Herat School

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Herat School


one of the Middle Eastern schools of miniature painting (mainly illuminations of manuscripts) that existed in the 15th century in Herat, the capital of the Timurid dynasty. Its initial period is connected with the founding of a court manuscript workshop (kitabkhan) in 1410, and its end came with the conquest of Herat in 1507 by Shaibani Khan.

The development of the urban life and culture of feudal Herat created the necessary conditions for the flowering of the art of miniature painting. Book illumination, being in stylistic harmony with monumental painting and applied art, acquired an unprecedented importance within the total system of manuscript design. The imagery of miniatures of the Herat school is derived from nature, fresh and replete with bright colors and flowing lines. A spring garden with blossoming trees, meadows, and brooks framed in lush grass and buildings decorated with plants and geometric designs form the traditional decorative background against which the action is developed. Flat tones without light and shade modeling are also characteristic of the Herat school. The intense local tones are usually harmonious and do not give an impression of gaudiness. The elaborate designs combined with sonorous colors constitute the distinctive quality and strong impact of the Herat school.

The first phase of the Herat school, which was connected primarily with the Shiraz school of miniature painting of the 14th and 15th centuries and probably also with the Baghdad and Tabriz schools, is characterized by illustrations that are quite faithful to the text. The landscape, depicted on several planes, is relatively simple and plays a subordinate role. The number of characters is small and the figures are large and somewhat static; the composition tends to be symmetrical (The Anthology by Baisonqur, 1427, private collection in Settingiano; Gulistan by Saadi, 1427, the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin; and Khamse by Nizami, 1431, the Hermitage, Leningrad, illustrations vol. 2, table XXXII). An exception is seen in the Shah-nama piece done in the grand style (1430, Library of the Golestan Palace, Tehran), distinguished by its size and differing from the chamber style of most manuscripts. Its “densely peopled” miniatures, complexity of architectural backgrounds, and use of foreshortening and of realistic gestures anticipate the flowering of the Herat school that occurred at the end of the 15th century in connection with the innovative work of Kamal Ud-din Behzad. Behzad invested miniature painting with a refined decorativeness, expanding the range of variations and styles considerably and creating, in addition to illustrations, easel paintings and portraits not connected with books. In cooperation with his teacher Mirak Naqqash and his pupil Qasim Ali, Behzad illustrated Nizami’s Khamse manuscript (1494-95, British Museum, London), which is considered the standard example of the late Herat school, whose artists developed a unified style through close cooperation.

Miniature painters of the last quarter of the 15th century favored keen dramatic subjects; the complicated spatial compositions, designed on many planes, often extend to the margins or are abruptly cut off by the frame. The innovative character of the Herat school derives from the artists’ keen powers of observation, the authenticity of the details, and especially the strong interest in people and the desire to depict their emotions by means of the surrounding landscape and the expressiveness of gestures and poses. The Herat school influenced the work of the artists of the Tabriz school, the Mavera-un-nahr school (Middle Asia), and the Mogul school.


Vseobshchaia istoria iskusstv, vol. 2, book 2. Moscow, 1961. Pages 162-69.
Akimushkin, O. F., and A. A. Ivanov. Persidskie miniatiury XIV-XVII vv. Moscow, 1968.
Gray B. Persian painting, Geneva, 1961.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Esoteric Images: Decoding the Late Herat School of Painting
Fearing the tradition of the masters of Herat school is endangered, he accuses a fellow miniaturist, who would later kill him, of not conforming to Islamic tradition.