Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Expansion of Turkoman Khanates in Medieval Times

During the late Middle Ages, just about the same time that the Renaissance had begun in Europe, the Khans began to extend their power into Russia, Persia and India.  They ruled areas within the borders of those countries as we see the named countries on the map today.  The borders were not the same in that era, of course.

The point of this blog is not about power but about cultural influence.  We have written recently about the major sport of the Mongol people which naturally takes place on horseback. We know it in the West as polo.  Among the Turkmen in Afghanistan it is called buz kashi.

As the khanates expanded the sport went with them.  The Mongols who settled in Persia influenced the people they found there.  I will point to just one great example of that in this blog.

Antique Persian Miniature Handpainted on Mother of Pearl from Iran

This antique fine art is painted with a very fine brush on mother of pearl. The scene is a classic scene showing the Mongol Persian invention of the game of polo. Men on horseback engage in a mock combat to make goals with an object that they bat around with sticks while remaining on horseback. 

The horses must be swift and agile. The artists varied in their ability to paint the horses as they really were. After all, the artist is not usually the athlete who engages in contact sport. 

This piece of art is not only traditional in its content, but also in the technique of creating the Isfahan school of miniatures in the 1800s. 

The artist used the traditional technique of building up layers of lacquered pigment. The underlay is of thinly applied gold. Then the artist goes to work with a brush made of a single hair for much of the scene, especially the plants and outlines of the figures. 

The under layer of gold pigment gives the art a special glow that adds to the luminescence of the pearl base. 

The Isfahan school of Persian miniature art flourished from the 1400s to the 1700s when it was at its height. After that time, the masters began to explore more naturalistic themes and departed from the action narratives as their subject, usually a scene based on one of the cultural mythic subjects such as warfare, hunting, or court scenes. 

The mother of pearl became a desirable base for the masters of the 1800s; this piece fits into that later period of the Isfahan school of Persian miniatures. I collected it in Teheran, Iran in 1971. This particular piece was evidently chipped at the time of the painting or in the shaping of the original piece of shell. The chip is old and shares the same patina of the overall piece. The bottom outline of the painting ends above the tiny chip. 

Measurements: 4.4 cm (1.75 inches) x 6.6 cm (2.6 inches)   More information at this link:

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