Culture in Post-Timurid Iran

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals


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This paper explores religion and politics in late medieval Iran through its analysis of Persian lyric poetry, or ghazāls, attributed to two statesmen: Qāżī Ṣafī al-Dīn b. Shukr Allāh ʿĪsā Sāvajī (d. 896/1491), and his cousin, Shaikh Najm al-Dīn Masʿūd Sāvajī (d. ca. 898/1493), who, at the behest of their sulṭān, Abū al-Muzaffar Yaʿqūb b. Ūzūn Ḥasan (d. 896/1490), held key administrative positions in the Āq Qoyūnlū confederate empire. In so doing, the study departs from existing scholarship on the pre-modern Persian ghazal—the tendency of which has been to regard the ghazal as unreflective of its author and times—and considers the poetic form as a possible source for history. More specifically, the paper determines the extent to which the ghazals of Qāżī ʿĪsā and Najm al-Dīn—all of which are contained in manuscripts held at Kungliga biblioteket and Österreicheische Nationalbibliothek—affirm or contradict information about the Sāvajī statesmen, as well as Yaʿqūb b. Ūzūn Ḥasan, in traditional historical sources, like chronicles, decrees, and letters of correspondence; it also highlights the mystical content of the poems in order to determine the degree to which Sufism manifested itself in the Sāvajīs—and by extension, the Āq Qoyūnlū royal court. As a result, the paper proves significant due to the fact that (other than Paul Losensky) modern specialists of classical Persian literature have ignored ghazals composed in the ninth/fifteenth century, focusing instead on earlier ghazal-writers, namely Rūdākī (d. 329/940), Sanāʾī (d. 525/1130), Rūmī (d. 672/1273), Saʿdī (d. ca. 691/1292), and Ḥāfiẓ (d. 792/1390). Lastly, the paper considers the poetry and official duties of the Sāvajīs in relation to their Timurid counterpart, Mīr ʿAlī Shīr Navāʾī (d. 906/1501), whose rapport with Sulṭān-Ḥusain Bāyqarā (d. 911/1506), it will be proven, resembled that of Najm al-Dīn and Yaʿqūb b. Ūzūn Ḥasan.

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Generally acknowledged, unlike Chinese ink and brush painting that emphasizes “the dynamic ink line which describes volume and motion”, Persianate painting usually favors a sober weighted line even in rarely-coloured drawings such as those in the style of sīyāh-qalam. This aesthetic difference has a probable root of materiality: pre-modern Persian artists predominantly rely on pen (qalam) in spite of their simultaneous use of brush. However, owing to the extensive interaction of Persia with China in the fourteenth-fifteenth centuries, Chinese freehand brushwork (xieyi, 写意) became available to Persian artists in Central Asia and Iran, as suggested by a few of the drawings assembled in contemporary and later albums in Berlin and Istanbul.

To what extent the Chinese freehand style impacts the Persianate aesthetic of brushstroke, or line in general, is thus a question that needs to be answered. This paper proposes a tentative study of the emergence of “Persianate ink and brush painting” as a visual genre in the fifteenth century and its relation to Chinese. It addresses two key issues: first, the mode in the transmission of Chinese Yuan-Ming literati/Chan paintings to Central Asia and Iran; second, the process of negotiation between the two distinct technical and aesthetic traditions, especially the Persianate reception, appreciation and/or resistance of Chinese freehand brushwork. Furthermore, focusing on the ink line, one crucial element defining a style, this paper seeks to investigate the impact of Chinese freehand brushwork on the emergence of Persianate drawing a mature performative, rather than preparatory, art.

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For the study of 16th century Central Eurasia, there are a substantial number of sources written in Persian, with comparatively fewer written in Chaghatai. Few of the extant sources have yet to be critically translated and analyzed for the breadth of information they provide. In this regard, this project seeks to further the field of Central Eurasian studies with the production of a critical analysis of Banāʾī’s Shaybānīnāma. The Shaybānīnāma was part of a new wave of historiography that was produced in post-Timurid Central Eurasia. A notable feature of the Uzbek conquest that displaced the Timurids was the influx of Turkic populations in the region, comparable to the Arab and Mongol invasions in prior centuries. This added to the gradual Turkification of the settled peoples of the region, which greatly affected the historiography of Central Eurasia. The merging of traditions among the settled populations with those of the newly arrived nomads led to a burgeoning of historiography in the 16th century. Works were produced in both Persian and Turkish, and include chronicles, biographies, and hagiographies. It was early in Shaybānī Khān’s rule that Banāʾī was commissioned to write the Shaybānī-nāma. This chronicle is an account of the events from Shaybānī Khān’s rise to the disintegration of the Timurids in the areas overrun by the Uzbeks. According to Kubo, the text relies heavily on the anonymous Tavārīkh-i Guzīda-i Nuṣrat-nāma, which is somewhat problematic, but it does provide immense detail on Shaybānī Khān’s invasion and conquering of Samarqand. The source is important in other respects because of its use in Persian historiography, namely by Khwāndamīr in Ḥabīb al-siyar. The Shaybānīnāma serves an important source for the history of Central Eurasia as it covers the early history of the Uzbek leader, Muḥammad Shaybānī Khan, from his birth to his conquest of Khwarazm. It is written in Persian prose with hyperbolic verses interspersed. It provides the political and social history of Central Eurasia at the beginning of the 16th century, and it is, as are many other sources, intended as a source deferential to Shaybānī Khan with conventional rhetoric praising his qualities.