Although illustrations in Persian manuscripts have long been acknowledged as deserving serious study, research on the art of illustration in lithographed books of the Qajar period is a fairly recent field of studies in the context of Persianate culture. The past decade has witnessed a growing awareness for the history of the Persian printed book in general, documented by a fair amount of recently published catalogues of libraries and special collections in Iran, and a growing number of detailed studies on specific printed books. Even so, numerous important questions remain to be explored. A point of particular interest relates to the production and impact of individual artists in the field.
The most prominent of these artists is Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi. Even though this artist was active for just about a decade (1846-1855), his tremendous output is not only highly original but also extremely influential in terms of impact. Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi produced at least some 1,500 images in works bearing his signature, and maybe more than an additional 750 images in his unsigned work. While the images in some of the books he illustrated, such as Ferdousi’s Shāhnāme, Neẓāmi’s Khamse, or Qazvini’s ʿAjāʾeb al-makhluqāt, relate closely to earlier manuscript illustration, much of his production draws on the artist’s own creativity, as the books he chose to illustrate had rarely been illustrated before.
The contributions to this panel will highlight in detail various aspects of Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi work in view of a detailed assessment of visual culture in the Qajar period (and beyond). Following a general introduction of the artist’s production (Ulrich Marzolph), two contributions are to assess the artist’s creativity from two different angles: Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi’s illustrations to a total of eleven editions of Tufān al-bokāʾ demonstrate both the range of possible visualizations in a work of contemporary martyrology (Ali Buzari), while his illustrations to three editions of Saʿdi’s Kolleyāt serve to discuss the artist’s creativity and his dilemma in finding suitable objects of illustrations for a classical work of Persian literature that never had a “standardˮ corpus of illustrations (Roxana Zenhari). The panel’s final contribution is to showcase Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi’s position in between tradition and modernity by emphasizing his impact on the production of subsequent artists (Mahbobe Qods).
The more than 30 books whose illustrations have been signed by Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi cover various genres, ranging from classical Persian literature to contemporary popular literature and military manuals for teaching at the Dār al-fonun. The most important genre of books he illustrated, however, are books of the so-called “rowże-khāni” genre. The term “rowże-khāni” here denotes narrative compilations dealing with the history of early Islam from a Shiʿi perspective, in particular with the life and death of Imām Ḥosein and the tragical events of Kerbalā. The most popular of these books in the Qajar period was Jouhari’s contemporary compilation Ṭufān al-bokāʾ for which Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi illustrated at least eleven different editions in his active period of less than ten years (1846-1855). As ʿAli-Qoli was one of the first illustrators to work in this genre of lithographed books, he may duly be regarded as the pioneer of this type of illustration.
My contribution is to discuss the particular genre of “rowże-khāni” illustrations in three sections: At first, I will introduce the different books of this genre published in the Qajar period; as a second step, I will identify the common visual patterns that the artist used; and third, I will introduce samples of the works of later artists who created their work based on the models created by Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi. The essential aim of my contribution is to demonstrate that Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi was not only a highly inventive and original illustrator, but that his illustrations had such a strong impact as to constitute general models for later illustrations included in religious books that more often than not were directly copied from his work.