Some observations on Iranian miniature reproduction

Sheila Canby has been a tireless promoter of Iranian art; she was the curator of the recent show on Shah Abbas; and has published a number of books (see a list here).  Reviewing all her books leads one to four observations:

1.  The lover of Iranian painting is doomed to never seeing it.  It’s locked up as too fragile to show, when shown it is dimly lit behind reflective glass, when reproduced in books, the reproductions are too small and too low resolution to see anything.

2.  The quality of book reproduction has dramatically improved within the last decade:  something happened around Anno Domini 2001/2002: either a technological breakthrough or a new marketing concept.  Whatever the cause, let us praise it: books published since then are generally much better.

3.  But not all:  the Shah Abbas exhibition catalog published last year contains miniature reproductions; but though the book is in large format, which would have allowed some of these paintings to be reproduced at 1:1, they aren’t.  The designer does not use the full space of the page but only half, or sometimes a quarter (leaving enough necessary room for “words, words, words”?).  The most ridiculous instances of book-designer brainlessness  are cases of format mismatch:  e.g. cases in which a horizontal picture is reproduced on a vertical page (or vice-versa) with the rest of the page left blank.  Simply rotating the reproduction would have allowed one to show the picture at twice the size.  Somehow that does not happen.  I want to send these idiots hate-mail.

4. A closer look at those reproductions which are given in sufficient magnification and size raises one’s hair:  so many are smeared and damaged.  The medium is opaque watercolor on paper.  The paint easily smears, stains and flakes.  And it does.

A few out-takes from Sheila’s books follow. The black and white page contrasts a sketch by Reza-yi Abbasi with an European print after Raphael which he might have seen.  The three court scenes are from 1700’s — an often overlooked period and style of Iranian painting. (Lately, interest is reviving in Qajjar period paintings of which… in another post).

2 responses

  1. Alright — I quit — my job, that is — so I can devote more time to studying all these posts.

    I so enjoyed that drawing by Reza-yi Abbasi — it blew that European print out of the water — as well as those Qajar court scenes – which are rather painful.

    But who did the other Persian reclining nude?
    (which is also a great thing) — or the wonderful painting at the beginning of the post?

    August 30, 2010 at 00:20

  2. Well, Sir C,

    your eye is unfailing and recognizes true master even in the dark — a lion knows the royal cub by instinct! — : all the paintings you ask about, as well as the one with Khusrau — that would be chesroes to you — punching the lion dead, are all by Reza Abbasi. About whom Sheila Canby has a good, and surprisingly well (ie large-sized) illustrated, book.

    August 30, 2010 at 10:26

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