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Art, Allegory and the Rise of Shi’ism in Iran, 1487-1565

Chad Kia

Hardback (Forthcoming)

Explores the ways in which esoteric religion shaped the masterpieces of classical Persian painting

Transforming our understanding of Persian art, this impressive interdisciplinary book decodes some of the world’s most exquisite medieval paintings. It reveals the hidden meaning behind enigmatic figures and scenes that have puzzled modern scholars, focusing on five ‘miniature’ paintings. Chad Kia shows how the cryptic elements in these works of art from Timurid Persia conveyed the mystical teachings of Sufi poets like Rumi, Attar and Jami, and heralded one of the most significant events in the history of Islam: the takeover by the Safavids in 1501 and the conversion of Iran to Shiism.

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List of Illustrations


Introduction: Coming to Terms with Meaning in Persian Painting

Chapter 1: Poetics of the Picture: Verbal Imagery and Visual Language

Chapter 2: Remaking Persian Painting: Didactic Sufism in a Timurid Manuscript

Chapter 3: The Third Station on the Path to Sufism: The Bearded Man Drowning

Chapter 4: Fixed-Figure Prototypes and the Symbolic Order

Chapter 5: The Culmination of a Trend: "Depraved Man Commits Bestiality"

Conclusion: The Sufi Synthesis




About the Author

Chad Kia has been a Smithsonian Fellow at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art in Washington DC, and has taught Persian and Arabic literatures and Islamic art and intellectual history at Harvard University and Brown University.


'Chad Kia convincingly demonstrates the poetic richness and cultural depth of the late fifteenth-century paintings produced in the spiritually imbued intellectual and artistic atmosphere of the Herat elite. Written in rich language and with intellectual sharpness, this book is a pleasure to read.'

- Professor Rachel Milstein, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem

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