The Art of the Book in the Ilkhanid Period

See works of art
  • Nushirvan Receives Mihras, Envoy of Caesar: Folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings)
  • Buzurgmihr Masters the Game of Chess: Folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings)
  • Nushirvan Eating Food Brought by the Sons of Mahbud: Folio from the Shahnama (Book of Kings)
  • Rustam Avenges his Own Impending Death, Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings)
  • Gushtasp Slays the Rhino-Wolf, Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings)
  • The Funeral of Isfandiyar, Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings)
  • Isfandiyars Third Course: He Slays a Dragon, Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings)
  • The Four Knights of Kai Khusrau in the Mountains, Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings)
  • Folio from a Munis al-ahrar fi daqaiq al-ashar (The Free Mans Companion to the Subtleties of Poems) of Jajarmi
  • Bahram Gur Hunting with Azada: From the Shahnama (Book of Kings)
  • Quranic Compilation Page
  • Six Horses

Works of Art (13)


The arts of the book in the Ilkhanid period reached unparalleled levels, not only in quantity but also in quality. The new rulers gave impetus to book production after they settled in their capitals of Maragha, Tabriz, and Baghdad and developed an interest in historical writings as a means to further their claim to rule over a foreign land. Not surprisingly, they chose the Shahnama (Book of Kings) as a sort of official dynastic history in which the Ilkhanids identified themselves with kings and heroes of the Iranian past.

The Mongols’ attitude toward the power of the word and the image, however, is not sufficient to explain the unprecedented use of high-quality paper, the richness of illumination, the refinement of calligraphy, and the blossoming of illustration that Iran and Iraq witnessed during the Ilkhanid period (34.24.1; 34.24.3). The Mongols clearly brought with them an excitement about the art of painting. Local artists readily absorbed the new artistic influences from China, transmitted through scrolls (1989.363.5) and drawings, and integrated them into the type of painting with which they were most familiar, book illustration. At the end of the thirteenth century, the early integration of foreign elements was awkward (Tarikh-i jahan-gusha, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris). Within two decades, however, artists had created a new eclectic style that reached a high point with two masterpieces of Ilkhanid painting: Rashid al-Din’s Jami’ al-tavarikh and the Great Mongol Shahnama (33.70; 52.20.2).

The dynamic, almost dramatic phase of Ilkhanid painting would slowly be replaced during the waning years of the dynasty with a new, understated, and more refined style that provided the basis for developments in the following two centuries. Later Persian scholars were so keenly aware of the importance of these changes that they described the Ikhanid period as the time when “the veil was lifted from the face of Persian painting.”

It was in the capitals Tabriz and Baghdad that Ilkhanid art flourished at its highest levels, reaching an apex with the production of the Great Mongol Shahnama. Its dramatic style of painting was replaced by a quiet world that suited the vision of the newly arrived Mongol patrons, the Jalayirids (1340–1411), who were captivated by Persian poetry, in which illustrations of battle scenes and heroic feats became merely symbolic and almost motionless (2008.31). The Jalayirids played an important role in providing a bridge between the Ilkhanids and Timur (Tamerlane), who saw himself and his dynasty, the Timurids (1370–1507), as the rightful successors of the Mongols.

Stefano Carboni
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Qamar Adamjee
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2003


Carboni, Stefano, and Qamar Adamjee. “The Art of the Book in the Ilkhanid Period.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2003)

Further Reading

Carboni, Stefano, and Komaroff, Linda, eds. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353. Exhibition catalogue. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002. See on MetPublications

Additional Essays by Stefano Carboni

Additional Essays by Qamar Adamjee