The initial onslaughts of the Mongol Il-Khans, who controlled Persia from about 1230 to 1336, left the country in chaos but soon their leader Hulagu realized the need for a functioning infra-structure. Ghazan, his successor, ruled from 1295 until his death in 1304. He was the first Mongol ruler to adopt Islam though his brother, Oljaitu, who succeeded him was baptised as Christian.
Oljaitu later became a Sunni Muslim but he then seems to have
then converted to the Shià cause, making a pilgrimage
to Kerbala in Iraq. After the authorities there refused
to hand over the reliquaries of Ali and Hossein, which Oljaitu
wished to place in his own Mausoleum, he reverted to Sunnism.
Oljaitu was the last great Mongol khan of Persia and
when died he had himself buried in a mausoleum of his
own making, figure 2. The year was 1316 and the place
Sultaniya. This area is rich in history for in 1256 Oljaitu`s
great-grandfather, Hulagu, wiped out the Ismaili sect
(known to us as ‘the assassins') in nearby Alamut. Later,
in the mid 16th century, the Safavid Shah Tahmasp founded
his own splendid capital at Qazvin where, by the way,
the last of the subsequent
pretenders who sat on the Safavid throne also withdrew.
After Oljaitu's death the power of the Mongols declined
and for 80 years Persia descended into chaos. Despite
their bloodthirsty reputation, the Mongols were great
patrons of Persian culture not just in collecting works
of art but, more importantly, in supporting the artists
themselves. Thus the greatest flayers of men and beasts
succumbed to the civilizing qualities of Persian refinement
like all other invaders before them.
On his return in 1383 he so thoroughly destroyed the fragile irrigation system of Seistan in East Persia that it never fully recovered.
It was during this Mongol Regency in Persia that the influence of Chinese art entered all aspects of artistic production. This will be further discussed in the Plate section of the exhibition. However, the il-Khanids, as the Mongols who ruled Persia became known, were at pains to maintain diplomatic relations with the West, having a common enemy in the Mameluks who ruled from Spain in the south to the Syrian border in the north.
Moorish Spain undoubtedly had an influence on the coming
Safavid art, as a luster tile panel from Malaga dated to
1400 clearly shows figure 3. Without its escutcheons we
have the makings of a wonderful carpet complete with arabesque
loops, spiral vines, and a tabula ansata calligraphic border.
At the end of the 14th century Persia had been parceled
out amongst various clans of Mongol, Afghan and Arabic-Persian
descent, who fought each other on the slightest pretext.
Unbeknown to all a new danger was brewing in Transoxania
and, in 1381, the Turkish warlord Tamerlane annexed the
city of Herat and subsequently Khorasan.