Chapter 12 - Graphic Design in Ceramics

This early Iranian made beaker created in Susa (modern Shush in Iran) which is now in Louvre Museum of Paris, depicts a bold, minimalist and stylized graphic design. On the rim of the beaker long necked cranes are drawn, and beneath them there are racing hounds that are simplified into some horizontal streaks. The design of an ibex (a mountain goat) with few sweeping curves constitutes the main motif of this ancient design. (5000 BC)

A History of Ceramics
After cave paintings, pottery is one of the most ancient manifestations of graphic design. From the ancient times, artists from around the world have used pottery to communicate various aesthetic, cultural, religious, ethical, and socio-political communications. In fact, pot debris discovered at archaeological sites have provided historians and social scientists with a plethora of recorded facts on the people, cultures, economic and trade relationships, systems of beliefs and so on. . The earliest finds of clay pots in Mede, Assyria, Summer, Persia, Egypt and Cartage date from Neolithic times, around the 8th millennium BC.

Painted pottery pot with frog motifs. Majiayao Culture Neolithic era, 2200-2000 B.C.

The frog is commonly worshiped by early Yellow River residents. The motif was passed down to classical Chinese culture as well. Majiayao culture is a group of Neolithic communities who lived primarily in the upper Yellow River region in Gansu and Qinghai, China. The culture existed from 3100 BC to 2700 BC.

Painted pottery jar from the Machang type of Majiayao culture, 2200-2000 B.C. On display at the Shanghai Museum.

The Egyptian artists of predynastic period (5000 -3000 BC) used pottery to express their creativity. The graphic design on this period piece with the repeating shapes of ostriches produces a dynamic rhythm that is complemented by the image of boats, and geometrical decoration on the rim.

During the Neolithic revolution, nomadic hunters and gatherers in these lands learned how to cultivate, and were settling down as farmers. They began to produce large clay pots for watering their crops. The prehistoric pots were made by stacking of coils of puttied clay, which were then evened out and fired in a primitive kiln made by digging an underground chamber, beneath a bonfire. Between the 5th and the 3rd. millennium B.C., ancient Egyptians began to decorate their vessels with artistic images, and geometrical designs.

The painting on this Greek (red-figure) of an Attic bilingual amphora, 520–510 BC, from Vulci, by Andokides, shows Heracles and Athena. Athena instructed Heracles how to remove the skin from the Nemean Lion, by using the lion's own claws to cut through its thick hide. The lion's hide became Heracles' signature garment, along with the olive-wood club he used in the battle.

Chesm-I Ali, Iran, c.4500 BC. A small red buff Iranian bowl with black linear additions in paint. A fine example of the early minimalist graphic design.

A breathtakingly beautiful design from Kerman, Iran c.2500 BC. A small deep bowl with a white slip and black geometric designs painted on the inside and outside. In the center is a large stylized symbol of sun with plant patterns around it.

With the invention of the potter’s wheel in Mesopotamia, between the 6th and 4th millennium BC, demand for the utilitarian wares such as storage jars for oil, water, wine, and grain, as well as bowls, cups, and mugs were so high that potters needed to increase production. But the production technology was cumbersome and the fact that the potter wasted too much time, because had to walk around the putty to give shape to the ware, led to the invention of slow “wheel”. This was a large, heavy stone, which was placed on a pivot and then spun by means of ‘kicking’, or pushing with the feet while in a sitting position. As the stone was building up momentum, the artist hands were shaping, or ‘throwing’ the pot on top of it.

Tepe Sialk, c.4400 - 4200 BC. A nicely painted bowl with crème slip and brown linear designs of a row of ibexes and water symbols.

Around the 3rd. millennium B.C., the beginning of the Bronze Age, potters developed the high-speed spinning wheel, which increased their productivity. At Gansu, in northwestern China, vessels from the Pan-shan culture, made from finely textured clay and fired to buff or reddish-brown, were brush painted with mineral pigments in designs of strong S-shaped lines converging on circles. They date from 2600 BC. Lung-shan pottery, from the central plains, was wheel made. "Celadon", qingci in Chinese青瓷 which is high-fired green wares and is characterized by its simple but refined design and jade-like glaze. Celadon was produced systematically in Zhejiang during the Eastern Han dynasty but appeared as far back as the Shang dynasty. Its production spread to Jiangsu, Hubei, Hunan, and Jiangxi in the 3rd and 4th centuries; where the wares of superior quality were fired at 1300'.

However, it was the invention of porcelain, from white kaolin clay combined with ground granite, during the Han Dynasty in China around 600 A.D., that gave a strong impetus to the concept of aesthetic design. These fragile and sophisticated pieces of fine china were costly to produce and to export since they required to be fired at tremendously high temperatures, and difficult to transport due to their fragility. To compete with high cost porcelain, Western Asian countries discovered lead glazes that added color and shine to earthenware.
The artists in Persia and Greece adopted this technology and revolutionized the art of graphic design. Persian designs were based on minimalist stylization of various animals, and geometric patterns in black outline. Greeks depicted mythological scenes on their amphora (a tall, two-handled pitcher for storing wine, corn, oil, or honey); hydria (a three-handled water jug); and other vessels. Artists utilized the oxidizing process and reducing kilns to produce a shiny black slip on a cream, brownish, or orange-buff body, depending on the type of clay. The designs were harmonious and very well integrated with the shape of vessels.

Reveling Satyrs, Attic psykter (wine cooler) in the red-figure style, signed by Douris, c. 480 BC; in the British Museum, London. Courtesy of the trustees of the British Museum

The red-figure style in pottery was appeared around 530 B.C. This was an inversion of the image in which, the backdrop was painted black, where the outline of the image in negative was delineated by the terracotta color of the earthenware shell. Artists completed the image by elaborating the details of drawing in various shades of black, red, white and sometimes gold paint.

Iran - Transoxiana, Nishapur or Samarqand - 10th century.

The ninth and tenth centuries in eastern Iran and nearby Central Asia gave birth to a remarkable series of pottery decorative types involving fundamental innovations and extraordinarily high development in the technique of underglaze slip painting. This example presents the combination of features typical of the finer black-on-white wares: exquisite design, fine calligraphy, pure white engobe (a liquid clay slips of varying compositions which are applied to the surface of a clay to give color or to improve the surface texture of apiece ), and colorless glaze, all adding up to a striking effect. The inscription admonishes: "Whoever talks a lot, slips a lot.", The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nishapur earthenware bowl, Iran - 10 th century.
The design on this reddish clay covered in white slip is composed by alternating lines of calligraphy and stylized leaves separated by roundels on stems. The color scheme in manganese, olive and reddish brown on the creamy background complements the elegant composition.

The design of this bowl,from Nishapur, Iran (10th century) depicts a stylized goose. The design achieves its aesthetic harmony by an imaginative distortion of the scales, which gives the composition a monumental quality. The bowl is a red earthenware covered in white slip and painted in olive, red and black .

During the Seljuk dynasty of Iran, that ruled over Iraq, Asia Minor, and Syria during the 12th to13th centuries, the Iranian potters in the cities of Rayy and Kāshān developed whiteware pottery. These prosperous cities during this time were located on the trade routes of Asia, and thereby were exposed to various stylish trends and technological improvements in different countries. The potters of these cities adopted the recently developed white body in Egypt, made of Kaolin based mixtures, and combined them with the forming and firing processes to create very fine whiteware, which was decorated with bold carving, occasional piercing, and translucent glaze. Most of these wares have been excavated at Rāy a city near Teheran.

Mina'i Bowl from Kashan Fritware with Underglaze Cobalt and Overglaze Enamel 1218 CE.

On this bowl from Kashan, we see a very rare depiction of an elephant on mina'i ware. Typical scenes include tales from Persian legends, scenes from the hunt with falcons and horses, caravans, or court scenes. These paintings are often compared to those found in the miniatures of manuscript illumination from books of the period. Sometimes, the overglaze enamels were fired atop a turquoise colored glaze as well.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bowl, late 12th–early 13th century; Seljuq Iran

The technique, known as mina'i ("enameled"), involved a complicated double-firing process. Horsemen were favorite subjects in these works, but the comparative monumentality of the horse and of the princely Seljuq figure, which complement each other, makes this piece unusual. With its knotted tail, decorated bridle, curb bit, saddle, tassels, and rectangular blanket fastened by a breast band, the horse has a truly royal and ceremonial presence.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fritware is a type of pottery which was first developed in the Near East, where production is dated to the late first millennium AD through the second millennium AD. Frit was a significant ingredient. A recipe for “fritware” dating to 13th century written by Abu’l Qasim reports that the ratio of quartz to “frit-glass” to white clay is 10:1:1. Iznick pottery which was produced in Ottoman Turkey in the 15th century consisted of a body, slip, and glaze, where the body and glaze are 'quartz-frit' containing lead oxide and soda. Chinese blue-and-white porcelain influenced the style of Safavid pottery and had a strong impact on the development of Iznik ware. By the mid-16th century, Iznik had its own vocabulary of floral and abstract motifs in tight designs making use of a limited palette. Decoration progressed from pure symmetry to subtle rhythms.

Iznik dish About 1565 AD
Iznik wares were decorated with elaborate floral patterns known as "Hatay" (Cathay) with Chinese cloud patterns and geometric designs. Early Iznik fritware attempted to duplicate the hardness, whiteness and translucency of much sought after near contemporary Chinese porcelain of the Yung and Ming dynasties (favored by the Ottoman rulers).

Mina’i ware, an enamel-overglaze pottery developed by the potters of Kashan was another imprtant invention during the Saljuk dynast . Mina'i means enamel or a low fire glaze, usually fluxed with lead. The main reason popularity of Mina'i was the wide selection of colors that the process offered. The artists at first bisque fired the work, and then painted it with underglaze cobalt, covered with a transparent glaze and fired again to melt the glaze. At the final stage of the process, the oil based enamels were painted onto the design and the piece fired for multiple times at low temperatures which made it possible to have various colors.

Blue-and-white and transfer-printed ware, about 1750.

The Mongol Empire era that spanned across Asia to Eastern Europe during the 13th and 14th century was a period of increased cultural exchanges among the nations inside this largest contiguous empire in the history of the world. The Iranian artists of the Mongol era in the city of Kāshān, adopted the Chinese celadon green glazes during the13th century. Over the same period, the Chinese artists of the Mongol dynasty of Yuan (1279–1368) introduced the Iranian underglaze blue to China. In fact, historical records indicate that the Chinese source of cobalt was Iran. The Chinese potter further improved the Iranian technique and during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties created the blue-and-white wares. This underglaze blue was introduced to Europe from China by Dutch merchants.
Kubachi' Ware Plate, Safavid Period, Persia, 1500 AD
The early 1500's would see the establishment of Safavid rulers at their capital of Tabriz and the beginning of a 200 year period of relative stability. During this era the Kubachi style for wares developed in north-western Iran, (the style took its name from the town of Kubachi, presently in the republic of Daghestan in the Caucasus, where they have been excavated). These large polychrome plates, which were painted underneath their crackle glazes have a very soft body, a brilliant crackled glaze, and rhythmical and spontaneous designs. In the 16th century , the Ming Dynasty of China issued a decree banning all foreign trade and closed down all seaports along the coast. These Hai jin laws that came during the Wokou wars with Japanese pirates slowed the export of porcelain, and Dutch merchants looked to Persia to produce pottery in the Chinese style for export. The Iranian potters took the advantage of this opportunity and developed the Gombroon style, which took its name from the port of Gombroon , an English trading post in Iran ( now Bandar Abbās). These Gambroon wares with delicate carved designs on translucent white earthenware bodies were exported to Europe and the Far East in the 16th and 17th centuries.

A Safavid Gombroon pottery bowl, Persia, 17th century. The artist has painted a sophisticated geometric blue medallion, accentuated by black stars over the white interior of this magnificent bowl.

Co to the next chapter; Chapter 13 - Native American Pottery  

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Chapter 11 - Woodblock Prints of China and Japan

Dhāra Sutra, the woodblock print of the Pure Immaculate Light, was found in 1966, in a Korean Temple. It was printed in 702 during the Tang Dynasty era      (618-907) and depicts several characters related to Wu Ze Tian , the well known female emperor who established the Zhou Dynasty.

Woodblock Printing in China

Woodblock Printing is a printing technique that utilizes blocks of wood to carve illustrations and calligraphy. Ink or dyes are then applied to these carved images and pressed against paper to transfer the image. The woodblock printing technique is originated in China between the mid 6th and late 9th centuries and was used by Buddhists, in order to spread the teaching of Buddha. Such an specimen printed on hemp paper and dated to 650 to 670 AD, during Tang Dynasty (618–907) has been discovered in an excavation in Xi'an (Chang'an, the capital of Tang Dynasty), Shaanxi, China in 1974. Another specimen dated to the ninth year of Xiantong (868), is a scroll of a Buddhist text, the Diamond Sutra, which was found in 1900 in the Dunhuang caves.

A Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) woodblock print which includes descriptions and eight-line poems about the city of Nanjing (under its earlier name of "Jinling") and surrounding region. The book was written by Zhu Zhifan, with drawings by Lu Shoubo, 1624.

Detail from 'One-Hundred Children', a Chinese woodblock print from 1743

It did not take along time for artists to discover the woodblock technique and woodblock art blossomed in various styles by the time of the Song (960-1278) and Yuan (1278-1367) Dynasties. In the production of these traditional Chinese print, drawing, engraving and printing were separate processes performed by different tradesmen and, with some notable exceptions, the creators of traditional prints were viewed as artisans, not artists. This early graphic design reached its zenith during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when celebrated painters embarked on collaboration with engravers and printers to create works of stunning artistic quality.
With the innovation of the multiblock colored woodblock print in the 17th century, the qualities of an orginal painting could be reproduced, and books like Scenes from the Huan Cui Hall, Illustrations of the Poetry of the Ten Elders from Little Ying Island, and The Ten Bamboo Letter Papers became important collectors' items among scholars and connoisseurs.

Yuan Dynasty ( 1271- 1368) woodblock print. The simplicity of design and its harmonious composition includes its elegant calligraphy as the integral part of its design.

Woodblock printing in Japan

"The Japanese are poets moved and inspired by the great spectacle of nature and attentive observers of the familiar mysteries of a world of exceeding minuteness. They learn geometry from the spider's web, take decorative motifs from the tracks of a bird across the snow and receive inspiration of curved designs from the ripples of the wind on the water...They believe that there is nothing in the world of creation that is not suited of the high ideals of art."
Samuel Bing, art critic, published in Le Japon Artistque, 1888:

Katsushika Hokusa (1760–1849 ), Rain Dance.

Hokusa was a ukiyo-e style woodblock print artist of the Edo period. In his time, he was Japan's leading expert on Chinese painting. Born in Edo (now Tokyo), Hokusai is best-known as the father of the woodblock print series

The Heian period, and rokudou-e style

During the early Heian period (the early eighth century) the Chinese woodblock prints of the Buddhist scriptures arrived in Japan. Thereafter, the Japanese Buddhist temples began to use simple monochromatic woodblock printing to disseminate their literatures which emphasized the Seishi 生死, the cycle of life and death, rebirth and redeath, of delusion and suffering. This cycle is created by the eternal revolving of rokudou 六道 the Six States of Existence. These were; Jigokudō 地獄道 state of torture and anguish, Gakidō 餓鬼道 state of starving ghosts, Chikushōdō 畜生道 state of livestock and animals, Ashuradō 阿修羅道 state of demons of fury, resentment, and unremitting hostilities, Nindō 人道 state of mankind,and Tendō 天道 state of gods who live in a lasting but not permanent state of enthralling bliss and majesty, but who cannot escape the state of suffering. This revolving in which all beings are entangled is also known as rokushu 六趣, the Six Paths of Reincarnation. It is through Nehan (or Nibbana) 涅槃, enlightenment, that one can getaway from this entanglement.

Kitagawa UTAMARO (1754-1806)

A beauty from the tea-house Suminoe in the district of Shiba from a series: "Comparing the Charms of five Beauties". The picture-riddle (in the circular cartouche top right) gives the identity of the beauty on each design. In the second edition the riddle is replaced with a flower design. Published by Omiya Gonkuro c.1795-6.

In 985, the theologian Genshin 源信 (942-1017) in his essay, Oujouyoushuu 往生要集, Fundamentals of Deliverance , described these six states. His description grow to be much admired by Fujiwara landed gentry, and turned into a major conduit for various artists to illustrate each state. Originally, a set of fifteen hanging scrolls at Shoujuuraigouji 聖衆来迎寺, in Shiga prefecture, depicted Genshin's narrative of the rokudou, in which four scrolls illustrated the state of humans and hells, 13th century. By the end of Heian period (in the late 12th century) there was a surge of interest in illustrations of the states of torture and anguish and starving ghosts, which perhaps reflected the tumultuous havocs of that era. The Anguish Scrolls (Jigoku zoushi 地獄草紙, 1180's, Tokyo National Museum and Nara National Museum) and Starving Ghost Scroll, (Gaki zoushi 餓鬼草紙, 1180's, Kyoto Natioanl Museum) are celebrated works of this era. Artists of the Heian period illustrated these six states on emaki 絵巻, handscrolls, which become known as rokudou-e 六道絵. The artistic style of these rokudou-e greatly impacted the woodblock prints.

Okumura Toshinobu (active 1717-50), 'Young Lovers by Mount Fuji'. About 1720
Signature: Yamato-eshi Okumura Toshinobu hitsu,
By the mid-ninth century many of Heian painters decidedly moved away from the Chinese conventional style of landscapes (Kara-e) in which frequently a solitary or few contemplating wise men were depicted in a minuscule scale and were surrounded by colossal landscapes of soaring, rocky mountains and gaping gorges. Heian artists in its place developed a distinctly Japanese-style of landscapes (Yamato-eshi), where instead of lofty mountains they depicted the gently sloping heights of Japanese natural landscapes in which ordinary peasants were busily cultivating their fields, and ordinary people were going about their business of life, or artists depicted the narrative of a Japanese traditional tale.

 Unidentified artist: Illustrated Sutra of The Miracles of Kannon , Kamakura period (1185–1333), dated 1257-- Yamato-e

Another category of this art, called Yamato-e, was based on Japanese poems, describing the intimate relationships between man and the ever-changing nature. Such poems written in elegant calligraphic style were harmoniously arranged as the integral part of the artistic composition. By the by the eleventh century the artists of Yamato-e mastered the woodblock printing and moved towards more sophisticated polychromatic techniques which allowed them to produce their stunningly imaginative woodblock prints.

The Edo Period, and the ukiyo-e style

ikugawa Eizan Japan 1787–1867 (Beauty on parade)c.1810 Colour woodblock print.

Eizan was a ukiyo-e woodblock printmaker. Taught first by his father, a Kano-style painter, then by Suzuki Nanrei and Iwakubo Hokkei; also infuenced by Utamaro and Hokusai. From the early 1800's until he retired about 1830, became the leading designer of bijinga. Depicting actors in his prints as well as erotica.

In the late sixteenth century, a new movement in painting and print called 浮世絵 ukiyo-e emerged. Ukiyo-e artists used the woodblock printing technique, and the classical style of Yamato-e to depict the contemporary vistas of the daily life. The Buddhist concept of ‘ukiyo-e' implies ‘images of the fleeting world where the suffix e, means "images." The philosophical underpinnings of the ukiyo-e style were derived from the idea of life as a collection of ephemeral and illusive experiences of daily hedonistic pleasures, that lead to suffering. However, these experiences at their cores are indicative of the fundamental nature of existence and its divine authenticity. The concept of ukiyo maintains that it is only as a human that one can accomplish enlightenment. This is why Buddhism values the human state above all other states including the state of gods. Incarnation into the human state is being celebrated as an extraordinary phase of the cycle of Seishi to break out the entrapment of being and be liberated into reality through becoming aware of the authenticity of suffering which leads to Nehan-- enlightenment. Despite the fact that the gods are bestowed with a long term, blissful life as a reward for their preceding good deeds, it is just this joy that comprises the crucial impediment for their emancipation, since because of that joy they fail to be attentive of the genuineness of suffering.
A brothel  of Yoshiwara , known as bijin-ga
The Edo era of Japanese history, began when the Shogunate of Ieyasu Tokugawa relocated the capital from the imperial city of Kyoto to Edo (modern Tokyo) in 1615. It was a period of prosperity and significant artistic achievements. In its early years the Shogunate was opposed by various daimyo, or regional warlords of samurai, who wreaked havoc on the realm by their persistent armed clashes. As a result of these civil wars the art of ukiyo acquired a gloomy and sorrowful tone. Finally, Tokugawa Shogunate successfully gained the upper hand and with its final victory marshaled two and a half centuries of tranquility, which encouraged economic prosperity and wellbeing. Tokyo became for a while the world’s largest city, and it’s cultural life and entertainment industry surged with Kabuki theatres, teahouses, public baths, and the pleasure district of Yoshiwara. The warlords, who were obliged by the shogun to dwell in Edo in every second year, soon turned into government officials, and the new prosperity gave rise to a pleasure seeking middle class, as the Japanese rigid class structure forbade anyone but the aristocracy from acquiring land or marrying into the noble families to possess land. The middle-class then spent their fortunes on art and hedonistic pleasures. They developed a taste for ukiyo-e, paintings and woodcuts that illustrated the features of the fleeting world of pleasure which illustrated scenes of the geisha girls of brothels of Yoshiwara , known as bijin-ga, erotica illustrations known as shun-ga and of famous kabuki dancers. These were dances performed by men masquerading as women, and women as men. Some of dance troupes were exclusively women who offered sexual services for sale. When the authorities prohibited this boys replaced the girls and when they were adult males took over and turned it into a theatrical performance. The interpretation of ephemeral nature of life as conceptualized by ukiyo was stretched to embrace the evanescent pleasures of the courtesan district of Yoshiwara. Ukiyo-e could be stylized depiction of geishas, images of kabuki performers or elegantly illustrated books of poetry.

Woodblock print by Ishikawa Toyonobu of kabuki actors Nakamura Shichisaburō II and Sanogawa Ichimatsu, signed 'Meijōdō Ishikawa Shūha Toyonobu zu', 1740s

The father of ukiyo-e style of woodblock prints was Hishikawa Moronobu (1618-1694). Sometimes past the mid 17th century he convinced his publisher to issue poster like single sheets of his prints without any text. The posters became a vogue and were highly in demand. Moronobu was the first artist that consolidated ukiyo-e designs into a coherent artistic movement. His masterful and artistically graceful compositions set the standards for the masterpieces of ukiyo-e style. Soon other artists began to follow him and a traditional Japanese master-pupil association developed whereby the head pupil often married into his master's family and established a true blood relationship. This led to emergence of various schools of printmaking which each was specialized in a particular subject, with their own stylistic features.

The Urushi-e and Nishiki-e Styles

Ishikawa Toyonobu (Nishimura Shigenobu), Shōki and Girl, c. 1720s. Woodblock print with hand-coloring and lacquer, urushi-e style. The print depicts Shöki the demon slayer.

With an improved quality of paper, and new innovations in printing techniques urushi-e 漆絵, or lacquer-images style was introduced by artists such as Okumura Masanobu, Torii Kiyomasu and Torii Kiyonobu, among many others, in the early eighteenth century. The main characteristics of urushi-e was the compositional effect of a black shining area in the print which was achieved through mixing glue with the printing ink. More importantly, these developments paved the way for the introduction of a more sophisticate polychromatic Nishiki-e 錦絵, or brocade-images. . In 1765, Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770) was commissioned to produce images for a calendar. The calendar which was published on low quality paper with low-cost pigments proved so popular that soon enabled Harunobu to use high quality colors on a heavier grade paper, He utilized some ten different wood blocks for different colors, which enhanced the quality of print enormously. Many artists such as Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) , Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815), Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) adopted multi-color woodblock technique, and some utilized the Western perspective laws of Dutch copperplate etchings. Nevertheless, Harunobu remained the most popular artist of Nishiki-e style, producing prints of chimerical, beautiful people in awe-inspiring compositions.

The artist Utagawa Toyokuni c.1850 depicts Hachi-no-ki Uri - a dealer for potted plants in the Six Examples of the Street Merchants in the Summer Evenings series; the actor is Nakamura Utaemon IV; publisher: Ibaya Sensaburo.

Go to the next chapter; Chapter 12 - Graphic Design in Ceramics


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Chapter 10 - The Art of Miniature

Miniature is a style of painting that from its beginning, around the early 7th century, has been associated with the demand for illustration and beautification of documents and manuscripts. It is most often used to convey a certain message, be it of a poetical, fictional, philosophical, or religious nature, thus in these regards miniature is closely related to the art of graphic design. Despite the fact that it is not necessarily the case, miniature painting is frequently and erroneously presumed to be of small size. The word miniature is derived from the Italian miniatura, which itself is derived from the Middle Latin miniātūra, equivalent to miniātus meaning rubricated, illuminated, and in Latin it meant colored red with cinnabar. Throughout history there has been a large number of very large size miniatures. This style of painting, both in the east and in the west, stylizes the subjects in flatly painted surfaces that are delineated with highly intricate and harmonious linear patterns.

Mani (210-276 AD), the Persian founder of the Manichean religion may be regarded as the father of miniature paintings. Mani was a nobleman who lived in Babylon. He illustrated his most holy book Artang with miniatures of the type that has been discovered in Turfan. Turfan Studies is the scientific edition and interpretation of works of art and textual remains that were found in the Turfan oasis and neighbouring sites in East Turkestan. From the 2nd century BCE for nearly two millennia, in particular up to the end of Mogul rule in the 14th century, East Turkestan, today’s Xinjiang, was the land of exchange between East and West. Printed books are a small but significant part of the Turfan material. They were not printed with type but with carved wooden blocks that contained whole pages. These "block prints" were probably mostly made in Chinese workshops but they have been found in many sites of the Turfan oasis.The Manichaeans were not only the representatives of a special religious system presented by its founder as the last and best of all previous teachings, they also expended all their energy on the artistic realisation of their beliefs: They produced books the splendour and elegance of which were intended to outshine everything that went before and that apparently did become a model for later generations.

Miniature art in the east, particularly in Persia and India, is profoundly influenced by the traditional style of the Chinese paintings. While in the west, its roots can be traced back to ancient Egyptian manuscripts on papyrus scrolls. The beautifully illuminated manuscripts such as the Celtic Book of Kells and England's Lindisfarne Gospels contain some masterpieces of the western miniatures.

Nestorian missionaries were firmly established in China during the early part of the Tang Dynasty (618–907). This Miniature depicts a Christian monk-missionary from Persia who visited China during this era.

In China, the art of figurative painting reached its summit during the T'ang dynasty (618–906). T'ang’s artists frequently painted historical subjects and magnificent scenes from courtly life in which the focus of attention was on various figures which were placed in the painting according to their ranks and the importance of their role in the illustrated narrative of the work. The artist used brush drawings with colour washes to paint landscapes with trees, flowers, birds, mountains and so on in a highly stylized fashion and placed these elements strategically on their tableau in order to achieve a harmonious composition, using a minimalist approach towards colours. Han Kan one of the artists of the T'ang dynasty in the 8th century has painted magnificent horses that have achieved an amazing balance by the masterly use of curvatures of the horses. An extraordinary harmony is also achieved by Yen Li-pen another of the T'ang dynasty artists. For example, in his painting called “Northern Ch’i Scholars Collating Classic Texts” he has placed the three bearded scholars in a circle, this is balanced by the arrangement of their young pages in another circle. A diagonal line made up by the black margins of the scholar’s attires and their black hairs is balanced again by the stretched arms of the characters, and the whole panting has been highlighted by a minimal use of red as a contrast, which shows the artist's rational temprement. This temperament includes an extraordinary feeling for proportion and an acute visual sensibility.

Yen Li-pen, Northern Ch’i Scholars Collating Classic Texts

The landscape painting reached its height during the Sung dynasty era (960–1279) . The artists used ink monochrome again in highly stylized fashion which focused on the harmony, and composition. Fan K'uan an artist of the Sung dynasty who has painted "Travelers Among Mountains and Streams", was a famous for his landscape painting of northern China. He created "monumental landscape" style, in which human figures were drawn in minuscule size in relation to the mountains, and woods.

Fan K'uan, "Travelers Among Mountains and Streams", Sung dynasty

Nevertheless, in spite of their sizes, the artists painstakingly rendered their social ranks, human conditions, styles of their garments, the characteristics of the events which were unfolding before the viewers’ eyes, and their subtle reactions to the whole human drama. During the reign of Emperor Hui-tsung (r. 1101-1125) Li T'ang painted landscapes which were inspired by poetry, and symbolism. For example in his painting. "Windy Pines Among a Myriad Valleys", he studies at the harmonious interrelationships between clouds, pines, waterfall, and rapids in a majestic, almost , mythical mountain scene from a rather unusual perspective.

Li T'ang, " Windy Pines Among a Myriad Valleys"

Pure and Remote Views of Hills and Streams, a work by Hsia Kuei (c.1180–1230)-- one of the most important in the history of Chinese painting -- shows his amazing control of ink values in creating the impression of hard rock , tree leaves and clouds, using only brush, ink, and paper. In Ma Yuan (c.1190–1225) painting “Walking on a Mountain Path in Spring” the idea of representation of a poetical image as a subject for contemplation is further developed. The artist shows a wise man leisurely walking followed by a disciple on a pathway alongside a brook bank. He stops in admiration to contemplate over the two orioles on a wind-blown willow tree. The wise man is at the center of an imaginary circle created by the branches of the willow tree, while one of the orioles is flying out of the confine of that circle, visually stressing the fleeing of the bird. A vertical calligraphy of a verse couplet is placed on the right corner, in the sage’s lines of sight: as though he is reading it. It says ‘Brushed by his sleeves, wild flowers dance in the wind; fleeing from him, the hidden birds cut short their songs’.. The artist abstracts from all of the superfluous elements in his composition to create a minimalist representation.

Ma Yuan, “Walking on a Mountain Path in Spring”

During the Yüan dynasty, of Mogul origin ( 1279 to 1368), and the subsequent Ming dynasty (1368–1644) the Chinese painting style evolved into a new direction which stemmed from the achievements Sung art’s characteristics. There were grater emphasis placed on human figures and landscapes paintings became more dynamic, as artists used a verity of brushstrokes, and rendering styles. The China's scholar-painters of this era venerated calligraphy as the noblest of art forms, and used it as the integral part of their compositions.

Wen Cheng-ming “The First Prose Poem on the Red Cliff, 1555”

Wen Cheng-ming (1470-1559), Shen Chou (1427-1509), T'ang Yin (1470-1523), and Ch'iu Ying (ca. 1509-1551) were known collectively as the Four Great Masters of the Ming (1368-1644). Perhaps the most important among them was Wen Cheng-ming whose many works survive to the present day, and profoundly influenced the Chinese style of painting. His painting “The First Prose Poem on the Red Cliff, 1555” depicting three learned friends reflecting on the state of their existence over wine on a moonlight Yangzi River cruise at the foot of the scenic Red Cliffs, invites the viewer to contemplate on the endless treasures of universe, based on a poem by Su Dongbo's poem written in 1082, which in part reads:

The clear breeze over the river, or
the bright moon between the hills,
These we may,
And they will never be used up.
These are the endless treasures of the Creator,
Here for you and me to enjoy together.

Shen Zhou (1427–1509) another of the most important Chinese artists of the Ming dynasty in paintings like “Lofty mountain” focused on the textures and the well-balanced curvaceous compositions contrasted against a geometric calligraphy. Tung Ch'i-ch'ang (1555-1636) was a celebrated calligrapher , and his semi-cursive style of calligraphy was considered the most excellent in the Ming dynasty. He was also a gifted and influential landscape painter in the Sung and Yuan styles.

Shen Zhou, “Lofty mountain”

Persian Miniature;
The history of Persian manuscript painting can be traced back to Mani the Persian founder of Manichaeism who was a painter and manuscripts of his holly book Artang were illustrated and used calligraphic compositions. Some of these books in different languages have survived, and can give a glimpse of the earlier Artangs which were originally illustrated on parchments.

Detail of a Turfan Manichaen Illuminated Scroll; Turfan Antiquarian Bureau (Turfan, China),

Persia imported paper from China in the mid 8th century, and by the time of Mogul dynasty painting on paper was an art form well known to Persian artists. A painting from Tang Dynasty in the British Museum depicting a Christian monk-missionary who came from Persia, is an evidence of close cultural ties between Persia and China. The art of Persian miniature, was introduced during the Mogul and Timurid periods (13th - 16th Century). The Mongolian dynasties of Iran were enthusiastic patrons of Chinese style painting and a large number of Chinese artisans were among their court entourage. Most of the vast collection of post-Islamic Persian literature, constitutes a rich conduite for artists’ inspiration. Chief among this literature were the 10th century, Shahnameh (the King of a Book, frequently and incorrectly translated as The Book of Kings -- Shahan Nameh) by Ferdowsi of Toos, which in epical style of poetry recites the ancient legends of Persian heroes, kings, and human tragedies.

Shahnameh Shiraz School 14th Century Topkapi collection.

Khamseh, (Quintet), a collection of five lyrical and romantic poems by Nezami of Ganja in the12th century is another important source. The three among the five legends in this book are of particular significance as they are studies in various aspects of love. These are; the tragic love of Leili and Majnoon, the epical love between the Armenian queen Shirin and her sculptor lover Farhad, and the romantic love between King Khosrow and Shirin . The 13th century, books of the great Persian ethicist, Saadi of Shiraz, who created two of his monumental works Golestan (The Flower Garden), a collection of short moral stories, and Bustan (The Fragrance Garden) a collection of etical poems , together with the esoteric poems of Rumi in his monumental work Mathnavi were also among the most important conduits for artists' imagination. Finally in the 14th century, Odes of Hafez; the 15th century Sufi poems of Jami in the book of "Haft Owrang" (The Seven kingly stations) were added as sources of of ispiration for Persian miniaturists

This illustration from Nezami's "Khamseh" is one of the most beautiful of Shiraz style. The compositional harmony and he colour balance are at their best. The clarity of the communication is superb. The viewer immediately sees the visual aspect of the story, while the more subtle element is described through the poetry.

Persian miniature styles can be categorized in four schools centered in four major cities;. Shiraz, Tabriz, Herat and Isfahan.. The Shiraz school, founded by the Mongol Il-Khans in mid-14th century, developed in various phases. It is distinguished by its symmetrical composition and geometric harmony. A page illustrating the great 12th-century poet Neẓāmī’s Khamseh depicts the aesthetic height reached by this school in combining line, shape, value, texture, form, color and space to acheive a visual elegance in the harmony, variety, balance, movement, emphasis, proportion and rhythm.

Another early painting, dated 1341, shows the Shahnameh hero Siavosh playing polo. The school with the elaborately decorated landscapes with their imaginative perspective and elongated and stylized figures became distinctly Persian in the early 15th century, under the Timurid Dynasty. The final phase of the school in the mid-15th century was during the Turkmen era in Shiraz with great a emphasis on colour scheme, and stylized landscapes. A leaf from Ibn Husam's Khavaran-nameh, dated about 1480 depicts this phase.

Sultan Muhammad, Tabriz Style, Rakhsh fights a lion while Rustam sleeps, A Shanameh story.

The school of Tabriz under the Turkmen influence was above all known for its expressionist style in which landscapes are influenced by the works of artist like Hsia Kuei, Ma Yuan and Li T'ang of the Sung dynasty in China. One of the most fabulous Tabrizian manuscripts is an unfinished Shanameh (1515-1522) of which only one illustration, attributed to the painter Sultan Muhammad, has survived depicting the super hero Rustam reclining while his beloved horse Rakhsh fights a lion. Sultan Muhammad, the leading painter of the Turkmen style, is credited with several other masterpieces among them a magnificent image of the luminous prophet Muhammad ascending to heaven M’raaj (c. 1540):

Kamal ud-Din Behzad, Herat School, A story from Nezami's Khamseh. Behzad, the most renowned of the Persian miniaturists introduced a new compositional style and colour scheme.

The Herat style of Persian miniature was appeared in the early 15th century and was greatly influenced by the styles of Shiraz and Tabriz, but benefited enormously by the ingenuity of the great Herati master miniaturist Kamal ud-Din Behzad Herawi known simply as Behzad (c. 1460–1535), who is generally placed at the zenith of the Persian pantheon of painters. Bihzad is renown for his ability to communicate with his viewer, through the personality and symbolic staging of his figures. His masterpiece Yousef and Zulaykha (the Joseph and Potipher’s wife), depicting the morally decent Joseph reacting to the immoral advances of Zulaykha by fleeing all the way through an elaborately intricate passage that symbolizes the emotional bewilderment of this complicated relationship in its various carnal and spiritual aspects.

Sultan Mohammad, Tabriz School, Court of Kioumarth. Shahnameh

Majnun recognised by Layla's dog Page of a manuscript of "Layly and Majnun" Uzbekistan, Bukhara, 
C. 1560  Louvre,Dpt.des Arts d'Islam, Paris, France

A brilliant synthesis of the diverse Persian miniature styles, was created under the auspices of Safavid rulers, by Sultan Muhammad and Bihzad, and corroboration of numerous master calligraphers, painters, gilders, leather workers, book binders and so on in the form of Shahnameh of Tabriz (or the "Houghton Shahnameh”). The Court of Kioumarth in this book is considered as a true masterpiece of Persian miniature. The painting depicts Kioumarth, (from Ki, meaning king, and Marth meaning man), the first king, who ruled from a mountain sumit over the wild beasts reflecting despondently at the fortune of his son, Siyamak, who is fated to be killed in a predestined combat with the Div e Siah black demon.

Reza Abbasi, School of Isfahan, Portrait of a Prince

The Isfahan school was the culmination of Persian miniature painting in the 16th century. Reza Abbasi one of the foremost masters of the Persian miniature painting introduced an elegant minimalist coloring scheme, and an impressionist style which became the defining feature the school of Isfahan during the Safavid dynasty.

Miniature Painting in India

The Portrait of a Young Scholar (1549-1556), created in Homaioon era, is distinctly in Persian style.

Indian miniature painting started in the Mogul era, two Persian style miniatures, the Portrait of a Young Scholar (1549-1556) and Prince Akbar Hunting a Nilgae (1555-1560), from the court Humayun , Akbar's father show the that the early Indian Miniaturists were influenced and perhaps trained by Persian artists. The distinctly Indian school started during the reigns of three of the great Mogul emperors, Akbar, Jahangir and Shahjahan, which classify principally the first three phases of Mogul art.

Miniature by Mansur, "Babur Meeting Khanzada Begam, Mehr Banu Begam and Other Ladies" (An illustration from the Baburnama), circa 1598, in the style of Akbar era.

Babur's sister, Khanzada Begam, was forced to marry Shaibani Khan, an Uzbek warlord, who defeated Babur and occupied Samarkand in 1500 A.D. A while later, Shaibani received a letter from Shah Ismail of Persia asking him to get out of his territories. The Uzbek Ruler replied with a scorn: "I am a Prince who hold my dominions by hereditary descent. I do not understand what claim you Shah Ismail have to the countries you call your hereditary dominions. Sovereignty descends through the father and not the mother." This he said inasmuch as Shah Ismail had claimed to rule over a large part of Persia on the ground that he was descended by his mother from Uzan Hassan who, as the chief of the Turkmen Horde, had once been Ruler of the country.

Shah Ismail's reply according to the historian Erskine, was that " I have tightened my girdle for a deadly contest, and have placed the foot of determination in the stirrup of victory. If thou wilt meet me face to face in fight like a man, our quarrel will at once be decided."
Having dispatched this letter, he pretended to retreat and thereby allured Shaibani out of the citadel of Merv. When the Uzbeks had got so far from the town that retreat was impossible, they suddenly fell on the whole Persian Army which had been drawn up to meet them, and in the battle which ensued were totally defeated. He was killed, and his head was severed. The historians who write of Babur's early days suggest that he was forced to become more or less a vassal of Shah Ismail. In this scene, after Ismail returned his sister back to him, Babur writes of his reunion with his sister, who's separation lasted for about ten years, so much so that when the sister saw him she could not recognize him.

It was during the reign of Akbar (1556-1605) that over a hundred of master painters were employed in the Royal ateliers at court. The Indian miniature artists of this first phase illustrated mainly the Persian classical literatures, such as Gulstan of Sadi, Shahnama of Ferdowsi, Duval Rani Khizr Khan, the Persian romance of Duval Rani and Khizr Khan. Some historical texts such as Timurnama, Chingiznama, Baburnama and Akbarnama were also illustrated with some degree of realism in a naturalistic setting.

Female portraits were allowed during the Jahangir's reign, in spite of the fact that his Muslim father Akbar did not favor it. His queen, Nur jahan, is the subject of this masterpiece of circa 1740-1750. In 1611, Jahangir married Nur Jahan, the widowed daughter of a Persian immigrant. She and her relatives soon dominated politics, while Jahangir devoted himself to cultivation of the arts, especially miniature painting.

The stylistic emphasis of Indian Miniature shifted towards greater realism in landscapes and portrays in its second phase during the Jahangir reign (1605 – 1627) . Jahangir’s love of miniatures were developed years before he ascended to the throne during which, under the Persian painters Aqa Riza and his son Abu Hasan he set up his independent studio at Allahabad. The work of various artists in Jahangir’s court such as Abu Hasan’s court scenes and official portraits, Mansur’s landscapes and historical illustrations, and Daulat’s portraits as well as others were influenced by the Persian style of Aqa Riza, with the flat surfaces and highly embellished. The female portraitures of this era reveal a sophisticated compositional execution.

Miniature by Bichitr, "Jahangir Preferring a Sufi sheikh to Kings". ca. 1620,
A highly symbolic illustration showing Jahangir seated on an hour-glass , while some kings, including a European one, are portrayed at the lower left corner. ca. 1620. The Persian poetry says: Although kings in appearance stand before him, but in reality he looks up persistently at Dervishes.

Finally in the third phase, during Shahjahan reign (1605-1627), the Indian style of miniature became intensely formalized with copious ornamentation, and greater emphasis on the visual extravagance. This formalization, and artificial mannerism become progressively the dominant characteristic of the Indian miniature in its post-Mogul phase.

Shah Jahan holding a public audience in the great hall of his palace.

Go to the next chapter; Chapter 11 - Woodblock Prints of China and Japan
    References and Further Reading
  • Sickman, L. and A. Soper, The Art and Architecture of China (1956);
  • Sirén, O. Chinese Painting (7 vol., 1956–58);
  • Cahill, J. The Art of Southern Sung China (1979), The Distant Mountains: Chinese Painting of the Late Ming Dynasty, 1570–1644 (1982);
  • Sullivan, M. The Arts of China (rev. ed. 1984);
  • Fong, W. Beyond Representation (1992).
  • Beach, Milo Cleveland. Mughal and Rajput Painting (The New Cambridge History of India): Cambridge, 1992.
  • Oleg Grabar, Mostly Miniatures: An Introduction to Persian Painting, Princeton University Press 200, ISBN-10: 0691049998
  • Allan, James Hunt for Paradise: Court Arts of Safavid Iran 1501-76 , Skira; illustrated edition edition, 2004, ISBN-10: 8884915902
  • Sims, Eleanor Peerless Images: Persian Painting and Its Sources, Yale University Press; illustrated edition edition, 2002, ISBN-10: 0300090382
  • Hillenbrand, Robert Persian Painting: From the Mongols to the Qajars, I. B. Tauris , 2001, ISBN-10: 1850436592
  • Barry , Michael Figurative Art in Medieval Islam: And the Riddle of Bihzad of Herat (1465-1535), Flammarion; illustrated edition edition, 2005, ISBN-10: 2080304216
  • Cooper, David (ed). A Companion to Aesthetics (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy): Massachusetts, 1997.
  • Daljeet, Dr. Mughal and Deccani Paintings (From the Collection of the National Museum): New Delhi, 1999.
  • Losty, Jeremiah P. The Art of the Book in India: London, 1982.
  • Mansingh, Surjit. Historical Dictionary of India: New Delhi, 2000.
  • Okada, Amina. Imperial Mughal Painters: Paris.
  • Randhawa, M.S. Paintings of the Babur Nama: New Delhi, 1983.
  • Sen, Geeti. Paintings from the Akbar Nama: Varanasi, 1984.
  • Thackston, Wheeler M (Tr. and ed). The Jahangirnama (Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India): New York, 1999.
  • Verma, Som Prakash (ed). Flora and Fauna in Mughal Art: Mumbai, 1999.
  • Welch, Stuart Cary. Imperial Mughal Painting: New York, 1978.
  • Ziad, Zeenut. The Magnificent Mughals: Karachi, 2002.

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