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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

Takht-i Sulaiman and Tilework in the Ilkhanid Period

Excavations have revealed that the architectural complex of Takht-i Sulaiman (ca. 1270), the summer royal palace of the Ilkhanid ruler Abaqa (r. 1265–82) located in northwestern Iran, was lavishly decorated with tile revetments that covered both the exterior and interior walls of many of its buildings. Exterior tiles, made to better withstand weather conditions, have a simple monochrome glaze and show a combination of interlocking hexagons and stars. Combinations for the interior walls were mostly based on star- and cross-shaped tiles and hexagonal, double-pentagonal, and star tiles. These geometric panels filled the lower part of the walls and were crowned by a single frieze of large square or rectangular tiles. In some cases, the friezes at Takht-i Sulaiman included tiles with inscriptions taken from the Shahnama as well as more generic hunting scenes (10.9.1). The tiles of Takht-i Sulaiman were most likely produced in situ, as confirmed by a mold found during excavations.

The great majority of tiles for the interiors of other Ilkhanid buildings were decorated in the rich luster technique (12.49.4), which made the walls glitter, reflecting the sunlight entering through the windows or the dim glow of oil lamps. Luster painting on tiles had a well-established pre-Mongol tradition in the Iranian city of Kashan. This technique consists of overglaze painting with metallic pigments that, when fired in a reduced-oxygen atmosphere, acquire a lustrous golden or brownish appearance. Panels of star and cross luster-painted tiles covered the walls of many Ilkhanid buildings, mainly in northern Iran. The presence of human figures, animals, and inscriptions quoting Persian poetry suggests that the tiles were employed in leisure palaces and abodes erected for affluent members of the Ilkhanid elite following the example of royal palaces like Takht-i Sulaiman.