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The Ilkhanid Revetment Aesthetic in the Buqʿa Pir-i Bakran: Chaotic Exuberance or a Cunningly Planned Architectural Revetment Repertoire?

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The Pir-i Bakran mausoleum (completed by 1312–13; Linjan, Isfahan) is considered to be a typical example of exuberant Ilkhanid architectural decoration. In the 1970s, the International Association of Mediterranean and Oriental Studies (IsMEO) undertook significant research and restoration work on the mausoleum. After their efforts were interrupted by the onset of the Iranian Revolution, restoration activities were continued by the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization. Almost four decades later, questions concerning the mausoleum’s history, function, decorative program, patronage, and craftsmen—as well as the identity of the deceased—nonetheless remain unresolved. The mausoleum’s tile and original polychrome stucco decoration also require further scholarly attention.
This article proposes a new view of the mausoleum’s decorative aesthetic and contributes to our understanding of the Ilkhanid architectural legacy. The article argues that, rather than being a haphazard application, the aesthetic characteristics of Pir-i Bakran’s revetments were determined by multiple undertakings executed according to specific decorative principles. Moreover, the mausoleum’s decorative program illustrates a rapid change in Ilkhanid decorative principles and aesthetics. I also propose a hypothetical timeline of mausoleum’s constructive and decorative undertakings, and reconsider its function and political significance. 

Affiliations: 1: University of Bamberg, Germany

The present article is based on the dissertation submitted for my MA degree in the History of Art and Architecture of the Islamic Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London in 2014. I am most grateful to my supervisor Doris Behrens Abouseif for her guidance, comments, and encouragement. The article was subsequently modified and expanded during the initial stage of my doctoral studies in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the University of Bamberg. Parts of the research for this article were funded by the Ralph Pinder Wilson field research grant (awarded by the Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, SOAS). Final work and completion of this article would not have been possible without the generous financial support for my PhD research by the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes (German Academic Scholarship Foundation). I would like to thank my PhD supervisor, Lorenz Korn, for his advice and comments on the article and for his corrections of the section on the mausoleum’s inscriptions. I would like to especially thank Rosario Paone for tirelessly reading many versions of the article and for meticulously correcting them, and for all the unpublished material on the subject he supplied during our years of correspondence. I presented papers relevant to this article at the 2015 Symposia Iranica at the University of Cambridge, at the 2016 Graduate Meeting of the Ernst Herzfeld Society at the Museum für Islamische Kunst in Berlin, and at the 2017 Islamic Stuccos of Seljuk and Ilkhanid Dynasties Conference at the University of Kashan. I would like to thank the audience for their questions, comments, and suggestions, which helped to improve the article. I would also like to express my utmost gratitude to the following experts for their comments, advice, and assistance: Giovanni Curatola, Maria Vittoria Fontana, Robert Hillenbrand, Parviz Holakooei, Mohsen Javeri, Amir-Hossein Karimy, Amir Khalaf, Mariam Rosser Owen, Scott Redford, and Fariba Anaraki Saeidi. I am extremely thankful to the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization (Sāzmān-i Mīrās̱-i Farhangī) and its staff for enabling my field research in Iran. During my time in Iran, I benefitted from the heartwarming hospitality and generosity of the Iranian people, all of whom I thank. I would also like to thank the personnel of the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale ‘Giuseppe Tucci’ for facilitating my consultation of the photographic archive of IsMEO. I am most indebted to Gülru Necipoğlu, Maria J. Metzler, and to the anonymous Muqarnas reviewer for their suggestions, patience, and willingness to help.

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