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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

But quite characteristic of conventionalised Persian art


We had now rugged mountains about a mile to the west and south-west. These were ranges parallel to one another, the Darestan mountains being the nearest to us and the Godare Hashimshan behind them further south-west.

While I was waiting for fresh horses to be got ready I amused myself at every station studying the curious inscriptions and ornamentations by scribbling travellers on the caravanserai and post-house walls. Laboriously engraved quotations from the Koran were the most numerous, then the respective names of travellers, in characters more or less elaborate according to the education of the writer, and generally accompanied by a record of the journey, place of birth, and destination of the scribbler. Occasionally one was startled by a French inscription in sickening terms of humility, the work of Persian minor officials in Government employ, who thus made a public exhibition of their knowledge of a foreign language and expounded in glowing terms their servile admiration for superiors.

More interesting were the records of illiterate travellers who, in default of literature, placed one arm and hand upon the whitewashed wall and traced their silhouette with the point of a knife or a bit of charcoal or a brush held in the other hand.

Then came those still more artistically inclined, who ventured into conventionalised representations of the peacock with widely-expanded tail--the most favourite and frequent of Persian outbursts of Chappar khana art, and probably the most emblematic representation of Persian character. The conventionalised peacock is represented in a few lines, such as one sees on the familiar Persian brass trays.

The Shah's portrait with luxuriant moustache is met in most Chappar khanas scraped somewhere upon the wall, and not infrequently other whole human figures drawn in mere lines, such as children do in our country, but with a greater profusion of anatomical detail. Very frequent indeed are the coarse representations of scenes in daily life, which we generally prefer to leave unrecorded--in fact, the artistic genius of the Persian traveller seems to run very much in that direction, and these drawings are generally the most elaborate of all, often showing signs of multiple collaboration.

Horses fully harnessed are occasionally attempted, but I never saw a camel represented. Only once did I come across a huge representation of a ship or a boat. Small birds drawn with five or six lines only, but quite characteristic of conventionalised Persian art, were extremely common, and were the most ingeniously clever of the lot. Centipedes and occasional scorpions were now and then attempted with much ingenuity and faithfulness of detail but no artistic merit.

All these ornamentations, studied carefully, taught one a good deal of Persian character. That the Persian is very observant and his mind very analytical, is quite out of the question, but his fault lies in the fact that in art as in daily life minor details strike him long before he can grasp the larger and more important general view of what he sees. He prefers to leave that to take care of itself. We find the same characteristics not only in his frivolous Chappar khana art--where he can be studied unawares and is therefore quite natural--but in his more serious art, in his music, in his business transactions, in his political work. The lack of simplicity which we notice in his rude drawings can be detected in everything else he does, and the evident delight which he takes in depicting a peacock with its tail spread in all its glory is nothing more and nothing less than an expression of what the Persian feels within himself in relation to his neighbours.


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