Study of Shiite iconography along with artistic decorations in Iranian illustration

Study of Shiite iconography along with artistic decorations in Iranian illustration

in the name of God

Title: Study and study of Shiite iconography with artistic decorations in Iranian illustration, based on selected works from the Museum of Manuscripts and Cultural Works, Art of Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi


Study and Analysis of Shiite Religious Iconography accompanied by Artistic Decorations in Iranian Pictography, Depend On Selective Artworks of Dr Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi’s Museum

Title: Study and study of Shiite iconography with artistic decorations in Iranian illustration, based on selected works from the Museum of Manuscripts and Cultural Works, Art of Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi

Abstract: Religious iconography can be considered as one of the elements of Shiite art, which is reflected in the important fields of Iranian painting and thus provides a study of Shiite elements in Islamic art. In the meantime, some regimes have tried to pursue politics through art and culture, thereby revealing the legitimacy of their monarchy, which has not been ineffective in creating such works. The Museum of Manuscripts of Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi contains works on iconography, which mainly belong to the Qajar period. In addition to being documents about Shiite art, these works are a kind of indicator of the type and style of illustration along with the art of gilding and other decorative elements. The present study tries to rely on these works to examine the deep connection between art and religion and to point out the style of decoration and illustration in their periods.

Objectives of the article:

  1. Introducing the styles and type of Shiite iconography in Iranian illustration, based on the selected works of Dr. Mahfouzi Museum.
  2. Proving the deep connection between art and religion through the analysis of selected works from Dr. Mahfouzi Museum.

Article questions:

  1. What kind of features and decorative style do the works of art in question have in Shiite iconography?
  2. By what themes do the selected works of art reveal the deep connection between art and religion?

Keywords: iconography, decorations, Shiite, protected museum.

  • PhD, President and Founder of the Anthropological Encyclopedia Center, Museum of Manuscripts and Cultural
  • Works of Art Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi email:


Depicting the statues of mythical kings and heroes has been common in pre-Islamic Iran. However, iconography or depiction of religious figures with Shiite themes has probably become common since the late Al-Buwayh era, which mostly has Ashura themes and images of Imam Ali (as). It is noteworthy that the social developments of different Islamic periods in Iran have always affected the styles of such works. Because with the recognition of the Shiite religion in the Safavid era, Shiite iconography has also expanded dramatically, which has become popular with painting on the wall and by public painters. This tradition has a wider dimension in the Qajar period and includes spaces such as Tekiyeh, Hosseinieh, Saqakhaneh and coffee house spaces. Has also penetrated. Of course, each of these spaces had images with their own subjects, for example, the images of the Saqakhans, images of the ruler of the martyrs, Imam Hussein (AS) and the Saqqa of Karbala, Hazrat Abolfazl (AS) with severed hands.

By creating paintings with the subjects of Shiite iconography, these artists have always tried to evoke a ray of divine light through the works in the minds of the audience. This type of imagery, which has Shiite themes, has always been formed under the influence of the tendency of the society and the rulers of the time to the Shiite religion, in order to legitimize their rule.

There are works from different Islamic periods regarding iconography in the Museum of Manuscripts and Cultural Works, art of Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi, which introduces the personalities of Shiite Imams (AS) and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) with religious themes, which are mainly They have gilded decorations on the edges and gilding. These iconography, painted by various artists, show the deep connection between Shiite art and religion in their time and the influential developments of the time on the creation of such works. All of these examples have a unique artistic feature in terms of iconography and related decorations, which are important in terms of introducing the style of illustration and occupy a valuable place in the art of Iranian-Islamic painting. The subjects, lines and decorations used in these works are unique in their kind and make it necessary to study about them.

These works, which include themes related to the event of the Ascension of the Prophet (PBUH) along with the images of Imam Ali (AS) and Hasnain (AS), show the deep connection between the Shiite religion and the art of Islamic illustration, with the skillful style of Shiite elements. Introduce. In fact, the mentioned cases are among the objectives of the present study, and also the study and study in this regard leads to an effective relationship between religious activists and experts in the field of art.

The present study tries to provide explanations about iconography in Iran and mention some cases about the style of such works, and introduces the examples in the Museum of Manuscripts of Dr. Mahfoozi, which has an colorful place in this field from an artistic point of view. have given .

History of religious iconography in Iran

In fact, it is a traditional iconography that is included in the scope of religious art. Images of religious figures have always been depicted in abstract and cryptic language. This style of art, which has been influenced by religious prohibitions and affirmations throughout the period, contains concepts about the social changes of societies, which themselves express the legitimacy of the rule of the rulers of the time.

The position and appearance of religion in the subjects of iconography is quite obvious, because in most cases it evokes the Islamic tradition in the mind of the audience, and for this reason it has been supported in previous eras. Iconography in pre-Islamic Iran is one of the art forms of illustration that depicts the faces of Iranian heroes and mythological figures.

As mentioned before, iconography in the Islamic era is mostly based on Shiite themes, which has played a colorful role since the Al-Buwayh period. The rulers of Dailami in the fourth and fifth centuries AH established a government based on Shiite principles, and in the seventh century AH, with the establishment of the Mongols, scholars such as Khajeh Nasir Tusi and his student Allameh Helli formed the content of Shiite teachings in Iran. . After that, with the conversion of Ghazan Khan to Islam in 496-710 AH and more importantly, the acceptance of the Shiite religion by Mohammad Khodabandeh or Oljaito, the way was provided for the growth of this religion in Iran. After the Ilkhanids, Shiite scholars and many sects made it possible to prepare Shiite culture for the Timurid period and accept it as the official religion in the Safavid period (Irfan, 2006: 41).

In fact, it can be seen that the history of Shiite iconography in Iran coincides with the history of the rulers of this land. Because politics and other developments in society have always influenced the style and context of such works. For example, in the Timurid period, the practice of supporting cultural and artistic activities was closely related to the political tendencies and position of the Timurid rulers. After them, the Safavids were in many ways the inheritors of the brilliant artistic traditions of the Timurid court (Hosseini, Tavousi, 2006: 59).

The choice of the Shiite religion as the official religion of the country in the Safavid era, in which the Ghezelbash played a significant role, had a significant impact on art, especially illustration.

After Safavid, the main movement in the formation of iconography in Iran was done by artists of the Qajar period, and the spread of religious literature and the tendency of people to religious themes, led to the seriousness of iconography in later periods. In fact, at this time, a branch of painting that was influenced by Iranian painting and became associated with the aesthetic features of Qajar period painting, reached the stage of emergence, along with one of the most important manifestations of religious art, called coffee painting. A house is formed (Afshari, 2007: 38) (Bashir, 2006,: 235 – 234).

It is noteworthy that one of the most important reasons for the formation of the iconography tradition has been the spread of poetic and prose literary texts and themes related to the Imams, because many of these iconography, which represented an event, are always performed by unveiling. Have accepted. Also, theatrical sources and texts such as taziyeh have played an important role in the formation of specific Islamic iconography, which has not been ineffective in gaining its place in the world arena (Marzolph, 2001: 232).

The study of examples or works of iconography of previous periods shows that the peak of this tradition with Shiite themes, in terms of breadth and variety, has taken place in the Qajar era. What is important here is Iran’s position in the field of art, that is, a stage between Safavid painting and the beginning of Western influence. It is at this time that artists embrace a different style and offer a tradition to the people of their community to express the secrets of the heart.

Icon styles and decorations of Islamic periods in Iran

Shiite iconography thematically contains a deep connection between religion and art. This connection has taken place in many ways from the social changes of societies, and this tradition, which is a completely different field, tries to offer a special effect of art to the audience by playing a role in buildings, paintings, and so on.

The artist has always tried to use symbolism in such works, for example, one of these symbols is a sacred halo around the heads of people, which represents a religious figure. Hierarchical composition or hierarchy is also one of the methods of artists in creating Shiite or religious iconography. In this composition, they specify the hierarchy or place and time of a religious person. In the paintings, a person who belongs to another time is placed farther away from others in the composition of the position (Nasiri, 1389: 56 and 60).

One of the topics that has always been the inspiration of Muslim artists in different eras as the greatest epic in the history of Islam and Shia is the event of Ashura. is .

In fact, these works had a very diverse and wide scope of performance, which was manifested along with a variety of performance methods and different religious themes. Types of these works include coffee house painting, dervish curtains, painting behind glass, mural painting, book painting and painting on tools and instruments, which themselves have the methods of painting and oil painting on canvas, fabric, painting on tiles, painting. Lithography, painting behind glass, painting on plaster, engraving and…. have been . On the other hand, these icons were based on the theme of individual and collective icons. The subjects of individual icons are generally related to the images of Imams such as Imam Ali (AS) and Imam Hussein (AS) and., And the subjects of collective icons are mainly related to the events surrounding the prophets and saints. Among them, we can mention the event of Ashura, the ascension of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), the image of five people and ((Afshari, 2007: 29).

In the coffee house paintings, the body design and the image of the parents have always had close similarities, and the artists have tried to differentiate between them with minor changes in the clothes and tools of these religious figures. In iconography, parents are always depicted in a state of calm, sobriety and serenity, along with a state of strength and toughness. In many cases, the face is designed with a round face and a three-faced angle with large eyes, which shows the general similarity between the faces of the parents (Ghazizadeh, 2006: 53 and 55).

Shiite artists have tried to reflect the thought, thought and devotion to the family of the Prophet (PBUH) and the Imams and especially the person of Imam Ali (AS) as well as topics such as Quranic verses, the Ascension of the Prophet (PBUH) and در in their works. . Today, unfortunately, many of the works that have themes in this regard can be seen outside the borders of Iran, which have attracted the attention of foreign thinkers and experts. All of these works are considered as a kind of document about the study of Islamic art (Blair-Bloom, 2003: 177).

Icons of the paintings in the Museum of Manuscripts and Cultural Works, by Dr. Mahfouzi

Icons of paintings in the Museum of Manuscripts and Cultural Works, art of Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi, in most cases depicting the characters of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Hazrat Fatima (PBUH), Hazrat Ali (AS) and Hasnain (AS) and The slaves and their relatives are depicted.

Among these works, selected examples are evaluated and analyzed. These works, which show the social changes of their time, have a valuable place from an artistic point of view and therefore require study and study in this regard. The presence of Shiite imams in the mentioned works, which emphasizes the deep connection between religion and art in Iranian-Islamic works, indicates that Iranian artists have benefited from Shiite elements due to social changes and the policies of the rulers of their time.

In one of the most prominent of these works, which represents the image of Imam Ali (AS) and Hasnain (AS) along with Abu Dharr and Ghanbar 1 (Picture No. 1), the artist has tried to show the character of Imam Ali (AS) in the center of the work. Also, the magnification of the image of that Imam shows his important and spiritual position in the Shiite religion and especially in Islam. Usually Imam Ali (AS) and Hasnain (AS) and other mentioned personalities are depicted with a halo of light around the vinegar, which shows holiness. In most cases, they have a principled composition, because the artist has tried to show the hierarchy and position of people through how they are placed in the work (Figures 6, 5 and 4).

  1. Ghanbar is a person who has been introduced in some sources as the keeper of Zulfiqar sword (Shayestehfar, Behzadi, 2004: 37).

Enjoying the colorful and geometric space in the works, doubles their beauty and also the use of green color in decoration as well as covering people shows that the artist has tried to associate religious effects in the mind of the audience (Image No. 1) . Most of the works in question have beautiful inscription decorations around and between the central geometric space, along with elaborate gilding and gilding in the margins (Figure 1).

Picture No. 1: The image of Imam Ali (AS) and Hasnain (AS) and Abu Dharr and Ghanbar, gilding and gilding around, by Abolhassan Ghaffari, Qajar period. .

The creation of these inscriptions, which are accompanied by the words of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), emphasizes the rightful succession of Imam Ali (AS). On the other hand, the variety of colors and elegance of the designs in these works indicate their important place in Islamic art (Figure 1). The artist has been successful in showing the spiritual strength and authority of Imam Ali (AS) and has also portrayed the attributes of innocence and honesty of Hasnain (AS) in the best way in these icons (Images No. 6, 5, 4 and 1 ).

In most cases, the creators of the works have tried to create a symbolic and philosophical practice by showing very beautiful and various geometric and plant letters and shapes, along with inscriptions that express the names of God and the words of the saints. It should be noted that this operation is in most cases associated with a unique geometric order and the principle of symmetry (Figures 3 and 1). The circle is one of the most complete forms and a symbol of lightness and soul movement in Islamic art. In some of the works, the artist has tried to show the circular course of the sky in his works by using it (Picture No. 1).

The use of geometric shapes has always been common in Islamic art as well as among the craftsmen of the Islamic world. Benefiting from this element has been widely used in Islamic architecture. Circles, polygons, squares, triangles and can be used in Islamic art. He pointed out that the artists of the works in question have been successful in creating them (Figure 1) (Ozdural, 2000, p: 195). (Abdullahi, Bin Embi, 2013, p: 250).

The use of geometric patterns from the fifth century AH in the creation of works of art has gained special importance (Frost, 2006: 33 and 29). Illustration of group and individual icons 2 (Figure 2) with the center showing the religious personality and emphasizing the existence of angels above or around the people in the works in question, in addition to the spiritual environmental association, to introduce the artistic style of the Qajar period (Picture No. 2). Separating the background spaces as well as the work surface from the frames and edges, which are accompanied by linear and ribbon decorations, has been done very artistically and beautifully.

Image No. 2: The image of Imam Ali (AS) and the angels, the margins of gilding, the work of Master Abolhossein Sani Homayoun, Qajar period.

This style of work, which was done along with simple and complex designs, has led to the double beauty of the works. Also, the use of architecture in the foundation of works can be considered as an indicator of dynamic and desirable balance (Figure 2).

Other major artistic features in these works include the creation of gilded decorations in the margins as well as gold inscriptions (Figures 5 and 3). In some cases, the change in the halo of light around the heads of religious figures was considered a symbol of holiness. It shows a change in the style of this type of illustration. The method of changing the circle as a sacred halo to flames, which has been common since the Timurid era, shows the continuation of a kind of artistic style in the works in question (Figure 3).

Picture No. 3: The image of Imam Ali (AS) and Gholam Ghanbar, the gilding margins and the inscriptions in gold around it, by Master Rajabali. (Archive of the Museum of Manuscripts and Cultural Works, Art.

Show the symbol of holiness of people in

Images, which in some cases were made by choosing colors, can be one of the unique values ​​of these works. The use of green as a halo of light around the heads of religious figures shows the importance of this color in Islamic art as well as Shiite culture (Figure 4), which in the view of the Creator has had the effect of emphasizing the color of heaven. Also, the presence of angels in such works has shown the creation of a spiritual and heavenly atmosphere in the work (images No. 8, 6, 4 and 2).

Picture No. 4: The image of Imam Ali (AS) and Hasnain (AS) and angels, gilding and inscription margins, pen of Master Ismail Naghashbashi. (Archive of the Museum of Manuscripts and Cultural Works, Art of Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi).

The presence of Al-Kursi verse along with the motifs of plants and also the variety of colors for decoration are among the cases through which the artists have tried to add divine and beautiful effects to the works. The presence of poems in Nasta’liq script and having a blue background also shows a different style of Iranian-Islamic art that reflects the aesthetic aspect of the works (Figure 5).

Picture No. 5: The image of Imam Ali (AS) and Hasnain (AS).

One of the unique styles of the selected works of Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi Museum is the presence of two subjects in one work. Showing the event of the Ascension of the Prophet (PBUH) along with the presence of Imam Ali (AS) and Hasnain (AS), is a sign of Shiite art that by choosing the best symbolic colors, shows a space with spiritual authority (Figure 6).

Picture No. 6: The image of Imam Ali (AS) and Hasnain (AS), and Abu Dharr and Ghanbar and the Ascension of the Prophet (PBUH) riding on Baraq, the work of Master Agha Mostafa. Protected).

The study of the mentioned works indicates that the artists, adhering to the Iranian painting tradition, have tried to show the spiritual atmosphere of these works extraterrestrial and show their understanding of the heavenly structure of subjects such as Ascension (Figure 6), so that Be victorious in reflecting its content expression.

Applying design style in individual iconography, and observing the principle of centrality of people along with plant motifs, as well as using geometric volumes such as circles and squares can also indicate the artistic features of the works in question (Figure 7).

Picture No. 7: The image of Hazrat Ali (AS), design with Quranic verses, the work of the golden master of Shirazi pen. (Archive of the Museum of Manuscripts and Cultural Works, Art of Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi).

In Islamic art, the use of white color as a unity of colors, which has been used as a symbol of monotheism in the creation of works of art (Ghazizadeh, Khazaei, 2005: 8). In iconography, artists have tried to show the importance of white in Islamic art by covering the faces of religious figures that appeared to be white veils. In a way, refraining from portraying the blessed faces of certain personalities such as Hazrat Fatima (PBUH) and Hazrat Rasool (PBUH) (Figure No. 8), shows the religious prejudice of the artist and their important religious status. Creating a halo of light that can be associated with the artistic style of other lands by two consecutive circles (Figure 8).

Picture No. 8: The image of Hazrat Prophet (PBUH) and Hazrat Ali (AS) and Hazrat Fatemeh (AS) Wedding ceremony, act of Master Ali Mohammad Esfahani, (Archive of the Museum of Manuscripts and Cultural Works, Art of Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi).

Another symbolic feature in the iconography of Dr. Mahfouzi’s museum works is the use of khaki by artists, which can emphasize the relationship between body and soil. In most cases, the color of water and sky was considered in the background, which can indicate the importance of this color in iconography. The use of blue in the clothing of religious people can be a sign of happiness and purity of water, which is consistent with the themes of some of the iconographic works in question. (Picture No. 8).

Examining and evaluating the existing icons, it can be said that Muslim artists in creating these iconography have always tried to avoid direct symbolism, by taking advantage of symbolic illustration arrangements in the heart of the works, as works with Make the special features of traditional painting tangible and believable (Figures 8, 6, 5 and 4).


Examination and evaluation in the iconographic process of selected works shows the effect of time imagery schools on the samples in question. These works, which show the manifestations of religious art in painting, have indicated the emergence of this tradition in the Qajar era. Addressing Shiite and religious themes is one of the cases that best shows the deep connection between art and religion. The study of these works also shows that the relatively long rule of the Qajar kings and the relative calm that followed the terrible wars of Iran with the Uzbeks and the weakening of the Ottoman government, which was considered the enemy of Shiite Iran, caused Iranians to be more free Shiite beliefs Show yourself by creating such works.

What dominates these works has been the audience’s relationship with the subject and content of the icons. In a way, the artist has tried to create these works in order to make the audience aware of the important position of religious figures and their spiritual characteristics.

The words of the Prophet, the divine revelations and the names of the saints and the Lord are among the subjects of the inscriptions of the selected works. In addition to the decorative aspects, these inscriptions express the colorful and important place of calligraphy in Islamic art, which has doubled their spiritual aspects. This type of inscription can express the understanding between art and religion, which is a kind of genius. Iranian artists and their works are displayed. In fact, the works in question reveal the religious status of Iranian artists and rulers of their time.

The presence of gilding as the most significant decoration in these works and also the presence of plant motifs along with the creation of images of religious figures are common themes of these examples, which all indicate the connection between Iranian-Islamic art and Shiite religion.


Persian sources


  1. Afshari, Morteza (2007) “Imagination, the founder of iconography in the modern sense”, Book of the Month of Art, August and September, pp. 44-38
  2. Afrough, Mohammad (2011) “Shiite Themes and Elements in Safavid Art with a Look at the Art of Carpet Weaving, Painting and Metalworking”, Journal of Iranian Studies, Faculty of Literature and Humanities, Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman, 10th year, No. Of the twentieth pp. 52-25.
  3. Hosseini, Seyed Hashem, Tavousi, Mahmoud (2006) “The evolution of the art of inscription painting in the Safavid era according to the Safavid inscriptions in the collection of the holy shrine of Imam Reza (AS)” Book of the month of art. April and May, pp. 64-58.
  4. Shayestehfar, Mahnaz, Behzadi, Mehran (2004) “A Study of the Holy Name of Hazrat Ali (AS) on Applied Arts in the Safavid and Qajar Periods in the National Museum of Iran”, Bi-Quarterly Journal of Islamic Art, No. 1, p. 137.
  5. Erfan, Mohammad (2006) “Icon Painting in Timurid and Safavid Art of Shiite Art”, Book of the Month of Art, April and May, pp. 44 – 40.
  6. Frost, Maryam (2006) “Uniformity of inscriptions and geometric patterns in the buildings of Isfahan in the Safavid era” Bi-Quarterly Journal of Islamic Art Studies, third year, fifth issue, autumn and winter of Tehran. Pp. 44 – 25.
  7. Ghazizadeh, Khashayar (2006) “Characteristics of the image of Hazrat Abul-Fazl Al-Abbas (AS) in the works of a coffee house”, Nagreh Analytical-Research Quarterly, No. 2 and 3, Spring and Summer, pp. 65-53.
  8. Ghazizadeh, Khashayar, Khazaei, Mohammad (2005) “Authorities of color in seven military figures and its manifestation in a sample of paintings”, Bi-Quarterly Journal of Islamic Art Studies, Year 2, Issue 3, Fall-Winter, pp. 24-7 .
  9. Nasiri, Amir (2010) “Iconography and Iconology Approach in Art Studies”, The Growth of Art Education, Volume 8, Number 1, Autumn. Pp. 62 – 56.

Non-Persian sources and references

Alpay و O¨ zdural (2000 », Mathematics and Arts: Connections between Theory and Practice in the Medieval Islamic World,« Historia Mathematica 27, pp 171–201

Sheila, S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom (Mar., 2003), »The Mirage of Islamic Art: Reflections on the Study of an Unwieldy Field« Vol. 85, No. 1 pp. 152-184Published

Yahya Abdullahin, Mohamed Rashid Bin Embi, (2013) »Evolution of Islamic geometric patterns,« 2 number, Frontiers of Architectural Research p: 250.

Shahzad Bashir (February 2006), Shah Ismail and Qizilbash: cannibalism in the religious history of early safavid Iran «chicago journals, vol 45, no 3, pp. 234-256.

Ulrich, Marzolph, (2001) »Persian PopularLiterature in the Qajar Period«, Nanzan University, Vol. 6.0, No. 2, pp. 215-236.

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