From Publishers Weekly
The illuminated manuscripts
of Kamaluddin Bihzad, a court painter to the early Safavid Dynasty, are
revelations of color and form. His figures, rendered with fluid lines, are
marvelously expressive, his backgrounds crowded with undulating trees or
stunning architectural patterns. The eye is unsure where to alight, until it
comes upon a central figure-a turbaned Joseph kneeling on a delicately patterned
rug, or a horseman flinching as his mount transfigures into a seven-headed
demon. Western scholars of Islamic art have been aware of Bihzad's gifts for
some time, but most have dismissively categorized his work as illustrative.
However, Barry contends Bihzad's paintings are of an intensely religious
quality, despite the Islamic injunction against images. Barry's arguments are
convincing, his erudition is impressive, and his book is stuffed with delightful
reproductions. But his prose can be repetitive, and his organizational choices
can confuse the reader. Why, for example, does Barry discuss the history of
"Orientalist" scholarship and Bihzad's influence on Matisse before reporting
Bihzad was born around "1465, died in 1535, and was a native of the Central
Asian kingdom of Herat, an oasis in what is now northwestern Afghanistan"? In
all, the book is a detailed introduction to an unsung genius, but it may be too
detailed and circuitous for the casual reader.
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This groundbreaking work elucidates the
symbolism and an entire allegorical system in Islamic painting of the Golden Age
between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. Barry, a leading expert on art
of the Middle East, focuses his study around the work of Bizhâd, the undisputed
master of the Persian miniature and an almost mythical personality. Barry's
study follows deliberately the tradition of studies by Erwin Panofsky or Emile
Mâle on the symbolism of medieval Christian art. It is of considerable
importance for the history of Islamic iconography, the study of which lags a
century behind that of Byzantine or the Western Middle Ages.