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Iranian art 91

Seineet-Marne ent de is, Départem

Bourh

Photo: Yvan

5

5  Silk samite fragment (detail) depicting pheasants with haloes contained in roundels, 7th century. 0.64 x 0.96 m (2' 1" x 3' 2"). Jouarre Abbey, Jouarre

Exhibition highlights from this era will include Parthian reliefs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and British Museum, and a silver gilt ewer from the Wyvern Collection. We also encounter the first occurrence of textiles, with animal designs from the V&A collections and the Jouarre Abbey in France (5, 7).

The Arab armies invaded Iran from the Arabian Peninsula in the first half of the 7th century CE, leaving the Sasanian Empire devastated. However, despite the rapid invasion and conversion to Islam, Iranians kept a strong attachment to their long history and traditions. This legacy was understood in later centuries through the Shahnameh (or Book of Kings), the world’s greatest epic poem, completed by Firdowsi around 1010. In more than 50,000 couplets it offers a glorious and legendary version of past events, rooting Iran’s pre-Islamic history in the minds of its populations. Thus, the Iranians kept their traditions of kingly glory alive, with the Shahnameh marking the intersection between civilisations of both the ancient and medieval worlds. Among the iIlluminated manuscripts and folios displayed in ‘Epic Iran’ will be a magnificent page from the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp (1525–35) from The Sarikhani Collection (3).

Between the 9th and 11th centuries, Arabic became the common language in Iran. The power of word, through the Holy Qur’an, was the purest form of art. The occupation by Muslim armies gave the Iranians a whole new understanding of history focused on the Prophet Muhammad and his successors. Disputes over the events of his life lay at the heart of the division between Sunnism and Shi‘ism. In Iran, they took on great significance from the 16th century, when the Imami form of

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