ART & LITERATURE
Arts A description and illustration of the marvelous varieties and exquisite harmonies of Iran's artistic heritage took six enormous volumes of the life-long work of the great American scholar Arthur Upham Pope. It certainly induces a spirit of humility in anyone tackling the subject. However, here, in this travel guide, we propose to do no more than give some pointers to the main features of Persian achievement, which may be useful to the traveler or foreign resident before he plunges into whatever branch of the subject takes his fancy most.
Recent archaeological discoveries at Marlik and Cheragh-Ali have furnished new knowledge in support of the fact that the genius of Iranian art evolved as far back as 8,000 years ago. Little has been found in the way of architecture, although when one wanders about the country it is primarily buildings (in the field of art) that catch the eye; and it appears that the people of these ancient times were nomadic and war-like, traveling on horse-back. Most of the discoveries made are of objects small enough to be carried, and there is great emphasis on weapons and horse-trappings. In bronze, these depict animal forms of great vitality. Painted earthenware vessels and long-spouted pots have been recovered, which are of great esthetic beauty in their simple, graceful lines. Since very ancient times, wide use was made of all available materials: stone, clay, wood, metals, glass, terra-cotta, and bone.
In Islamic Iran, as in all Islamic societies, art favors the non-representational, the derivative and the stylized rather than the figurative, the innovative, and the true to life. Accurate representation of the human from has never been a part of traditional Islamic art. However, portraiture is not forbidden by Shiite Islam. Many Iranian art forms predate the Arab invasion, but since nearly all of them reached their peak within the Islamic era, religious influences are there to indicate the presence of Islam. favorite motifs in Iranian art are geometrical shapes and patterns such as lozenges, medallions and meanders; grapevines and other floral patterns, often very complex; and highly stylized real or imaginary creatures such as lions, elephants, peacocks, phoenixes and griffins.
1.Pre-Islamic Architecture: The only substantial remains are those of the remarkable Elamite ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil. The earliest building material was sun-dried mud brick. Baked brick was used for other surfaces by the 12th century BC.
The ancient inhabitants of Persia imbued the mountains with great religious symbolism, and structures were built in imitation of mountains, giving rise to the characteristic pyramidal temples called ziggurat. Purely religious Achaemenian buildings are conspicuous by their absence. However, the two most important religious influences are Zoroastrianism before the Arab Conquest and Islam afterwards. Most of the greatest buildings were built with a religious purpose, and even in secular buildings religious influences are rarely entirely absent- even Persian churches often incorporate Islamic features.
Palaces, on the other hand, abound, and these vary considerably according to the period. In Cyrus's time, for example, they were oblong in shape, of exquisite proportions, and generally executed in contrasting colors as between say wall surfaces and window emplacement. The buildings of Darius and Xerxes were bigger and better; the result was rather heavy and colorless, depending on elaborate carving applied to doorways, staircases and columns. The usual plan was a large hall often with columns surrounded by small rooms; a common feature of these were the recesses about the height and size of windows, probably used by cupboards, which are an invariable feature of the more modest houses of Iran today. The materials used include unbaked brick for walls, local stone for windows, stairways, doorways and some walls and columns, and heavy timber for columns and roofs.
Alexander the Great's conquest (about 330 BC) brought a virtual end to the Achaemenian style in Persia. The following relatively dormant period under the Seleucids marked the introduction of Hellenism to Persia. No great examples remain today, although the Temple of Artemis (Anahita) at Kangavar, with Greek capitals and built to a Greek goddess, is the best preserved.
Under the Parthians (about 250 BC to 224 AD), Hellenism and indigenous styles merged, along with some Roman and Byzantine influences, and several characteristically Persian features arose, including the Ivan.
In the Sassanian period (224-642 AD), buildings became larger, heavier and more complex. Decoration became more adventurous and more use was made of color, especially in frescoes and mosaics. The Sassanians built fire-temples throughout their empire, and the simple plan of the earliest examples was retained throughout the pre-Islamic era, even in the design of churches. But the central features of Sassanian buildings- the four-Ivan plan with domed square chamber, the squinches on which the dome rested and the large arched doorway- are indigenous to Iran and of much significance later. The most important pilgrimage site of the pre-Islamic Persian Empire, Takht-e Soleiman, was established in the Sassanian era. In particular the above-mentioned features influenced the development of a specifically Iranian type of mosque, the so-called Madreseh mosque built on the four-Ivan plan.
2. Islamic Period: In this period, Minarets, Shrines, Tombs, Palaces, Caravansaries and Bridges have appeared in their original Iranian style.
Bronzes It was in Lurestan, south of Kurdestan, that the now famous Lurestan bronzes first came to light in the late twenties and early thirties of the 20th century.
Pottery and Glass Blowing The continuing flow of Iranian artistic tradition is nowhere better illustrated than in the field of ceramic art.
Carpets and Rugs It would indeed be hard to dispute the Iranian claim to have produced the most elaborate, the most decorative, the most valuable, and the most superbly assured carpets, which are considered as our cultural exports in the world.
Literature The oldest extant Persian writing is found in Persian inscriptions, but it is only of historical interest. The first major literary works are the scriptures of Zoroastrianism and the Pahlavi writing of Parthian and Sassanian Iran, when there was certainly an active literary life.
Music Iranians are great music lovers and during the course of their twenty five centuries of their recorded history, they have developed not only a very distinctive music of their own but also numerous musical instruments several of which were the first prototypes of the modern musical instruments of today.
The first references to musicians in Iran are found in Susa, Elam, in the 27th century BC. The earliest representation of instruments is on the Elamite relief of Kul-e Fer'awn. An engraved bronze cup from Lurestan at the National Museum of Iran, Tehran, portrays a double nay (reed pipes), chang (harp), and dayereh (tambourine) in a shrine or court processional, as similarly documented in Egypt, Elam, and Babylon where music involved the utilization of large orchestral ensembles. The Assurbanipal relief's (626 BC) in the British Museum show Susan musicians. Other relief sculpture and paintings still extant from early periods depict instruments as they are today, except that some, like the chang (harp) seen on the Taq-e Bostan relief's near Kermanshah, have gone out of use.
Music continued to play an important role in the lives of the Persians throughout their history, with its continuity well documented in the Safavid frescoes of the Chehel Sutun in Isfahan, dated 1647 AD.
A major revival in Persian music has its inception late in the reign of Naser-ad-Din Shah (died in 1896 AD), who commanded the establishment of the House of Crafts, a center where all important craftsmen could be gathered for making and marketing their instruments.
The first musical instrument that was used thousands of years ago in Iran was the reed, a simple tube with several perforations which was played mostly by shepherds. There were several kinds of these reeds: the Nay Labak or the small reed which later developed into the piccolo of today; the Haft Band reed, which was much larger and had seven perforations; and the Nay Anban, a reed which was connected to a wind bag. This looked and sounded much like the bagpipes of Scotland. According to Herodotus such musical instruments were in wide use in the Achaemenian era as many as 2,500 years ago.
There are also several other wind instruments in Iran dating back to ancient times. One of these is the Sorna, a wood-wind instruments very much like the oboe. An other one is the Karna, a long wooden horn which was used for accompanying the Sorna in what was called Naqarehkhaneh music. Both of these instruments have fallen into disuse and their place has been taken by the modern oboe and clarinet as well as other wood-wind instruments.
The Kamancheh, an ancient Iranian musical instrument, is probably the first ancestor of the present-day violin, the cello, the viola and the base. This instrument, having the size of a violin is played cello-like in a vertical position and set on the knee of the player who uses an arched bow. Another bow-string instrument is the Ghazhak, which sound-wise resembles the Kamancheh. The instruments, no longer in general use, can still be found in Iranian Baluchistan. The Kamancheh is widely played in Armenia, Georgia, and Azarbaijan republics, and called by its original Persian name. In Tajikistan and Uzbakistan it is called Ghichak. The Kamancheh is also popular in many Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. In India and Pakistan the instrument is called Sarengi.
In ancient times there was another string instrument in Iran, called Robab, which was played with a bow. This instrument, too, is no longer in use in this country. However, it is played in India, Pakistan ,Afghanistan and Tajikistan where it is still called by its original Persian name. Generally speaking, the violin is rapidly replacing the Kamancheh.
An ancient Iranian string instrument was the Barbat, which was very much in vogue prior to the advent of Islam. Iranian minstrels later took the instruments to the Arabian Peninsula and there the Arabs called it Al Ud, giving rise to the English word lute. The lute survived in Iran until the Safavid period, some 500 years ago, when it gradually went into oblivion. However, several years ago efforts were made to revive public interest in the old instrument and today there are several excellent performers in Iran.
Iran's most popular musical instrument is the Tar, which in Persian means the string. this is a string instrument with a pear shaped body and six strings. Then there is the Seh Tar, a three-stringed instrument of the same general shape which is plucked by the fingers.
Another very ancient instrument is the Santoor. This is a large horizontal sounding box over which are stretched numerous strings. It is played with plectrum and sometimes with fingers. It is much like the zither both in shape and in tonality.
There are several percussion instruments of Iranian origin, the biggest and loudest of which is the Dohol, which is played with two heavy sticks. Then there are the Dayereh, the Dayereh Zangi, and the Tonbak.
Theater and Cinema The nearest thing to the theater in Iran used to be the religious re-enactment's of holy stories; but theater in European style was introduced to Iran only in the second decade of the 20th century. Initial work was concentrated in Tehran and Rasht. The quick advent of cinema and later, television in Iran soon after the introduction of theater left little initial opportunity for the lather's development.
The first cinema hall was constructed in Tehran in the late 1920's. However, foreign films were the only source for cinemas, and these were shown with sub-titles. Dubbing into the Persian began in 1948, while serious shooting of Iranian films did not begin until 1950.
After the victory of Islamic Revolution, religious themes and interpretations are playing a much stronger role in the gigantic onward steps taken by the Iranian film makers.
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