Medieval Portland Capstone: Looking at the Persian Poetry Book with Marjan

Marjan having a look

On Tuesday 11/1, I met once again with Marjan Anvari so that we can look at the poetry book together. This was particularly exciting for me because rather than just looking at the book face value like I have been, I was able to see the book through the eyes of an expert.


I got that and so much more.

I didn’t really know anything about Middle Eastern art, and Marjan really opened my eyes.

Tazhib art (the symmetrical, geometric patterns that you see in this book and other Persian artworks), is commonly referred to as, “Islamic,” but it actually predates Islam and it would be much more correct to refer to it as “Persian.” In fact, when Mohammad came from Arabia to Persia, all art was banned, so Tazhib had to be reintroduced into the culture years later.

She told me about the three times the Middle East reached its peak culturally; Achaemenid (or the Persian Empire, the longest dynasty before Islam), the Turkish Empire, and, finally, the Safavi dynasty. Despite the artwork being from the Qajar dynasty, we ended talking about the Safavi dynasty a lot.

Lotfolla Mosque, Iran

The image above is an example of Safavi art. Safavi is Tazhib style, but most importantly, it is a very delicate, precise art style. The colors also have a very pleasant harmony to them. If you look at the dome of the mosque here, it has blues, whites, and gold. The colors don’t draw your eye to one particular area, though smaller shapes bring your attention to the center with the colors working together.

Qajar art, which is the art that the poetry book is from, is a different story (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good pictures that were not copyrighted, but I urge you to do a google search for “Qajar Tazhib” and you’ll see what I mean). The colors are bolder with equal parts saturation of red and blue.

Also, now, I know this is an old joke, but later Qajar dynasty art were doing “Put a Bird on It” before it was cool. Seriously, Google search, you’ll see what I mean.

Now to talk about the actual book itself. Marjan said that if I was to do a complete preliminary report on the book, I would have taken notes and pictures of every page.

I forgot to take a picture, but we were able to find the name of the calligrapher who wrote this book. His name was Mirza Mohammad Kazema Valeh.

There were a couple interesting things about the book that I asked her about. If you look here:

The cold rectangle here with the red script

She said that this part translated to “Question and Answer” for the emperor.

On a scientific note, we looked at this page:


Which is the back of this:


The brown stuff on the back page is oxidation from the blue ink, (Lapiz Lazuli). There is no way to clean this up without harming the art piece, but stuff could be done to it to slow down the oxidation.

And finally, let’s talk about the lifting:

Another thing! Marjan was able to identify a past repair on this part! 

When the book was first brought to my attention, this was the thing that people in Special Collections were concerned about. Unfortunately, I have some bad news. According to Marjan, the only way to properly fix this would be to take the entire book apart, fix the page individually, then put it back together. The problem? It is a much higher risk to do that than just keep and handle the book safely. Basically, the book itself is in good condition and has some minor tears and holes here and there. In fact, I could hypothetically take a non water-based solution and clean up some of the dirt inside, but other than that, this is not worth messing with.

Oh well. This is one of these ethical issues that does come up in the conservation field.

On a much happier note, Marjan spent the last ten minutes of our session showing me her portfolio! That was really amazing to see.

I was so happy that she took the time to meet with me! All in all, this was a very enriching experience!





One thought on “Medieval Portland Capstone: Looking at the Persian Poetry Book with Marjan

  1. Ashley, that was very nice talking to you about book conservation and history. I hope you finish this project successfully.



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