Timeline of Iranian Art & History

Timeline of Iranian Art & History

ca. 8000 B.C. The earliest domestication of sheep and goats occurs at Ali Kosh in southwestern Iran. The earliest known clay vessels and modeled human and animal terracotta figurines are produced at Ganj Dareh in western Iran.
ca. 6000–5000 B.C.

early 4th millennium b.c.
Chalcolithic period, Sialk III 7 type Central Iran
Painted pottery and figurines from Hajji Firuz are similar to those found at sites in Mesopotamia, indicating contact between distant settlements.
ca. 4200 B.C. The site of Susa is founded on a broad fertile plain. Surrounded by numerous agricultural villages, Susa is centered on a large mud-brick platform and becomes the regional locus of what is now central Khuzestan. Finely handmade, painted vessels are buried in graves beside the platform. The variety and individuality of these specialized wares indicate the presence of many artisans.
ca. 3400–3100 B.C. Ceramics, cylinder seals, and sculpture at both Chogha Mish and Susa are virtually identical to those from southern Mesopotamia.
ca. 3100–2700 B.C.

3100–2900 b.c.
Proto-Elamite, Silver, Southwestern Iran
During the Proto-Elamite period, Susa, like neighboring Mesopotamia, uses hollow clay balls (bullae) to enclose counting tokens, and cylinder seals that are applied to a variety of jar sealings as well as bullae and clay tablets. The seals and small-scale sculpture are of the highest quality, often depicting wild animals or demonic figures in humanlike postures. Clay tablets inscribed with the Proto-Elamite writing system are found at numerous sites across Iran. Although derived from Mesopotamian cuneiform, the script remains largely undeciphered.
ca. 2600–2250 B.C. Chlorite vessels of the “Intercultural Style” are characterized by decoration of the entire surface with abstract patterns, vegetal and architectural motifs, or naturalistic representations of animals or humans. Made in southern Iran and the greater Gulf region, these vessels are traded widely across the Near East from Syria to the Indus Valley.
ca. 2350–2000 B.C.

ca. 2300–2000 b.c.
Susa falls under the rule of the Mesopotamian kings of Akkad and, later, the 3rd Dynasty of Ur. Influenced by the art of Mesopotamia, Puzur-Inshushinak (r. ca. 2112–2095 B.C.) is the first king of Susa to leave large-scale statuary. A number of his monuments are inscribed with bilingual inscriptions: Akkadian written in cuneiform, and Elamite written in a poorly understood linear script. At the end of the period, the Elamites invade Mesopotamia, destroying the city of Ur.
ca. 2000–1900 B.C. An Elamite dynasty from Shimashki, perhaps located in Luristan in the central Zagros Mountains, overthrows the Third Dynasty of Ur, replacing Mesopotamian domination of the lowlands with their own. At Susa, objects are made from a mixture of ground calcite, quartz, and bitumen. This compound is used for sculpture such as figurines and bas-relief plaques, and for many objects of everyday life, including jewelry and cylinder seals.
ca. 1900–1500 B.C. The powerful Sukkalmah (or grand regent) dynasty is well-documented by cuneiform inscriptions on cylinder seals, buildings, and royal texts. They rule the highlands of the Zagros Mountains and the lowlands of the Susiana plain, conducting successful agricultural exploitation in the latter region by means of irrigation technology.
ca. 1340–1300 B.C.

14th century b.c.
Middle Elamite period, Southwestern Iran,
Bronze; gold foil over bitumen
A new capital and religious complex, including a ziggurat, is built by King Untash-Napirisha at Chogha Zanbil. The ziggurat’s facade is covered with glazed blue and green terracotta, and its interior is decorated with glass and ivory mosaics. A finely carved stone stele of Untash-Napirisha adapts Mesopotamian religious imagery to depict Elamite mythology, while an extraordinary lifesize statue made of copper cast over a bronze core represents the king’s wife Napir-Asu.
ca. late 2nd–early 1st millennium B.C. The cemetery of Marlik, in northern Iran near the Caspian Sea, yields rich tombs with precious metal vessels, glass objects, and distinctive ceramics in the shape of humped bulls. At Susa, molded bricks—some depicting bull-men and palm trees—are used as a form of architectural decoration.
ca. 1190–1100 B.C. The Shutrukid dynasty renews major building activity at Susa and military forays capture important Mesopotamian monuments, including the stele of Akkadian king Naram-Sin and the law code of Hammurabi, as war booty. The Kassite rulers of Babylonia, who may have originated on the Iranian plateau, are defeated by the Elamites around 1157 B.C.
ca. 1000 B.C.
Nebuchadnezzar I of Babylon invades Elam, plundering the countryside and destroying Susa.
9th century B.C.

9th century b.c.
Iron Age II, Hasanlu cemetery
northwestern Iran, Ceramic
Medes and Persians, both speaking Indo-European languages, are first reported in the Iranian highlands as threats to the Assyrian empire of northern Mesopotamia.
ca. 8th–7th century B.C. The inhabitants of the mountainous region of western Iran (modern Luristan), manufacture an astonishing variety of bronze objects, including weapons, standards, jewelry, horse ornaments, and vessels.
ca. 800 B.C. Hasanlu, a Mannaean fortified city in northwestern Iran notable for its columned halls, is destroyed, possibly by an army from Urartu coming from northeastern Anatolia.
ca. 646 B.C. The Assyrian king Ashurbanipal sacks Susa, ending Elamite supremacy.
612 B.C. The Median king Cyaxares, allied with King Nabopolassar of Babylon, destroys the capital cities of Assyria. The following short-lived Median kingdom, with its capital at Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) in the Zagros Mountains, extends from northwestern Iran into Anatolia.
559–486 B.C. The Persian king Cyrus II (the Great, r. ca. 559–530 B.C.) lays the foundation for the Achaemenid empire by successively overthrowing Media, Lydia, and the Babylonian empire. Under Darius I (the Great, r. 522–486 B.C.), the Achaemenid realm stretches from Greece and Egypt to Central Asia and India. The Persian Royal Road is built, running from Sardis (in Anatolia) to Susa, facilitating trade and taxation.
ca. 500–425 B.C.

358–338 b.c.
Achaemenid period, reign of Artaxerxes III
Persepolis, Iran
Foreign craftsmen help construct Persepolis using architectural and artistic styles from Iranian, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Lydian, and Greek traditions to produce a distinctly Achaemenid form of art. Stone relief carvings portray the diverse subjects of the empire bringing tribute to the king.
331–247 B.C. The armies of Alexander of Macedon defeat the Persians. Upon Alexander’s death in Babylon, his successors divide the empire. Iran, Mesopotamia, and Syria fall under the rule of Seleucus I, who founds the Seleucid dynasty. Hellenistic art and culture emerge from a fusion of the various Near Eastern and classical Greek traditions.
247 B.C. Arsaces I founds the Parthian (Arsacid) dynasty in northern Iran. By 113 B.C., his successors control much of the former Seleucid empire and move their capital from Iran to Ctesiphon on the Tigris.
ca. 53 B.C.

1st century b.c.–1st century a.d.
Parthian period, Iran,
Gold inlaid with turquoise
The Roman legions under Crassus suffer a decisive defeat at the hands of the Parthians, at Haran (ancient Carrhae) in northern Mesopotamia.
ca. 1–224 A.D.

1st–2nd century a.d.
Parthian period

224–626 A.D. From southwestern Iran, Ardashir I (r. 224–40 A.D.) founds the Sasanian dynasty and ends Parthian rule. Coins, rock reliefs, and stucco relief decoration exemplify Sasanian imperial art. This style emphasizes the power of the ruler by depicting him on monumental rock reliefs and on objects made of precious materials such as silver. Despite constant aggression between the Sasanians and Byzantium, there are parallels in the arts, especially motifs on textiles that reflect mutual influences. The use of frontality, introduced in the Parthian period, continues in Sasanian art, and becomes a hallmark of the Romano-Byzantine West.
241–272 A.D.

4th century
Sasanian period, Gilded silver
Shapur I expands the Sasanian empire to its greatest size (from the Euphrates River to the Oxus and Indus, and north into Armenia and Georgia). Continued conflicts with Rome and Byzantium for control of east-west trade routes and the taking of prisoners results in Roman influence in the arts and architecture. Domed square rooms are built with the aid of squinches (arched lintels) in the upper corners, a Sasanian innovation that influences Western medieval architecture. Shapur commemorates his victories against Rome in a series of reliefs, carved beneath the earlier Achaemenid Persian royal tombs, which show him triumphant over the emperors Gordian III, Philip the Arab, and Valerian.

5th century
Silver, mercury gilding
Khosrow I, called Anushirvan (r. 531–79), initially makes peace with the Byzantine empire and introduces a number of reforms. New forms of land survey and taxation stimulate the economy. Khosrow protects the frontiers of his empire by dividing it into four military zones, each commanded by one general.
540 Khosrow briefly captures Antioch from the Byzantine empire in the west while, in the east, he crushes the nomadic Hephthalite Huns. The Byzantine chronicler Procopius records the conflict with Byzantium, which lasts some twenty years. Near Ctesiphon in central Mesopotamia, Khosrow builds a new city called Veh az Antiok Khosrow (Better than Antioch Khosrow). The royal seal of Khosrow bears the image of a wild boar. This popular and widespread symbol in Sasanian art appears in stucco friezes, stone reliefs, and royal silver plates.
634–644 During the reign of the Rightly Guided Caliph cUmar ibn al-Khattab, Arab armies under the banner of Islam defeat Sasanian forces at the battle of Nahavand (642), marking the de facto end of the Sasanian empire. The last Sasanian ruler, Yazdegerd III, flees to Merv, where he dies in 651. The influence of Sasanian art and architecture is strongly felt in the early Islamic period in Iran.

8th century
Umayyad, Iran or Iraq, Wool
With the shift of the seat of power to Baghdad under the cAbbasids, Iran is in close contact with the center of Islamic civilization. Persian bureaucrats gain key positions in the cAbbasid hierarchy. Artistic impulses emanating from Baghdad and Samarra’ are felt even in the remotest Iranian provinces.
ca. 750–900

9th–10th century
Iran (Nishapur), Stucco, painte
Congregational mosques in the cAbbasid style are built in various Iranian cities. Surviving examples include the mosques of Damghan, Fahraj, Isfahan, and Siraf.
ca. 800–1000 As the cAbbasid caliphate centered in Baghdad begins to disintegrate, several Iranian dynasties such as the Tahirids, Saffarids, Samanids, and Buyids gain power in the eastern Islamic provinces, leaving cAbbasid political power effectively limited to Iraq. Until the end of the tenth century, these dynasties prevent a large-scale migration of Turkic nomads from the Central Asian steppe.
ca. 900–1000

Gurgan, Iran, Gold
The Samanids establish autonomous control in the Khorasan region and rule quite independently from Nishapur, their provincial capital in eastern Iran. The age of the Samanids marks a renaissance of Iranian culture in which their court is associated with the rise of Persian literature. Various pre-Islamic traditions are revived and integrated into the Islamic artistic language. In this way, a symbiosis emerges from the two trends of pan-Islamic Arabic and Iranian traditions. This cultural blend continues for several centuries until the social, ethnic, and political structure of the region is modified by the input of Turkic populations. New congregational mosques are built and older ones renewed and enlarged in order to serve the growing Muslim community. The mosques of Nayin (960), Niriz (973), and Isfahan (Buyid enlargement, 985–1040) are among the few surviving examples.
ca. 900–1100

Seljuq Khorasan (eastern Iran),
Cast bronze with openwork decoration
Particularly fine ceramics, metalwork, and relief-cut glass are produced in Iran. Artists in Nishapur develop very distinctive ceramics in which slip-painting beneath a transparent glaze produces a durable surface on earthenware pottery and allows for much creativity.
945 The forces of the Iranian Buyid dynasty, supporters of Shici Islam, enter Baghdad and take control of the weakened cAbbasid caliphate. From this point onward, until the formal end of the dynasty in 1258, the influence of the cAbbasid caliphs is limited to the moral and spiritual spheres, as the heads of Orthodox Sunni Islam.
ca. 900–1100 Particularly fine ceramics, metalwork, and relief-cut glass are produced in Iran during this period. The artists in Nishapur develop very distinctive ceramics in which slip painting beneath a transparent glaze produces a durable surface on earthenware pottery and allows for much creativity.
945–1055 The weakened cAbbasid caliphate, its political power effectively limited to Iraq, is controlled by the Iranian Buyid dynasty, supporters of Shici Islam. The influence of the cAbbasid caliphs is limited to the moral and spiritual spheres, as the heads of Orthodox Sunni Islam.
ca. 950–1150 Despite political instability, the period is a critical point in the intellectual, philosophical, and scientific life of Iran, one in which the active figures are some of the most influential scholars in medieval Islam, including al-Biruni (973–1048), astronomer and polymath, Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980–1037), physician and philosopher, and al-Ghazali (1058–1111), theologian and mystic. The Latin translations of Avicenna’s works have a tremendous effect on the development of philosophy and medicine in Europe.
ca. 1000–1100 Funerary monuments are prominent among architectural developments during this period. Of the surviving examples, the Gunbad-i Qabus near Gurgan (1006–7), as well as the mausolea of Sangbast (1028), Damghan (1056), Khargird (1087), and Kharraqan (1067 and 1093) are particularly noteworthy.
1010 The Shahnama (Book of Kings), the Iranian national epic, is completed by the poet Firdausi (935–1020) and dedicated to the great Ghaznavid ruler Mahmud (r. 997–1030).
ca. 1040–1157

Naein, Buyid period
Following their defeat of the powerful Ghaznavids at the Battle of Dandanakan, the Seljuqs, a Turkic dynasty of Central Asian nomadic origin, become the new rulers of the eastern Islamic lands. Their sovereignty is strengthened with their takeover of Baghdad, which puts an end to Buyid rule (1055) and establishes the Seljuqs as the new protectors of the cAbbasid caliphate and Sunni Islam. Though their vast empire encompassing all of Iran, Iraq, and much of Anatolia is relatively short-lived, the Seljuq cultural efflorescence continues well beyond the sultanate’s political influence. The creativity in the arts and architecture during the Seljuq period has a notable impact on later artistic developments.
ca. 1073–1092

ca. 1180–1210
Seljuq, Khorasan (eastern Iran), Iran
Repoussé brass inlaid with silver and bitumen
The transformed congregational mosque in Isfahan, for which additions are commissioned by Nizam al-Mulk (r. 1063–92) and Taj al-Mulk, two Seljuq administrators, for Sultan Malikshah (r. 1073–92) and his wife Terkan Khatun, is the most celebrated and influential Seljuq monument.

late 12th–early 13th century
Seljuq, Central or northern Iran,
ware, composite body, opaque white glaze with gilding, overglaze painting

224–626 A.D.1256–1353

ca. 1270s,
Iran (probably Takht-i Sulayman)
Fritware, overglaze luster-painted
The Ilkhanids, the branch of the Mongol dynasty that takes control of West Asia after putting a definitive end to the cAbbasid caliphate (1258), establish rule from the city of Tabriz in northwestern Iran. Following the Ilkhanid sultan Ghazan’s conversion to Islam in 1295, both religious and secular arts flourish. East Asian elements absorbed into the existing Perso-Islamic repertoire create a new artistic vocabulary, one that is emulated from Anatolia to India, profoundly affecting Islamic art. In this regard, the arts of the book, especially illustration, are particularly significant. The widespread use of paper enables the transfer of designs from one medium to another.
ca. 1275–1350

probably Tabriz, Ink, colors, and gold on paper
Along with their renown in the arts, the Ilkhanids are also great builders. The lavishly decorated Ilkhanid palace at Takht-i Sulayman (ca. 1275), a site with ancient resonances, is an important example of secular architecture. However, the outstanding Tomb of Uljaytu (built 1307–13; r. 1304–16) in Sultaniyya is the architectural masterpiece of the period. Following their conversion to Islam, the Ilkhanids build numerous mosques and shrines in cities across Iran such as Ardabil, Isfahan, Natanz, Tabriz, Varamin, and Yazd (ca. 1300–1350).
ca. 1360–1406 Under the Jalayirids, a Mongol family that establishes rule over Iraq and northwestern Iran during the collapse of Ilkhanid power, art and architecture closely follow the style set by their predecessor. During this period, the art of book illustration is particularly prominent.
ca. 1380–1501

1360 a.d.
Probably Iran or perhaps Central Asia
Wood, carved and inlaid
After entering Iran in 1380, Timur (Tamerlane, r. 1370–1405), the Turco-Mongolian ruler established in Central Asia, soon controls most of West Asia. Though his vast empire is short-lived, Timur’s descendants continue to rule over Iran and Transoxiana and become leading patrons of Islamic art.
ca. 1360–1406

probably 14th century,
Iran, Gold sheet, chased and inset with turquoise,
gray chalcedony, glass; large medallion
Under the Jalayirid dynasty (1340–1411), a Mongol family that establishes its rule over Iraq and northwestern Iran during the collapse of Ilkhanid power, art and architecture continue to follow the style set by their predecessor. The art of book illustration remains prominent during this period.
1389–1405 Timur (Tamerlane, r. 1370–1405), the Turco-Mongolian ruler established in Central Asia, controls most of West Asia. By bringing together craftsmen from different subjugated lands, Timur initiates one of the most brilliant and influential periods in Islamic art. Timur’s vast empire is relatively short-lived but his descendants continue to rule over Transoxiana as leading patrons of Islamic art.

second half of 15th century: Timurid
Northwestern Iran, Composite body,
underglaze painted and incised
The Timurids are celebrated for their patronage, especially of architecture and the arts of the book. The style set by the Timurids is emulated from Anatolia to India, creating an “international” style. Timurid rule is based first in Samarqand and later in Herat. In Iran, Timurid governors of the Fars region are active patrons. Two leading figures are Iskandar Sultan (r. 1395–99 and 1409–14) and Ibrahim Sultan (r. 1414–35), both particularly interested in manuscript painting. The latter is himself recognized as a calligrapher. During this period, an identifiable style of painting develops in Shiraz.
1406–1469 The Qara Quyunlu dynasty (Turk. “Black Sheep”; 1351–1469) expands into northwestern Iran, establishing Tabriz as its capital (1406). With the death of the Timurid ruler Shahrukh in 1447, the Qara Quyunlu extend their dominion to Fars (Shiraz) and Kirman in southern and eastern Iran. The rulers of the dynasty, especially Jahanshah (r. 1439–67), the most famous Qara Quyunlu ruler, are known for their patronage of architecture and arts of the book. Architectural commissions from Jahanshah’s reign include the Darb-i Imam in Isfahan (1453–4) as well as the Blue Mosque in Tabriz (1465, originally part of a larger complex), both noted for their tile decoration.

second quarter of 15th century: Timurid
Iran or Central Asia
After bringing Qara Quyunlu rule to an end, the Aq Quyunlu dynasty (Turk. “White Sheep”; 1396–1508) takes control of Iraq and northern Iran. Establishing diplomatic relations with Venice, the Aq Quyunlu become an international power. The rulers are recognized for their patronage of architecture, metalwork, and arts of the book. Few buildings remain from this period, however; known architectural commissions include the Nasriyya complex in Tabriz begun by Uzun Hasan (r. 1453–78) and enlarged by his son Yacqub (r. 1478–90), as well as Yacqub’s palace (cited in a Venetian account from 1507).
1501 Ismacil Safavi and his supporters, known as Qizilbash, or “red heads,” on account of their distinctive red caps, wrest control of Azerbaijan from the Aq Quyunlu, and in the same year Ismacil is crowned in Tabriz as the first Safavid shah (r. 1501–24). Upon his accession, Shici Islam becomes the official religion of the new Safavid state, which as yet consists only of Azerbaijan. Within ten years, however, all of Iran is united under the rule of the Safavid dynasty. Though Shah Ismacil is known to have built throughout the empire, only modest buildings survive from his reign.

Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan.
The Ottoman army wins a decisive victory over the forces of Shah Ismacil at a battle in eastern Anatolia. The Ottomans temporarily occupy the Safavid capital at Tabriz, and in subsequent years make frequent incursions into Azerbaijan, forcing the Safavids to move their capital farther east, to the less vulnerable city of Qazvin (1555). The sixteenth century is a period of frequent Ottoman-Safavid warfare, but eventually the Ottomans are expelled from Iran and Transcaucasia.

ca. 1526–27
Tabriz, Iran
Under Ismacil’s son Tahmasp, the arts of the book are central in royal patronage. The shah, who had trained with masters of the painting tradition at an early age, is involved in the production of extensively illustrated manuscripts. Artists from the Qara Quyunlu, Aq Quyunlu, and Timurid court studios are brought together to form a new Safavid style of painting. In architecture, important extant buildings from Tahmasp’s rule include the cAli Qapu (“Lofty Gate”) and the pavilion known as Chihil Sutun (“Forty Columns”), both in Qazvin. Significant shrines are repaired and enlarged; a large octagonal domed hall known as the Jannat Saray is added to the dynastic shrine at Ardabil (ca. 1540) and a caravanserai to the tomb of the Eighth Shi ci Imam in Mashhad.
The reign of Shah cAbbas, the most distinguished of Safavid rulers and greatest patron of the arts, is recognized as a period of military and political reform as well as of cultural florescence. The reorganization of the state and the ultimate elimination of Qizilbash power, a group that continued to threaten the authority of the throne, bring stability to the empire. In his systematization of administration, cAbbas establishes royal workshops for textiles and carpets in different cities across Iran. As Iran is actively involved in international trade, caravanserais and bridges are built throughout the empire in order to improve communication and trade. Major shrines are restored. The art of painting continues to flourish during this period; however, instead of the manuscript format, single-page paintings and drawings become popular.

before 1628
Shah cAbbas transfers his capital to Isfahan, in southern Iran, where he builds a new city alongside the old one. The new capital becomes cAbbas’ greatest architectural project. The centerpiece of his capital is the Maidan-i Shah (the Royal Square), with the magnificent Masjid-i Shah (Royal Mosque) as the focal point of the entire complex. Most significant architectural developments in Isfahan take place in the early seventeenth century.

ca. 1600; Safavid
During the reign of Shah cAbbas, the encroaching armies of the Ottomans, Uzbeks, and Mughals are pushed back and the newly reorganized Safavid troops regain Tabriz, Herat, and Baghdad. cAbbas’ decision to place textile and carpet production and the silk trade under state control, as well as to refurbish trade routes, solidifies the Iranian economy and attracts foreign traders. Their numerous travel accounts enliven our knowledge of daily life in seventeenth-century Iran. These Europeans also bring prints and oil paintings to Iran that have a profound effect on the local art scene, as on the arts of India and Turkey during this period.
1617 Don García de Silva y Figueroa, ambassador of Philip III of Spain, arrives in Isfahan.
1622 Using the ships of the British East India Company, cAbbas ousts the Portuguese from Hormuz to regain control of trade through the Persian Gulf. The English send a diplomatic embassy to Shah cAbbas, headed by Sir Dodmore Cotton.

mid-17th century
Safavid, Isfahan, Iran
Shah Safi (r. 1629–42) loses Baghdad and Qandahar. A product of an upbringing in the harem, Safi is a weak ruler, but his chief minister capably governs for him, keeping the country stable for the next few years.

(The Aga Khan Trust For Culture)

1665 Louis XIV of France sends envoys to Iran with portraits of himself and prints by the artist François Mazot.
1709 The Ghalzai Afghans revolt and occupy Qandahar. They proceed to march on Kirman and Isfahan in 1719.
1722 The fall of Isfahan. Strife in the country encourages Peter the Great of Russia to occupy Darband and Baku in 1723, and the Ottomans to invade Azerbaijan in 1726. Iran is forced to cede lands in Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

18th century, Iran,
Papier-mâché, painted and lacquered
Nadir Quli of the Afshar tribe places Tahmasp II back on the throne. After ridding Persia of its Afghan invaders, Nadir is rewarded with the governorship of Khorasan, Kirman, Sistan, and Mazandaran. During the years 1730–35, he regains all the territory lost to the Ottomans and expels the Russians as well. In 1732, cAbbas III succeeds as the Safavid shah after Tahmasp is killed.
1736 Deciding not to rule any longer behind the veil of the Safavid state, Nadir Quli crowns himself. This marks the beginning of the Afsharid dynasty.

first half of 18th century, Iran
Ceramic, glazed
Nadir Shah’s ambitions of creating a vast empire and his military successes thus far take him to India, where he eyes Delhi as the prize. The weak Mughal state, under Muhammad Shah, is unable to withstand his forces and Delhi is looted. Two hundred years’ worth of Mughal riches are carted back to Iran and India cedes its lands north and west of the Indus River. Upon Nadir Shah’s return, his behavior becomes increasingly cruel and erratic; he is finally murdered in 1747. Two sons succeed him but the dynasty is severely threatened. They are slowly pushed out of central Iran into Khorasan, where Shah Rukh, grandson of Nadir Shah, remains in power until 1796. The Bakhtiyars and Zands occupy Isfahan in 1750 when the Afsharids can no longer hold it.

c. 1779
Private Collection
Karim Khan, member of the Zand tribe in southern Iran, reigns as vakil, or regent, of another puppet Safavid shah, thus reviving the dynasty once again. A modicum of political tranquility is restored during his almost thirty years in power in Shiraz and the region’s economy recovers. Karim Khan builds extensively in Shiraz and his patronage of art and literature allows Safavid traditions to continue into the Qajar era.

late 17th–early 18th century,  Iran
Aqa Muhammad Khan (r. 1785–97), member of the rival Qajar tribe and hostage at the Zand court, escapes and takes control of the northern provinces of Iran. In 1785, he is crowned shah and the following year makes Tehran his capital. He then installs various brothers and cousins in Isfahan, Shiraz, and Kirman, and kills the last Zand, Fath cAli Khan, in revenge for his years in captivity. By the mid-1790s, all tribal rivals have been eliminated and Iran is united under one stable rule.

Aqa Muhammad Khan is assassinated, but the foundations he has laid are strong enough for the dynasty to continue. He is succeeded by his nephew Fath cAli Shah (r. 1797–1834).

19th century, Iran
Fabricated from sheet and half-round wire,
enameled on obverse and reverse
During the reign of Fath cAli Shah, Qajar court ceremonials are elaborated and the Gulistan Palace in Tehran is expanded. He emphasizes the ancient Persian traditions of kingship, taking the title “kings of kings” and appropriating Sasanian royal iconography. His son, cAbbas Mirza (1789–1833), is appointed crown prince and governor of Azerbaijan.

Captain John Malcolm of the British East India Company travels to Tehran to cement ties with Fath cAli Shah, whom the British hope will ally with them against the Russians. Further diplomatic embassies arrive in 1809 and 1811.

portrait by Sir Robert Ker Porter during his
travels to Iran in 1817-20. In 1818
Ker Porter met with Prince Abbas Mirza at Tabriz
In a series of wars with Russia, Fath cAli Shah loses most of the Caucasian provinces and is forced to pay reparations, which almost bankrupt the kingdom. In 1813 and 1828, the Treaties of Gulistan and Turkmanchay end the first and second Russo-Persian Wars. In 1833, Crown Prince cAbbas Mirza dies, followed by the death of Fath cAli Shah in 1834.
1835–48 The reign of Muhammad Shah Qajar. In an attempt to regain terrain that had been lost to the Afghans in the eighteenth century, Muhammad Shah seizes Herat briefly in 1838. In 1835, Mirza Saleh Shirazi publishes the first lithographic newspaper in Iran. In 1844, the daguerreotype is introduced in Iran.

ca. 1880, Iran
Wood, metal, bone, gut
The religious leader cAli Muhammad of Shiraz, known as the Bab (1819–1850), leads protests against the Qajars and the culama who provide support for their oppressive legal system. He proposes a more liberal form of sharica and denounces corrupt government officials who extort the peasants; the Bab is executed in 1850 and the movement is quieted until the rise of his successor Baha’ullah (1817–1892). In 1863, Baha’ullah proclaims himself the next prophet; the adherents of his new religion are known as Baha’is. After Baha’ullah is exiled to Turkey, his son and grandson continue the movement for greater social justice.

Signed and dated: Fath Allah Shirazi, Iran,
Papier-mâché, painted, varnished, and gilded
The accession of Nasir al-Din Shah at the age of seventeen. In the early years of the shah’s reign, his able prime minister Amir Kabir lays the foundation for military, administrative, and fiscal reforms that are cut short by his dismissal and execution in 1852. Nasir al-Din Shah patronizes artists and building programs in the European mode. He commissions artists to produce academic portraits and landscapes as well as illustrations for the new state-sponsored newspaper, Ruznama-i Vaqayi Ittifaqia. During his reign, Sanic al-Mulk’s A Thousand and One Nights manuscript is completed. The British who work in the country become interested in Persian history and culture, and in 1876 there is an exhibit of Persian art at the South Kensington Museum in London.

Patterns on Persian carpets displayed at the Great Exhibition in London influence William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement. Nasir al-Din Shah’s prime minister Amir Kabir (1807–1852) establishes the Dar al-Funun for training army officers, engineers, doctors, and interpreters. Artists and military musicians are also trained at the school. Calligrapher and painter Muhammad Davari Vesal (1822–1865) completes the last extant illustrated manuscript of the Shahnama (Book of Kings).

ca. 1852–55 Luigi Pesce (Italian, active 1848–61),Iran
Salt print
In an effort to regain control of Afghanistan, Nasir al-Din Shah wages war on the neighboring province. He briefly takes Herat, but the British force him to withdraw and recognize Afghan independence under the Treaty of Paris. A second war in 1860–61 results in the loss of Merv province.
1872 Nasir al-Din Shah (1977.683.22) grants Baron Julius Reuter concessions for railroad, mining, and banking companies, but is forced to repeal them after widespread revolts.

Russians are brought in to train a Cossack regiment in Nasir al-Din Shah’s army; this brigade will play a role in the Constitutional Revolution of the next century. Nasir al-Din Shah opens the country’s first museum and places his collection on display.
1889 The British-controlled Imperial Bank of Persia opens. It prints the country’s first bank notes.

from Qajar Studies, Journal of the International Qajar
Studies Association, Vol. V (2005): 61. 
The culama and merchants coordinate massive protests when Nasir al-Din Shah awards the British Regie Company the monopoly on collecting, distributing, and exporting Persia’s tobacco. The shah is compelled to cancel the concession in the following year.
1896 Nasir al-Din Shah is assassinated by a follower of the Islamic activist Jamal al-Din Asadabadi (better known as al-Afghani, 1838–1897), who opposes his pro-Western policies. Muzaffar al-Din Shah (1853–1907) accedes to the throne.
Portrait Of Muzaffar Al-Din Shah Qajar. Persia, C. 1890
c. 1890
Muzaffar al-Din Shah, who succeeds his father Nasir al-Din Shah to the Qajar throne, remains reliant on European financial support because of the dynasty’s poor economic condition. The Belgians are granted control of the customs business and Russia provides loans.







The first protests of the Constitutional Revolution are triggered by an order to lower sugar prices. Muzaffar al-Din Shah finally agrees to proclaim a constitution and to establish a judiciary wing of the government, but is slow to institute the changes. Further protests staged at the British embassy lead to the creation of a parliament, or majlis, whose first session is held in 1906.
1907 The Russians and the British sign an agreement that divides Persia into northern and southern spheres of influence.

Civil war erupts after the parliament refuses to grant concessions demanded by Russia and England. Russian troops enter Persia, occupy Tehran, and kill many prominent Constitutionalists. Other cities rise in rebellion against Muhammad cAli Shah (1872–1925), and he is forced to flee to Russia.
1911 The first Academy of Fine Arts (the Madrasa-i Sanayi-i Mustazrafa) is founded by Kamal al-Mulk (1852–1940), who directs the school until 1927.

During World War I, Persia remains neutral but is occupied by British and Russian troops looking to control the country’s oil reserves. Between 1919 and 1921, Persia agrees to become a British protectorate in order to avert occupation by Russia.

When the Persian parliament is reconvened, British protection is rejected and British troops are forced to withdraw. Reza Khan (1878–1944) takes advantage of the tumultuous situation, marching into Tehran and demanding that the shah name him commander of the military.
File:Reza Pahlavi.jpg
Reza Khan (1878–1944) deposes the last Qajar shah and proclaims himself head of the country, founding the Pahlavi dynasty. Many of his reforms parallel those in Turkey, and are meant to free the government from religious control. The culama establishment is weakened as oversight of education and law are taken over by the government, wearing of the veil is banned, and a new solar calendar is adopted. Various secular holidays based on ancient Persian traditions are instituted to replace religious ones. Reza Shah also constructs a Trans-Caspian Railroad linking the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea.
1931–34 Ernst Herzfeld (1879–1948) excavates at the Achaemenid capital of Persepolis, founded in the sixth century B.C. by the king Darius and destroyed in the fourth century B.C. by Alexander the Great.
1935 Iran replaces Persia as the name of the country.
1938 The College of Fine Arts opens at Tehran University for the propagation of principles of modern painting.

During World War II, the British and Russians demand free transit and military support from Reza Shah. When he refuses, their troops invade and depose him; his young son, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi (1919–1980), takes the throne. After the war, the USSR refuses to remove its troops, and backs revolts in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, which briefly proclaim themselves autonomous republics. After Muhammad Reza Shah visits the United Nations, the USSR is pressured to withdraw from the country.
1949 Iran becomes a constitutional monarchy.
1949 Iran’s first art gallery, Apadana, opens in Tehran.

Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq (1880–1967) decides to nationalize the oil industry, until now under the partial control of the British and their Anglo-Persian Oil Company. The National Iranian Oil Company is then formed to manage the industry. Europe and the United States immediately impose a boycott, and British and American secret service agencies plot to take Mosaddeq down. He is removed from power in 1953, and the Shah negotiates new agreements with European oil firms.
1958 The first Tehran Biennial is organized under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture.

Abby Weed Grey begins collecting Middle Eastern and Asian contemporary art, which becomes the basis for the Grey Art Gallery at New York University in 1974.
1960 The second Tehran Biennial of modern art is held at the Gulistan Palace.

Art critic Karim Emami uses the term saqqakhana to describe the sensibility of Hussein Zenderoudi’s (born 1937) paintings, in which he incorporates motifs from Iranian folklore and Shici folk art. The term is then applied to a loosely affiliated group of artists who blend traditional elements and Western techniques, credited with initiating the modern art movement in Iran. In this year, the Exhibition of Iranian Contemporary Painters travels through the United States, the first modern Iranian art show to be presented there.

The shah launches the White Revolution, which aims at many social reforms, including raising literacy, reforming land ownership laws, and improving rights for industrial workers and women. Many clergy, including the Ayatollah Khomeini (1900–1989), lead uprisings against the shah; Khomeini is exiled in 1964.
1966 The fifth and last biennial is held at the Ethnographic Museum in Tehran. It includes artists from Turkey and Pakistan.

at the Shiraz Festival 1976
The first Shiraz Cultural Festival is inaugurated by Queen Farah Pahlavi.
1971 Iran occupies some Iraqi islands in the Persian Gulf and retains the territory after a 1975 settlement.
1977 The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art is inaugurated. It is designed and directed by Kamran Diba (born 1937), the queen’s cousin.

Jalal Al Ahmad’s book Westoxication (Gharbzadagi) is openly distributed for the first time since its release in 1960.

While the country has prospered from oil sales and the shah has initiated various development projects, many Iranians are angry with the uneven distribution of wealth and the shah’s refusal to comply with all aspects of the 1906 constitution. Demonstrations against his rule begin in 1976 and reach a head in 1979, when he is forced to flee the country. Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile in France to claim power. He announces the Islamic Republic of Iran and institutes a new constitution. The arrival of this government signals a shift in the direction the country is heading, away from Western-style reforms and toward the revival of Islamic traditions. Foreign arts and music are banned and women must wear the hejab; many Westernized Iranians leave the country. When the shah is allowed entrance to the United States for medical care, a group of the ayatollah’s student supporters occupy the American embassy to protest the shah’s ties to the U.S. Some of the people trapped in the building are immediately released, but some fifty-two remain hostage for 444 days.






Oil is discovered and rights to drill for the next sixty years are granted to the British entrepreneur William Darcy, who is to split his profits with the Qajar government. The British government buys out Darcy in 1909 and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company is founded in London, with the two administrations as business partners.



Iranian Culture and Art Institute Frontier Theme