The Persian art of decorating book covers influenced European styles

Persian artists  introduced a range of innovative ideas, both technical as well as artistic …

Persian miniature painting  transformed book covering into an elaborate art form.

One of a pair of painted covers. Persia, late 16th century. Private Collection, LondonImage: The Institute of Ismaili Studies
One of a pair of lacquer painted covers. Persia, late 16th century. Private Collection, London
Image: The Institute of Ismaili Studies

The art of binding and the protection of scripts are as old as writing itself. The contribution made by Musli craftsmen has been a significant element in the history of this craft and the contribution of Persian craftsmen is particularly important. It was Persian artists who introduced a range of innovative ideas, both technical as well as artistic, and these were to have a profound impact on subsequent bindings and decorative styles. In the earlier period of book production within the Islamic world, book covers were generally decorated in a restrained manner. However, around the sixteenth century, Persia took a lead in artistic styles thereby initiating a glorious period for Persian book crafts.

New methods of book production and completely revolutionary techniques were introduced and these were to have a lasting impact on Islamic book production for centuries to come.

The increased interest  in the arts of the book and binding was due to the academy and library established about 1420 by Baisunghur Mirza, the grandson of Timur*. A patron of the arts, Baisunghur greatly influenced the development of Persian miniature painting which transformed book covering into an elaborate art form.

The main areas of innovation centred on painted book covers, in effect treating many of these bindings as a vehicle for painting, similar to that undertaken by miniaturists such as elaborate gilding, stamped covers, lacquer painted covers. Persian craftsmen introduced a range of extraordinary innovations that had a lasting effect not only in the Muslim world but also on European binders.

*Founder of the Timurid dynasty, of Central Asian nomadic origin that dominated the Middle East and Central Asia in the 14th & 15th centuries.

Adapted from Delicacy and Harmony in Persian Book Covers, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Research by Nimira Dewji


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