The Bahari Foundation Lectures on Art and Culture

The Psycho-Architectonics of the Imżā Inscriptions: Denotations and Connotations of Text in the Arts of the Safavids

Speaker: Dr Mahroo Moosavi - Bahari Fellow in the Persian Arts of the Book, University of Oxford; Oliver Smithies Lecturer, Balliol College, University of Oxford; Lecturer, Architectural History, Theory, and Design, University of Sydney

By working between the two media of art and literature, this paper challenges some manners by which the textually infused arts of the early modern Iran have been conventionally perceived. While through the inherited discourse of Western art history, the inscription or epigraph is an appurtenance of the object’s visual and thematic language or is, on some occasions, reduced to a purely scientific and palaeographic element, this paper suggests an alternate discourse that extends the significance of such texts, especially the imżā [signature] inscriptions, beyond the normative, emphasising their particular agency as possible strategic ‘interventions’ envisioned and adopted by the artist, architect, or the patron.

Tracing its earlier roots in the increasing use and thematic specificities of text in the artistic productions of the Persianate societies from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries onwards, this paper aims to open the current methodologies and understandings of the arts of the Safavids (1501-1722 AD) to a rereading. It does so by engaging with the ‘signature inscriptions’ as systematic architectonic design strategies that constantly de and re construct the object/space and the inter-woven micro politico-cultural context around it through activating the emotive-cognitive recipients of the user. By focusing on a number of cases such as the early seventeenth century mosque of Luṭfullāh in Isfahan and the mid-sixteenth century Sultan Ibrāhīm Mīrzā’s manuscript of Haft Awrang of Jāmī, this study shows how the application of text in the arts of early modern Iran operates as a mechanism through which the boundaries between different branches of art and knowledge may blur, making space for the reception and perception of art as an abstruse apparatus that functions through the layers of connotations of Persian psyche, language and literature.

Dr Mahroo Moosavi is Bahari Fellow in the Persian Arts of the Book at University of Oxford, Oliver Smithies Lecturer at Balliol College, University of Oxford, and Lecturer in architectural history, theory, and design at the University of Sydney. Her research is concerned with the intertext of art/architecture and poetry/prose, with a particular focus on the early modern Iran, through an interdisciplinary study of art/architectural history, literature, and post-structuralist philosophy. Her current project analyses the interpretations of form and structure of rhetorical devices in the chancellery writings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Iran to discern possible resonances within the artistic and urban system of the new city of Isfahan.

Iran Re-searchThe Bahari Foundation Lectures on Art and Culture is an annual lecture series inviting practicing artists, curators and scholars to think afresh about the trajectories of knowledge production on material and visual cultures of Iran. The Iran Re-search Bahari Lecture Series aims to foreground transdisciplinary and cross-temporal approaches, considering as wide a range as contemporary arts and the antiquities of Iran.

Organised by Professor Sussan Babaie (The Courtauld) 

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3 Mar 2022

Thursday 3rd March 2022, 6pm - 7.30pm GMT

Free, booking essential


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golden decorations on a blue wall
Luṭfullāh mosque, Isfahan, 1602-1619 AD, prayer hall, mihrab, left side.