From Melancholy to Euphoria and More: Visual Representation of Emotions in Persian Illustrated Manuscripts

Free Public Lecture

From Melancholy to Euphoria and More: Visual Representation of Emotions in Persian Illustrated Manuscripts

The common perception about Persian miniature painting – better described as book illustration because almost invariably it has a textual, literary or oral context – is that it is elegant, colourful, rather formal in composition, and overall restrained in the way the characters are emotionally involved in a particular moment of the story. Persian illustrators, however, had a clear set of tools and visual tropes to convey feelings such as surprise, love, grief, fear, heroism in the face of death, and many more.

Many of the stories told in poetic works by Firdausi, Jami and Nizami, all of which were often illustrated, are heavily charged with impossible love, death-defying trials, heroic quests and mystic ardour: the written language, often memorised by the reader, is the protagonist while the visual image provides in some way an oasis, a respite for the eye, breaking away from the incessant emotional narrative of the verses.

A great chapter for the visual representation of emotions, however, was written during the Ilkhanid (Mongol) period in Iran in the 14th century, a time during which all pictorial rules – if they previously existed – were subverted, and we can witness a full range of demonstrative engagement with the viewer.

This lecture is part of the From Melancholy to Euphoria: The Materialisation of Emotion in Middle Eastern Manuscripts Symposium, made possible by support from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

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