Fresco probably originated in Iran
Fatemeh Shokri & Atefeh Rezvan-Nia
The historical city of Jiroft in the southern province of Kerman has always been in the spotlight. Excavations have been conducted in numerous archeological sites in Jiroft, which has been identified as the world’s oldest civilization — dating back to the fifth millennium BCE.
Numerous prehistoric artifacts have been found in different phases of excavations. Two clay inscriptions carrying the oldest human’s scripts and a number of petroglyphs are among the findings.
Recently, an archeological excavation team announced the discovery of new layers of color on petroglyphs of Jiroft, which hints that the art of mural painting is probably older than previously thought.
Experts have said Iran is probably one of the cradles of mural painting in the world.
Iran Daily conducted an interview with Gholamreza Rahmani, an archeologist and expert of artifacts from Tehran-based Research Center for Safeguarding and Restoring Historical-Cultural Heritages, to get detailed information about the latest discoveries and the history of mural painting in Iran.
Rahmani has been collaborating with the research center for the past 18 years. He has greatly contributed to the completion of projects associated with the restoration and conservation of mural paintings.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
IRAN DAILY: How old is the history of mural or fresco painting in Iran?
RAHMANI: Wall paintings date back to pre-Islamic era in Iran. The most-preliminary examples of such paintings have been found across the country.
The oldest mural paintings date back to the Neolithic era — about 8,000 BCE — examples of which have been found in ‘Dousheh Cave’ and ‘Mirmelas Valley’ in Kuhdasht, Lorestan province.
About 110 pieces of drawings created by prehistoric humans have also been found in ‘Dousheh Cave’.
The historical city of ‘Gour’ in ‘Firouzabad’ township, Fars province, embraces one of the world’s most ancient mural paintings, displaying images of animals and humans.
Similar samples have been discovered in the historical ‘Khajeh Mountain’ in Zabol township, Sistan-Baluchestan province. Khajeh Mountain contains paintings created by Iranians during the reign of Ashkanid kings.
Many more such paintings have been discovered beyond the borders in lands that were detached from Iran due to a number of historic events.
After the advent of Islam, the motif of paintings underwent significant changes to reflect Islamic values such that Safavid and Qajar eras witnessed the flourishing of mural paintings.
Chelesotoun Mansion in Isfahan and Golestan Palace in Tehran have been decorated with the most attractive and charming frescos in Iran.
What colors and motifs were used to create wall paintings in various eras?
Religion, attitudes, and the needs of society, which varied in different periods, prompted humans to apply distinct colors and address diverse themes when creating murals, sociologists have said.
Prehistoric humans portrayed their rituals, traditions and historic incidences through wall paintings.
With the advent of Islam, the images of animals and humans were gradually eliminated from the paintings and were replaced by biomorphisim or islimi patterns.
Colors were varied in different times of history under the influence of social conditions and climatic conditions.
While yellow has been identified as a dominant color in frescos created during the Qajar era, dark blue (larjvardi) is more prevalent in murals painted by Safavid artists.
Can you name the murals in Iran which are at greater risk?
Murals and wall paintings are found in different places in Iran, ranging from natural locations including mountains and rocks to religious sites including Imamzadeh and mosque.
The more the paintings are accessible, the greater are they at risk.
Mural paintings that cover the walls of religious sites are more at risk, as these places are frequented by visitors and pilgrims. Similar paintings are better taken care of in historical palaces that have been converted into museums.
Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization is responsible for maintaining and preserving historical sites and all the artifacts therein.
However, ICHHTO needs to cooperate with Iran’s Endowment and Charity Organization when it comes to the heritages kept in mosques and religious sites.
Are foreign archeological teams involved in the restoration or protection projects?
Although, modern technologies and experiences of foreigners can be helpful in this respect, domestic experts are overwhelmingly preferred, as the techniques of preserving artifacts and historical heritages are local.
In addition, the know-how for preserving historical sites has improved in Iran and the country boasts of world’s best archeologists. Iranian experts have access to the latest information associated with their fields of study.
Iran is among the world’s best countries in the restoration of historical sites and several nations have sought to use our experiences.
As an example, India asked for the help of Iranian experts to restore its teahouse paintings, as Iran is the birthplace of teahouse painting in the world and Iranian experts have gained valuable experience in their restoration.
Why are Iranians still using traditional methods of restoration despite having access to the latest technologies?
You cannot use a single technique for all historical heritages around the world.
As I said before, the process involved in saving historical sites are local since modern technologies can be destructive at times.
Iranian murals have been created by applying indigenous materials and methods. The climatic condition of Iran also differs from other nations. All these increase the need for an indigenous technology.
Do you think the new layers of colors that have been discovered recently on Jiroft’s petroglyphs are evidence that Iran is the birthplace of frescos in the world?
The archeological excavation is still in the process and more lab studies are required to estimate the age of drawings and colors. However, what is clear is that Iran is home to the world’s oldest petroglyphs. While the world’s oldest recorded petroglyphs date back to 12,000 years, a number of such ancient artistic works have been unearthed in Teymareh in Khomein township, Markazi province, which go back to even 40,000 years.