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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh College of Art : History of Art

Undergraduate Course: Tales of Love and Violence: An Epic History of Persian Painting (12th-20th century) (HIAR10192)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh College of Art CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe Shahnama or 'Book of Kings' is a masterpiece of world literature and foundational to Iranian cultural identity. Shahnama manuscripts have been illustrated with paintings since the medieval period and the text continues to inspire artists until today. In this course examples from the rich corpus of painted and later also printed illustrations of the Shahnama will function as case studies to explain the development of Persian art, especially painting. This course examines how the paintings visualizing stories of the Shahnama, which feature heroes, monstrous beasts and lovers in despair among others, did not only illustrate especially important sections of the book, but also functioned as commentary on contemporary politics. The course takes advantage of the collection of Persian manuscripts of the University and the National Museum of Scotland and, where possible, involves hands-on exercises.
Course description This course will provide an introduction to the history of Persian painting and literature by focusing on the epic of the Shahnama or 'Book of Kings'. This masterpiece of world literature was penned by the poet Firdawsi in the 11th century and the text remains of enormous cultural significance even now. Each new era saw new copies of the Shahnama created, often illustrated by the country's most important artists. The Shahnama provides a complex picture of Iran's experience of monarchic rule, the country's relations with eastern and western neighbours, and the values of civilised society. The epic features accounts of heroic tales, such as the combat with monstrous beasts as well as dangerous voyages and fateful battles, but also love stories and tales of gargantuan feasts. This course will analyse Persian painting from Shahnama manuscripts from different periods, including the Timurid, Safavid and Qajar eras, ending with today's artistic interpretations of this defining work of Persian literature. While we will discuss the mythological, historical and cultural context of the paintings and the accompanying text, we will also analyse how the Shahnama and especially its paintings have been used to convey political messages, adapted to the specific period. This includes Firdawsi's own references to the Arab conquest of Iran, bringing with it the introduction of Islam, and in much more recent times, anti-Nazi caricatures based on the Shahnama and circulated by the Allied Forces in Iran during World War Two.
This course will provide students with an introduction to the history of art and literature of Iran, while also discussing Chinese, Ottoman and European influences on Persian painting. Students will continue to hone their skills in both visual and textual analysis and study objects in detail. This course will introduce the students to lesser-known, yet vital topics of the global history of art, thereby continuing themes introduced in History of Art 1b.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: History of Art 2A Reason, Romance, Revolution: Art from 1700 to 1900 (HIAR08027) AND History of Art 2B From Modernism and the Avant-Gardes to Postmodernism and Globalisation (HIAR08028) OR Architectural History 2a: Order & the City (ARHI08006) AND Architectural History 2b: Culture & the City (ARHI08007) AND
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 History of Art courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses. As numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate skills of visual analysis and interpretation of pre-modern and modern paintings ¿their material and iconographic aspects.
  2. Show in-depth understanding of the history of Persian painting and Iranian art, and a detailed knowledge of selected key works
  3. Convey their knowledge of the ¿Shahnama¿ as a masterpiece of world literature and the relationship between text and images in its illustrated copies.
  4. Articulate a critical awareness of the way in which this book and its illustrations have been used to make political statements through the ages.
  5. Confidently identify, conceptualise and express novel problems raised by the material
Reading List
Dick Davis, Shahnameh: the Persian Book of Kings (London and New York: Penguin Books, 2016).

Sheila Canby, The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp: the Persian Book of Kings (New Haven and New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Distributed by Yale University Press, 2011).

Julia Gonnella and Christoph Rauch, eds. Heroic Times: a Thousand Years of the Persian Book of Kings (Berlin: Edition Minerva, 2012).

Oleg Grabar. Mostly Miniatures: an Introduction to Persian Painting (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).

Marianna Shreve Simpson. The Illustration of an Epic: the Earliest Shahnama Manuscripts (New York: Garland Publishing, 1979).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Visual and critical analysis; Clear thinking and the development of an argument; Independent research; Presentation and communication skills; Organisation and planning.
KeywordsShahnama; Persian Painting; Persian literature; Iran; Epic; Manuscripts.
Course organiserDr Mira Xenia Schwerda
Course secretaryMr Nathan Ross-Hammond
Tel: (0131 6)51 5880
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