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Iranian art forms have a long tradition and distinctive style, as exemplified in architecture, carpets, ceramics, metalware, painting, and woodwork. Government patronage of artists dates from more than 2,000 years ago. Aesthetic ideals predating the Islamic conquest of the 7th century, such as stylized figural representation and geometric shapes, influenced the evolution of art in Iran during the early Islamic period (650-1220). Examples of elaborately decorated bronze, ceramic, gold, and silver objects from this period are preserved in museums. Persian poetry also developed during this time, and works by several poets of the period are considered classic literature. During the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722), considered a golden age for Iranian art, miniature painting and architecture reached their highest point of development. In the 20th century Iranian artists and writers began experimenting with new styles and techniques, incorporating European and East Asian influences into their work.


A:   Literature

From its beginnings in the 9th century, Modern Persian literature was dominated by poetry. Important poets of the 9th through the 12th century include Rudaki, noted for his qasidas (panegyrics, or written works of praise); Firdawsi, who wrote the famous epic of pre-Islamic Iran, the Shahnameh (completed in 1010); Omar Khayyam, author of the famous Rubلiyلt; and Nezami, who wrote the collection known as Khamseh (Quintet). Persian poetry reached its height in the 13th and 14th centuries with mystical poets Jalal al-Din Rumi, Sa’di, and Hafiz. Subsequently, Persian literature declined, and for nearly five centuries both poetry and prose remained uninspired imitation of past masters. A literary revival began in the late 19th century and has continued to the present. Fiction, especially in the form of the short story, has emerged as a new and important genre. Modern Iranian writers include Mashid Amirshahi, Simin Daneshvar, Ismail Fassih, Houshang Golshiri, and Moshen Makhmalbaf (who also directs films). Writers may explore many themes that were prohibited prior to the 1979 revolution, such as political freedom, rebellion against authority, satire of monarchy, and fictional accounts of suffering under the Pahlavi dynasty. However, since the revolution, works deemed to be anti-religious have been banned. See also Persian Literature.


B:   Art and Architecture

Persian art and architecture first developed in the time of Persian king Cyrus the Great (6th century bc) and experienced a renaissance during the Sassanid dynasty (224-651 ad)


. After the Islamic conquest, the mosque became the major building type, and several new styles of painting developed and thrived during the Safavid era (1501-1722).


The 1979 revolution ushered in a period of renewed creativity in fine and applied arts. The proliferation of exhibits sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, by various museums, and by private galleries inspired artistic creativity in mediums as diverse as calligraphy, graphic art, painting, photography, pottery, and sculpture. The boom in public and private construction following the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) provided new opportunities for architects. Most new buildings have tended to be updated versions of the structures they replaced. Some younger architects have been experimenting with designs that incorporate traditional architectural motifs into contemporary buildings. In textile arts, younger designers continue to experiment with new patterns and color schemes for hand-knotted carpets and woven coverings. See also Iranian Art and Architecture.


C:   Music and Dance

Iranian musical tradition is marked by unique vocal styles and rich solo instrumental performance. Since the 1979 revolution, there has been a major revival of interest in Iranian traditional and folk music, both of which are aired regularly on government-run radio and television stations. Popular nationally known singers and performers of traditional music include Hossein Alizadeh, Mohammad Reza Lofti, Shahram Nazari, and Mohammad Shajarian. However, every town has locally famous singers. Traditional musical instruments include the kamلnche, or spiked fiddle; the santur, a stringed instrument similar to the hammer dulcimer; the setar, which resembles a lute; and the tar, an ancestor of the guitar. Many Iranian musicians have acquired international reputations as virtuoso performers of these instruments. The most popular folk troupes are those performing Azeri Turkish, Kurdish, and Luri music, as well as Persian seafaring songs from the Persian Gulf coast.


D:   Theater and Film

A type of passion play called ta’zia, depicting events of Shia religious history, developed during the Safavid era (1501-1722) and enjoyed great popularity during Qajar rule (1794-1925). Influenced by increased European contact, playwrights of the 19th and early 20th centuries wrote satires that often called for reform. During the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979), plays were typically patriotic and pro-Western. Since the 1979 revolution, which sought to promote Islamic values, the government has encouraged playwrights but has prohibited plays considered immoral or antireligious.

Iranian filmmakers produced the first Iranian feature films in the early 1930s and have made more than 1,000 movies since then. Iranian directors often also write the screenplays for their movies. During the 1990s several Iranian films won awards at international film festivals. Award-winning filmmakers include Bahram Bayzai, Abbas Kiarostami, Majid Majidi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Dariush Mehrjui. In 1997 Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry won the prestigious Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) award for best film at the Cannes Film Festival, and in 1999 Majidi’s Children of Heaven was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film of 1998.


E:   Libraries and Museums

Of Iranian cities, Tehrān has the largest number of museums, including Iran Bastan Museum (Museum of Ancient Iran), which displays archaeological objects unearthed at Iran's pre-Islamic sites. Tehrān’s museums also include Abgineh va Sofalineh Museum, a museum of glass art and ceramics with hundreds of chronologically displayed exhibits, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, which specializes in Iranian and international painting and sculpture. Other major museums are located in Eşfahān, Mashhad, Qom, and Shīrāz. Since 1979 the government has constructed museums in more than 25 provincial capitals. The National Library of Iran, located in Tehrān, houses many valuable manuscripts and historical documents. Public libraries exist in hundreds of municipalities.




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