Recordings and Reports

From previous events

Medieval Monuments of Central Asia: Qarakhanid architecture

Dr Richard McClary

19 August 2020

This lecture relates to the monuments covered in Dr Richard McClary’s recently published monograph on the pre-Mongol Islamic architecture of Central Asia, primarily focused on the area rules by the Qarakhanids. They were the first dynasty to use Persian in their monuments, and bridge the period between the Samanids, of which very little architectural evidence survives, and the far better known and more monumental structures of the Timurids.

 After a brief overview of how he came to be interested in this material, a few key monuments will be discussed, followed by a summary of some of the key conclusions of the book. The research draws on a combination of direct study of sites across Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, as well as related monuments in Turkmenistan and Iran, and the rich but hard to find and poorly known Soviet-era publications on some of the monuments. Owing to the limited number of surviving structures, some archaeological evidence will also be presented, in order to demonstrate the scale, scope, and diversity of the architecture of the Qarakhanids.

Medieval Monuments of Central Asia: Qarakhanid Architecture of the 11th and 12th Centuries, is available to purchase here.


Medieval Monuments of Central Asia: Qarakhanid architecture

by Dr Richard McClary | BIPS

Shahnameh: then and now

Professor Gabrielle van den Berg, Dr Barbara Brend and Professor Pouya Afshar

25 June 2020

***Speakers’ lecture slides are available to view here***

As this year is the millennium of Ferdowsi’s death in 1020, this online event discusses the Shahnameh as a work of literature, as the inspiration for visual art and for its historical and contemporary cultural importance.   

Why did Ferdowsi feel the need to memorialise the legends of ancient Iran in epic form and what were the sources of his information? How did his poetic skill ensure the success of his work? How did the stories in the Shahnameh lend themselves to visual representation and how did artists over the generations find ways to illustrate princely and commercial copies for royal patrons and the ready market for fine manuscripts? How can a work written one thousand years ago retain its significance and meaning for contemporary audiences and continue to provide inspiration for modern artists?

Shahnameh: then and now

by Professor Gabrielle Van den Berg, Dr Barbara Brend, Professor Pouya Afshar | BIPS

The rediscovery of mina’i wares and the fiction of completion: 13th century polychrome Iranian ceramics and their reception in the 20th century

Dr Richard McClary

10 June 2019

**Accompanying images can be found by clicking here**

Mina’i wares were unknown prior to the late nineteenth century, but by 1940 numerous seemingly complete vessels had been published, displayed, and collected across Europe, North American, and beyond. These wares mark the birth of Persian miniature painting, and feature a wide array of techniques and figural scenes. As virtually all extant examples have been recovered from an archaeological context, and the main element of the decoration is applied over the top of the glaze, most well known pieces experienced major repairs and restoration in the early twentieth century. This lecture is divided into two parts. First, the painting style and most common images are examined. Narrative scenes and common motifs, primarily on fragmentary but unrestored pieces from a wide range of collections, will be shown. This is followed by an examination of the process of rediscovery, display, publication and restoration that led to mina’i wares being relatively well known, yet still somewhat poorly understood by the middle of the twentieth  century. A particular focus is on the collecting practices of Calouste Gulbenkian, one of the earliest collectors of these wares, and his is the only collection that remains intact and with a full archive of the documents related to the acquisition of the material.


Mina'i Wares and the Fiction of Completion

by Dr. Richard McClary | BIPS

Persia and the Persian Question

Professor Ali Ansari

29 November 2017

This lecture looked at the ways in which the study of the history, language and culture of Iran and the wider Persianate world has developed in recent years, assessing the areas of growth and interest before looking specifically at questions of methodology and historiography. It asked how these affected our understanding of Iran’s past, and its implications for our appreciation of the present, using as a case study, our understanding of British-Iranian relations. Turning specifically to Orientalism and its malcontents, the presentation looked at key writers – including the British statesman, George Nathaniel Curzon – to show how enthusiasm for methodological rigour can lean dangerously towards ideological closure and that the analysis of text without sufficient context tilts the balance inexorably away from history towards mythology.


Persia and the Persian Question

by Professor Ali Ansari | BIPS

The Puzzle of Median Art

Dr Shahrokh Razmjou

28 June 2017

Median art to this day remains a mystery in the art of the ancient Near East. Despite the numerous references to the Medes in historical sources, the lack of primary sources and the uncertainty of artefacts has cast a shadow over Median art and its existence. This lecture looked at evidence of Median artistic elements hidden within Achaemenid art and discussed the related evidence in the Median Period and its possible format. The result presented a picture of what could have been Median art.

The Puzzle of Median Art

by Dr Shahrokh Razmjou | BIPS

Views From Inside: How Iranian Travellers of the Qajar Period Perceived and Described their own Country

Professor Birgitt Hoffman

39 March 2020

The Qajar period (1796-1925) saw a remarkable increase in Persian travelogues describing journeys abroad, pilgrimages and domestic trips. So far scholarly attention has concentrated rather on Iranians touring Europe and beyond in the context of the first diplomatic missions, students’ delegations, official visits of ruling monarchs and private trips of lesser celebrities. Studies mostly focus on the impression Europe made on these travellers and how they expressed their experiences through the writing of travelogues. In contrast this paper deals with the more neglected travel accounts written by Iranians who for whatever reason roamed their home country and put their impressions into writing. Systematic perusal and evaluation of these texts not only contribute to a better assessment of local conditions but also to a better understanding of modes of perception and ways of thinking.

AKS Lambton Memorial Lecture

by Professor Birgitt Hoffman | BIPS