The Islamic Mohammedan architecture of Persia, if we may judge from the representations published in Flandin and Coste's "Voyages en Perse", does not appear to have ever reached the perfection of the Arabian buildings of Cairo. Although presenting considerable grandeur in the main features, the general outlines are much less pure, and there would appear to be a great want of elegance in all the constructive features as compared with those of Cairo. Their system of ornamentation also appears to us much less pure than the Arabian and Moresque.
The Persians, unlike the Arabs and the Moors, were free to introduce animal life, and this mixing up of subjects drawn from real life in their decoration led to a much less pure style of ornament. With the Arabs and Moors, ornaments with their inscriptions had to supply every want, and therefore it became of more importance in their structures, and reached a higher point of elaboration. Persian ornament is a mixed style; combining the conventional, which is similar to Arabian art, and probably derived from a common origin, with an attempt at the natural, which sometimes has influenced both the Arabian and Turkish styles, and is even felt in portions of the Alhambra. The great attention paid to the illuminating of manuscripts in Persia, which, doubtless, were widely disseminated in Mohammedan countries, would readily spread the influence of this mixed style. The decorations of the houses of Cairo and Damascus, the mosques and fountains of Constantinople more especially, exhibit this mixed style; groups of natural flowers are constantly found growing from a vase and enclosed in panels of conventional Arabian ornament. The ornament of modern India also feels this ever-present influence of the Persian mixed style. In a book-cover from the India House (Plates LIII. and LIV.) is an example of this; the outside is treated in the pure Arabian manner, whilst the inside (Plate LIV.) is quite Persian in character.
The ornaments on Plate XLIV., from illuminated MSS. in the British Museum, present also the mixed character we have referred to. The geometrical patterns are purely conventional ornament, and have great affinity with the Arabian, but are less perfect in distribution. Nos. 1-10, on the contrary, are from backgrounds of pictures, representing tapestry on the walls; they possess great elegance, and the masses are well contrasted with the grounds.
The patterns on Plate XLV. are chiefly representations of pavements and dados, and probably were intended for glazed tiles, so abundantly used by the Persians. Compared with the Arabian and Moresque mosaics, they exhibit a marked inferiority, both in the distribution of form and in the arrangement of color. It will be observed that, throughout our Persian subjects, the secondary and tertiary colors are much more dominant than in the Arabian (Plate XXXIV.), or in the Moresque, where blue, red, and gold, are the prevailing harmonies, and, as may be seen at a glance, with much increased effect.
The ornaments on Plate XLVI. have a much greater affinity with the Arabian; Nos. 7, 16, 17, 21, 23-26, are very common ornaments for the heads of chapters in Persian MSS.: indeed there is but little variety to be found in these, numerous as they are. Compared with the Arabian MSS. (Plate XXIV.), a great similarity will be found in all the leading lines of the construction of the ornaments, and also in the surface decoration of the ornaments themselves; but the masses are much less evenly distributed. However, the same general principles prevail.
Plates XLVII. and XLVII*. are arranged from a very curious Persian book at South Kensington Museum, which appears to be a manufacturer's pattern-book. The designs exhibit much elegance, and there is great simplicity and ingenuity displayed in the conventional rendering of natural flowers. Both these Plates and Plate XLVIII. are very valuable, as showing the extreme limit of this conventional rendering, reached, but not exceeded.
When natural flowers are used as decoration, and subjected to a geometrical arrangement, they can have neither shade nor shadow, as was the case with the later MSS. of the Mediaeval School - see Plate LXXIII - without falling under that reproach so justly due to the floral papers and floral carpets of modern times. The ornament at the top of Plate XLVIII., which forms the title-page to the book, as well as the borders throughout, present that mixed character of pure ornament, arranged in conjunction with the ornamental rendering of natural forms, which we have considered as characteristic of the Persian style, and which, we think, renders it so much inferior to the Arabian and the Moresque.