase. The allure of Persian painting lies in its absorbing complexities and in the surprising way it speaks to large questions about the nature of art and the perception of its masterpieces. Grabar has written an incomparable book that both explains and re-creates the pleasures of this art.

Author Notes

Oleg Grabar is Professor Emeritus at the School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Formerly Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Art at Harvard University and the author of such books as The Meditation of Ornament, Grabar here introduces Western readers to Persian painting, which consists mainly of miniatures. Grabar wants us to understand Persian culture, examining the art in its historical context and then carefully discussing its defining features. After discussing historiography and the sources of painting in Persia, the author provides some fascinating insights into the historical and cultural context in which the paintings were produced. What results is an invaluable guide to the topic whose informative, well-written text and beautifully reproduced illustrations attest to the author's depth of knowledge. The works shown are chosen from a very wide variety of sources. This is a scholarly book that can also be enjoyed by the uninitiated; recommended for most collections. Martin Chasin, Adult Inst., Bridgeport, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Graber (emer., Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton) has made many contributions to the study of early Islamic art and now turns his considerable powers to the study of the art of Persian painting. The study covers pre-Islamic and Persian painting from the 7th century to 1730. The relatively brief text consists of five chapters on historiography, sources and resources, historical and cultural context, major themes of Persian painting, and finally, toward an aesthetic of Persian painting. His focus is manuscript painting during the years from 1290 to 1730. With his usual enthusiasm, he examines the state of the scholarship in the field that began more than 100 years ago. Persian painting is a courtly, mainly secular art, limited to the princely, aristocratic courts. Graber thoughtfully suggests that future scholarship should be as all-encompassing as possible and drawn from as many sources as feasible. He offers many ways to work toward future avenues of research, all of which will benefit upcoming scholars of Persian painting. The general public will benefit from his advice to examine the paintings for the personal pleasure of entering a very private world. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. C. Kane formerly, New York School of Interior Design

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introductionp. 2
Chapter 1 A Little Historiographyp. 6
Chapter 2 Sources and Resourcesp. 14
Chapter 3 Historical and Cultural Contextp. 30
Chapter 4 The Major Themes of Persian Paintingp. 82
Chapter 5 Toward an Aesthetic of Persian Paintingp. 122
Notesp. 148
Bibliographyp. 157
Indexp. 162
Photo Creditsp. 168