Central Asian miniature painting
In the last decades of the sixteenth century, Maverannakhr's strengthening of political, economic and cultural contacts with bordering countries found representation in the general style of miniatures, which had lost their wholeness and imbued certain features of Iran's and India's painting. Thus, for example, on the margin of Jami's «Salman and Absal» (1581, SPL, PNS-145) there are portraits of personages, whose ethnic type and costumes are an eloquent reflection of the Iran-India-Maverannakhr ties of the end of the century.
Unlike India, with whom all the contacts were peaceful, Iran and Central Asia were on hostile terms involving occasional clashes. Thus, the source of Iranian influence lay not so much in direct artistic ties, as in the influx of Timurid and Sefevid manuscripts, brought to Bukhara after the nine-month siege of Herat by Abdullah-Khan (about 1574), and his son's rout of Meshkhed in 1598, followed by the seizure of the library. Although the scenes of «contemplation» introduced by Central Asian painters, the purple-blue gamut of colours, the peculiar shape of the face and some other distinctive features characteristic of their miniatures liken their style to that of the Kazvin-Meshkhed manner of Iranian miniature of the second half of the sixteenth century, they preserve their laconicism and simplicity. In due course the art of Maverannakhr experienced an increasing influence of Shiraz art (and with it that of the Far East style; Amir Khosrov Dihlevi «Khyzr-Khan's Life-Story», 1598, SPL, PNS-276) which must have ensued from the fact that by the close of the century the Shiraz art school had lost independence and its masters departed to far-off countries.

RUSTEMIADA. Fragment. Mural painting. Penjikent. 7th — 8th century
RUSTEMIADA. Fragment. Mural painting. Penjikent. 7th — 8th century

In the seventeenth century the Ashtarkhanid Khans took over the rule in Central Asia. The cultural life of the country was on the rise: Bukhara and Samarkand wore intensely building up, courts of dynasties and chiefs of large Uzbek families cherished their flourishing poets, historical chronicles were given duo attention, music was heard all around, the art tradition of illustrating manuscripts was as popular as ever. Yet by the end of the century there was a general deterioration of culture. It is from written documents and signed miniatures that we came to know the names of some of the seventeenth century artists, Muhammad-Dervish Samarkandi being one of them. His is the illustration to «Bustan» by Saadi in 1616 (Chester Beatty Coll.), also «Dastani-Zibo Zavar» (British Museum), and the frontispiece to the copy «Subkhat al-Abrar (Chester Beatty Coll.) is possibly one of his too. Two other miniaturists took part in illustrating «Bustan», referred to above; they are: Muhammad Sherif and Muhammad Murad Samarkandi. The reign of Abd-al-Aziz-Khan II (1645 — 1680) knew of quite a few artists. On the margin of Saadi's «Bustan», 1649 (Chester Beatty Coll.), one of them, Farhad, drew a picture of the Khan and his harem in the garden. In 1668-1671 a group of miniaturists —Muhammad-Mukim, Avaz Muhammad, Muhammad Amin and Bekhzad — illustrated «Khamse» by Nizami (Chester Beatty coll.) Muhammad Amin also did the murals in the Abd al-Aziz-Khan madrasah in Bukhara. Among those mentioned in historical papers as artists of the Bukhara court library under Abd al-Aziz Khan and Subkhankuli-Khan, his successor, there is the name of Khodja-Gedai. Especially prolific was Muhammad-Mukim. Apart from the copy of «Hamse» (1668—1671), together with Muhammad-Salim he illustrated Firdawsi's epos, done in Bukhara at about the same time. His name also finds mention in the «Shah-nama» copy of 1664 (IOS AS UzSSR).
Central Asian seventeenth century miniatures — some signed, others not — speak of a new stage in the development of miniature painting. Although deeply rooted in traditions of the past, it was taking on new features. The type of manuscripts remained much the same: classics of Oriental literature, historical chronicles, occasional natural science tractates. The democratic bend of the past century was increasingly winning the group of Central Asian miniaturists, who had turned to folk motifs, fairy tales, items of everyday life, at times represented in the popular print manner. Others adhered to the Bekhzad classical standards, at the same time introducing innovations, envolving the romantic manner. Still others kept to the perfect lines and colours of the Bekhzad school of art, although imbuing their miniatures with baroque ardour, hyperbolized gests and fiery colours. Lastly, small group of miniaturists was in search of new artistic methods, seeking refuge with the Indian masters. Hence, not infrequently in a manuscript illustrated by different painters one could easily trace different styles. In the works of some miniaturists of the seventeenth century folk motifs can be identified by the popular fairy-tale or everyday-narrative manner of treating the subject, for example, in the miniatures to «Shah-nama» (1602— 1603) (SPL, PNS 90). This popular print style deteriorated in time, at the close of the seventeenth century becoming entirely faceless, devoid of artistic value. Part of the miniatures to «Madjlis al-Ushshak» (IOS AS UzSSR, 65) can clearly serve as proof of it.

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