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  • 5/12/2009

Lithography in Iran (part 1)


The most significant factor in shaping art in Iran in the nineteenth was European art.

Iranian artists had investigated the art of Europe in search of new ways of communicating in a period when art was becoming a social issue and could not be limited to the royal court any longer.

 From late eighteenth century until 1840s, artists continued experimenting with new elements such as depth, three-dimensional representation, and anatomical accuracy, and the new medium of oil on canvas. From 1840s until early twentieth century, artists succeeded in indicating an individual’s particular and specific characteristics, reflecting class, gender, and ethnicity as well as ordinary people’s life and their participation in social activities, therefore, giving birth to Realism. Realism is defined as “the theory or practice of fidelity in art and literature to nature or to real life and to accurate representation without idealization.”(1)

Some factors such as social and cultural changes, the presence of European artists in Iran who worked in a realistic manner(2), the Iranian artists who studied art in Europe, and the introduction of photography and lithography had a vital effect in conducting Iranian painting toward Realism.

Lithography, “the process of printing from a plane surface (as a smooth stone or metal plate) on which the image to be printed is ink-receptive and the blank area ink-repellent”,(3) not only became one of the necessary constituents for major changes in painting but also for educating the Iranian society about the art of image making.

Sani-al-Molk (1814–1866), the court artist of the Mohammad Shah (1834-1848) and Naser-al-Din Shah (1848-1896), traveled to Italy around 1847 to study Renaissance painting by masters such as Raphael (1483–1520) and he returned to Iran near the end of 1850. (4) Apparently, Sani-al-Molk’s trip to Italy provided the opportunity for him to learn lithography and become familiar with the Italian academic system of teaching art. Upon his return to Iran, he brought with him lithographic equipment, the idea of a European-style school, and some color prints and etchings of Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and other Western artists, which then became reference models for artists and students of the future school.(5) It is not known exactly which images the artist brought back to Iran.

In Europe, lithography had widespread appeal among many artists experimenting with the new medium in the publication of images in books and newspapers, thereby making copies of famous art works available to a broader public.

 Thus, Iranian artists were able to view and select prints of many famous works of European artists.

After returning from Italy, Sani-al-Molk was honored by Naser-al-Din Shah in being appointed the chief of the Governmental Printing House. He published the weekly newspaper Doulat-e Elliyeh-e Iran [The Great Government of Iran], which had started under the name of Vaghaye Etefaghiey [Events] at the beginning of the ruler’s period.(6) The artist worked on the newspaper from issue number 471 in 1861 until 1867.(7)

Sani-al-Molk’s knowledge of lithography facilitated the production of a high-quality newspaper with at least one image for each issue, many of which were portraits of members of the government or well-known individuals. Social events were also included.

 His lithographs have the same quality as his paintings; they indicate the characteristics of the sitters in an almost photographic manner. Moreover, by studying lithographs by other artists who continued working for newspapers and the press, it is almost certain that Sani-al-Molk’s style of lithography became a model followed by his contemporaries and the next generation. Like him, these artists were looking for factual details and specifically for creating individuality in portraits.

Other links:

Parviz Tanavoli, (an Iranian sculptor, painter, art historian and collector)

Master Ali Asghar Tajvidi

Mohammad Reza ATASHZAD

Freydoon Rassouli

Aliakbar Sanati

Hamid Ajami

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