Translated from French to Farsi by Jalal Sattari,
from Farsi to English by Claude Karbassi
All images from L`Oeil . No .199_200. July _August 1971
(Tavoos Magazine, No 7)
The Eastern sources of Western art have long been identified. Emile Mâle, Henri Focillon and Jean Baltrusaitis have traced back the major characteristics of this influence to their origins. They have explored the meanders of this river, which has been the feeding source of European art in the Middle Ages and the fountainhead of its prosperity. Therefore, repeating it would be pointless here. Yet, how is it possible, in a collection dedicated to the investigation of the main aspects of Persian art1, to not mention, at least through a few examples, this phenomenon which has an astonishing expansion, originality and novelty? Western culture, has greatly benefited from Iran
’s influence in the domain of decorative arts. Persia
acquired symbolic and decorative motifs from the most ancient civilizations, filtered and analyzed them, and then propagated them across the entire Mediterranean basin. Occasionally the rules and standards of the iconography developed on the Iranian Plateau reached north of the Alps indirectly, through bases such as Muslim-dominated Constantinople
. According to Ghirshman,
“these passed through the same course which leads through Sumer and Babylon and Ninive to Achaemenian and Samanid Persia, and therefrom reaches the Byzantine Empire, Islam and Roman Europe.”
The Muslim conquests, the Crusades, pilgrimages, diplomatic relations and trade exchanges wove a dense, intricate network from the North Sea to the Persian Gulf, the first manifestations of which appeared during Carolingian2 rule.
That was when the Western world first discovered, liked and appreciated Eastern textiles. The superb silk fabrics which Harun al-Rashid sent for Charlemagne and the ones found in Scandinavia, France and Britain in tombs and reliquaries of the saints and rulers dating back to after the 11th century, indicate the popularity of original Eastern motifs in Europe. Motifs such as mythical, imaginary animals on Roman capitals, or patterns of pomegranate trees or acanthus shrubs on the velvets of Tuscany3 and Venice from the Renaissance period, are just a few examples of the multitude of decorative patterns that originated in Iran.
Patterns of mythical animals, griffins standing face-to-face, back-to-back or fighting, winged lions, two-headed eagles, imaginary mythical animals and birds, equally appear on Byzantine, Coptic and Islamic textiles (making it sometimes difficult to spot their place of origin)All these figures were created in Sasanian Persia, often in combination with elements belonging to Achaemenian art.The same process was repeated in much later periods in the case of flowers and foliage.