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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

A spiral staircase inside each minaret


One of Zil-es-Sultan's Eunuchs.]

[Illustration: The "Hall of the Forty Columns," Isfahan.]

Great labour and patience in working out details have been the aim of the artists of all these pictures, rather than true effects of nature, and the faces, hands, and poses are, of course, as in most Persian paintings, conventionalized and absolutely regardless of proportion, perspective, fore-shortening or atmospherical influence or action--generally called aerial perspective. The objection, common in nearly all countries, England included, to shadows on the faces is intensified a thousand-fold in Persian paintings, and handicaps the artist to no mean degree in his attempts to give relief to his figures. Moreover, the manipulation and concentration of light, and the art of composing a picture are not understood in old Persian paintings, and the result is that it is most difficult to see a picture as an _ensemble_. The eye roams all over the painting, attracted here by a patch of brilliant yellow, there by another equally vivacious red, here by some bright detail, there by something else; and like so many ghosts in a haunted room peep out the huge, black, almond-shaped eyes, black-bearded heads, all over the picture, standing like prominent patches out of the plane they are painted on.

The pictures are, nevertheless, extremely interesting, and from a Persian's standpoint magnificently

painted. Such is not the case with the modern and shocking portrait of Nasr-ed-din Shah, painted in the best oil colours in European style, his Majesty wearing a gaudy uniform with great wealth of gold and diamonds. This would be a bad painting anywhere in Persia or Europe.

The ceiling of this hall is really superb. It has three domes, the centre one more lofty than the two side ones. The higher dome is gilt, and is most gracefully ornamented with a refined leaf pattern and twelve gold stars, while the other two cupolas are blue with a similar leaf ornamentation in gold. There is much quaint irregularity in the geometrical design of the corners, shaped like a kite of prettily-arranged gold, blue and green, while other corners are red and light blue, with the sides of green and gold of most delicate tones. These are quite a violent contrast to the extravagant flaming red patches directly over the paintings.

The hall is lighted by three windows at each end near the lower arch of the side domes, and three further double windows immediately under them. There is one main entrance and three exits (one large and two small) towards the throne colonnade.

Through narrow lanes, along ditches of dirty water, or between high mud walls, one comes six miles to the west of Isfahan to one of the most curious sights of Persia,--the quivering minarets above the shrine and tomb of a saint. These towers, according to Persians, are at least eight centuries old.

Enclosed in a rectangular wall is the high sacred domed tomb, and on either side of the pointed arch of the Mesjid rise towards the sky the two column-like minarets, with quadrangular bases. A spiral staircase inside each minaret, just wide enough to let a man through, conveys one to the top, wherein four small windows are to be found. By seizing the wall at one of the apertures and shaking it violently an unpleasant oscillation can be started, and continues of its own accord, the minaret diverging from the perpendicular as much as two inches on either side. Presently the second minaret begins to vibrate also in uniformity with the first, and the vibration can be felt along the front roof-platform between the two minarets, but not in other parts of the structure. A large crack by the side of one of the minarets which is said to have existed from time immemorial foretells that some day or other minarets and front wall will come down, but it certainly speaks well for the elasticity of minarets of 800 years ago that they have stood up quivering so long.

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