Persian Miniature – The Introduction

A Persian Miniature is a small painting depicting mythological and religious themes from the Middle East (now known as Iran). The fascination of artists (from across the world) to this art form is owed to its high level of detail and complexity. A use of vivid colors is matched with it, for a visually intriguing effect. In compliance with Islamic law, Persian Miniature, like other Islamic art forms, is non-representational. However, these decorative designs usually hold meaning associated to its patterns and motifs, often illustrating historical, folk, or religious themes.

The History

The origin of Persian Art is difficult to trace. The Persian Miniature art form reached its peak during Mongol and Timurid Period (13th-16th century). The huge inflow of Chinese artisans in Persia, during Mongolian period, brought significant influence of Chinese painting on Persian Art. The watercolor techniques and the motifs of mythical creatures used in the 13th century, have a clear resemblance to the Chinese Paintings of Song and Yuan Dynasty.

The Details

Like the Chinese Schools of painting, Persian Art also witnessed a close association between poetry and painting. The most influential schools of miniature emerged from inspiring literature in the region, carrying the same depth and diversity in both the forms of art. Few of these were in:

o Shiraz – In the capital of Fars, compositions done were predominantly straightforward and monotonous, laying emphasis on symmetry of designs.
o Tabriz – In proximity to Armenian region, Tabriz artists captured full illusion of the scene in a limited space. More and more architectural and landscape details were taken into the miniature.
o Herat – Herat miniature developed the unique style of portraying people, as they appear in their daily lives. The poetic compositions of the region inspired these works.

Mystical Metaphor in Persian Miniature

Persian Miniature is famous for its attempt to answer complex questions related to the order and the purpose of creation. The colors and patterns in this art often had mystical significance, which may take days of observation to unfold. Scholars across the world have associated meaning to various motifs, colors, and themes in Persian Art. In designs that were predominantly geometrical, square, equilateral triangle, and circle, were weaved into a complex pattern, as these were considered the perfect (symmetric) shapes. Asymmetric patterns were used to emphasize the limitation of human understanding of the underlying (symmetric) order of creation. Similar motifs painted in different colors signified changes in the state of mind, season, and the element of nature, on the bearer. Despite being in arid land, paradise look alike there is depicted as a garden – full of flowers, foliage, and fountains. Additionally, there were motifs drawn from Arabic scripts and other calligraphic styles prevalent in the region. There were intricate layers of design, each with its distinct meaning, laid over one another, to suggest apparent chaos in the disguised world.

Famous Miniature Artists

Kamal-Od-Din Behzad, Reza Abbasi, Hossein Behzad, Mirak Nakkash, Kasim ‘Ali,’ Khwadja Muhammad Nakkash, Shah Muzaffar, and Mahmoud Farshchian.


In the 20th century, soon after Western artists discovered Persian Miniature, modern exponents of this art developed under western influence. Its dominance can be seen in the Mughal Miniature of the Indian sub-continent and Ottoman Miniature in Turkey. Persian Miniature persists in many Asian museums until date, along with contemporary artists producing these traditional paintings to this day.

By arnia