Poems, Crafts, Poets and Craftsmen: Material Culture of Iran and Transoxiana during the Timurid-Safavid Period

By Yui Kanda
Submitted to Session P5009 (Politics, Culture, and Everyday Life in Safavid Poetry and Prose, 2017 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
13th-18th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Research concerning the Timurid and Safavid arts has made welcome advances from the 1980s onwards. However, much of this research focuses mainly on painters and calligraphers whose biographies are relatively well-documented in primary sources, or illustrated and illuminated manuscripts which supply explicit details concerning the date, production site, or the name of executer or patron. To date, scholarship is yet to fully explore the primary sources regarding craftsmen and inscriptions on crafts from these periods. Notably, art historians have paid surprisingly little attention to the context and content of Persian verses inscribed on the objects themselves, with the exception of those who conduct research on metalwork.
This presentation aims to seek a gradual process which Persian verses had been integrated into the material culture of Iran and Transoxiana between the early-fifteenth and early-eighteenth centuries, with a focus on artistic, literary, social, economic and religious contexts surrounding the development of crafts inscribed with Persian poems in particular. While the past two decades witnessed a marked interest in discussing the Persian verses applied to art and architectural works, there is no study that has systematically evaluated such forms of inscriptions applied to ceramics, metalwork and textiles produced from the Timurid period onwards, and contrasted them with the figural and non-figural representations favored during this time as a whole. Meanwhile, the contemporaneous primary sources such as tazkiras (bibliographies of poets), which indicate an increasing population of craftsmen who were educated enough to compose Persian verses on their own, have yet to be investigated thoroughly from art historical viewpoints. Making the best use of both material and literary evidence, this is an attempt to contribute to the existing field of the Timurid and Safavid arts by approaching the topic from the various new perspectives including:
1. What sorts of Persian poems were favorably inscribed on objects of art? Were they quoted from a divan or composed specifically for each piece? Does such preference have any relation with the shifting reception of traditional verses by elites in Iran and Transoxiana between the early-fifteenth and early-eighteenth centuries?
2. How did social status of craftsmen in Iran and Transoxiana change over the course of time, and why, when, where and how did craftsmen become poets?
3. To what extent did poets (both professional ones e.g. Muhtasham Kashani and poets-cum-craftsmen) contribute to the execution of the Persian poetical inscriptions on crafts from the so-called “Timurid renaissance” onwards?