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The Abbassid

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819 - 1005 AD


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With the lessening of the caliphs' power in the 9th and 10th centuries, the feudal lords gradually returned to power, setting up independent principalities in eastern Iran; one of the most important was ruled by the Samanids. The Samanid rulers were great art patrons and they turned Bukhara and Samarkand in Transoxiana into famous cultural centres.

Mausoleum of Ismail the Samanid, Bukhara, USSR c. 907

Mausoleum of Ismail the Samanid, Bukhara, USSR c. 907
This domed square displays one of the earliest and most spectacular uses of brick in Iranian architectural decoration. Brick patterns appear inside and outside the building.

Ceramic bowl, Samarkand or Nishapur, 9th - 10th century

The most complete documentation of Samanid art is to be found in its ceramics, and during the 9th century, the wares of Transoxiana were very popular throughout the eastern provinces of Persia. The best-known and most refined pottery of this Samarkand type is that bearing large inscriptions in Kufic (the earliest version of Arabic script used in the Koran, named after the city Kufa in Iraq) painted in black on a white background.

Ceramic bowl, Samarkand or Nishapur, 9th - 10thcentury. This bowl is one of a group produced in Samanid times. The decoration of these bowls and plates is considered the finest adaptation of Arabic script to pottery.


Figure decoration never appeared on these Transoxiana wares and motifs were often copied from textiles such as rosettes, roundels, and peacock-tail "eyes". On the other hand, Khorasan pottery of the Samanid period, known primarily from material excavated at Nishapur, did not eliminate the human form, and there are examples of human figures against backgrounds abounding in animals, flowers and inscriptions.

Slip-painted bowl from Nishapur, Iran, 10th century

Slip-painted bowl from Nishapur, Iran, 10th century. A hunting scene with a distant echo of Sassanian majesty.

Unfortunately, practically nothing remains of Samanid paintings or miniatures, apart from a few fragments of wall paintings found at Nishapur. One such fragment depicts a life-size image of a falconer on horseback, riding at a 'flying gallop' in keeping with modes derived from Sassanian tradition. The falconer is dressed in Iranian style with influences from the steppe, such as the high boots.


Sudarium of St. Josse

As far as textiles are concerned, what have survived are several examples of tiraz (cloth strip used to decorate the sleeve) from Merv and Nishapur. Nothing remains of the vast production from the textile workshops of Transoxiana and Khorasan except the celebrated silk and cotton fragment known as the "Sudarium of St. Josse".

Part of the St. Josse silk, Khorasan 10th century.
The inscription wishes 'glory and prosperity to Abu Mansur Bukhtegin, may God prolong (His favours to him?)'.

This piece is decorated with facing elephants set off by borders of Kufic characters and rows of Bactrian camels. It is inscribed to Abu Mansur Bukhtegin, a high official of the Samanid court who was put to death by Abd-al-Malik ibn-Nuh in 960. The fabric is almost certainly from the Khorasan workshop. Although the figures are rather stiff, Sassanian models have been closely adhered to, both in general composition and in the individual motifs.


Persian Art Through The Centuries

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Persian History

Persian Art
Through The Centuries

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Persian History
The Arab Conquest:
The Abbassid Caliphates

Copyright © 1999 K. Kianush, Art Arena