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Timeline of Iranian Art & History
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 8000 BC 21st Century
Last Updated: October, 2009


Louis XIV of France sends envoys to Iran with portraits of himself and prints by the artist François Mazot.


The Ghalzai Afghans revolt and occupy Qandahar. They proceed to march on Kirman and Isfahan in 1719.


The fall of Isfahan. Strife in the country encourages Peter the Great of Russia to occupy Darband and Baku in 1723, and the Ottomans to invade Azerbaijan in 1726. Iran is forced to cede lands in Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.


18th century, Iran,
Papier-mâché, painted and lacquered

Nadir Quli of the Afshar tribe places Tahmasp II back on the throne. After ridding Persia of its Afghan invaders, Nadir is rewarded with the governorship of Khorasan, Kirman, Sistan, and Mazandaran. During the years 1730–35, he regains all the territory lost to the Ottomans and expels the Russians as well. In 1732, cAbbas III succeeds as the Safavid shah after Tahmasp is killed.


Deciding not to rule any longer behind the veil of the Safavid state, Nadir Quli crowns himself. This marks the beginning of the Afsharid dynasty.


first half of 18th century, Iran
Ceramic, glazed

Nadir Shah's ambitions of creating a vast empire and his military successes thus far take him to India, where he eyes Delhi as the prize. The weak Mughal state, under Muhammad Shah, is unable to withstand his forces and Delhi is looted. Two hundred years' worth of Mughal riches are carted back to Iran and India cedes its lands north and west of the Indus River. Upon Nadir Shah's return, his behavior becomes increasingly cruel and erratic; he is finally murdered in 1747. Two sons succeed him but the dynasty is severely threatened. They are slowly pushed out of central Iran into Khorasan, where Shah Rukh, grandson of Nadir Shah, remains in power until 1796. The Bakhtiyars and Zands occupy Isfahan in 1750 when the Afsharids can no longer hold it.


c. 1779
Private Collection

Karim Khan, member of the Zand tribe in southern Iran, reigns as vakil, or regent, of another puppet Safavid shah, thus reviving the dynasty once again. A modicum of political tranquility is restored during his almost thirty years in power in Shiraz and the region's economy recovers. Karim Khan builds extensively in Shiraz and his patronage of art and literature allows Safavid traditions to continue into the Qajar era.


late 17th–early 18th century,  Iran

Aqa Muhammad Khan (r. 1785–97), member of the rival Qajar tribe and hostage at the Zand court, escapes and takes control of the northern provinces of Iran. In 1785, he is crowned shah and the following year makes Tehran his capital. He then installs various brothers and cousins in Isfahan, Shiraz, and Kirman, and kills the last Zand, Fath cAli Khan, in revenge for his years in captivity. By the mid-1790s, all tribal rivals have been eliminated and Iran is united under one stable rule.


Aqa Muhammad Khan is assassinated, but the foundations he has laid are strong enough for the dynasty to continue. He is succeeded by his nephew Fath cAli Shah (r. 1797–1834).


19th century, Iran
Fabricated from sheet and half-round wire,
enameled on obverse and reverse

During the reign of Fath cAli Shah, Qajar court ceremonials are elaborated and the Gulistan Palace in Tehran is expanded. He emphasizes the ancient Persian traditions of kingship, taking the title "kings of kings" and appropriating Sasanian royal iconography. His son, cAbbas Mirza (1789–1833), is appointed crown prince and governor of Azerbaijan.


Captain John Malcolm of the British East India Company travels to Tehran to cement ties with Fath cAli Shah, whom the British hope will ally with them against the Russians. Further diplomatic embassies arrive in 1809 and 1811.


portrait by Sir Robert Ker Porter during his
travels to Iran in 1817-20. In 1818
Ker Porter met with Prince Abbas Mirza at Tabriz

In a series of wars with Russia, Fath cAli Shah loses most of the Caucasian provinces and is forced to pay reparations, which almost bankrupt the kingdom. In 1813 and 1828, the Treaties of Gulistan and Turkmanchay end the first and second Russo-Persian Wars. In 1833, Crown Prince cAbbas Mirza dies, followed by the death of Fath cAli Shah in 1834.


The reign of Muhammad Shah Qajar. In an attempt to regain terrain that had been lost to the Afghans in the eighteenth century, Muhammad Shah seizes Herat briefly in 1838. In 1835, Mirza Saleh Shirazi publishes the first lithographic newspaper in Iran. In 1844, the daguerreotype is introduced in Iran.


ca. 1880, Iran
Wood, metal, bone, gut

The religious leader cAli Muhammad of Shiraz, known as the Bab (1819–1850), leads protests against the Qajars and the culama who provide support for their oppressive legal system. He proposes a more liberal form of sharica and denounces corrupt government officials who extort the peasants; the Bab is executed in 1850 and the movement is quieted until the rise of his successor Baha'ullah (1817–1892). In 1863, Baha'ullah proclaims himself the next prophet; the adherents of his new religion are known as Baha'is. After Baha'ullah is exiled to Turkey, his son and grandson continue the movement for greater social justice.


Signed and dated: Fath Allah Shirazi, Iran,
Papier-mâché, painted, varnished, and gilded

The accession of Nasir al-Din Shah at the age of seventeen. In the early years of the shah's reign, his able prime minister Amir Kabir lays the foundation for military, administrative, and fiscal reforms that are cut short by his dismissal and execution in 1852. Nasir al-Din Shah patronizes artists and building programs in the European mode. He commissions artists to produce academic portraits and landscapes as well as illustrations for the new state-sponsored newspaper, Ruznama-i Vaqayi Ittifaqia. During his reign, Sanic al-Mulk's A Thousand and One Nights manuscript is completed. The British who work in the country become interested in Persian history and culture, and in 1876 there is an exhibit of Persian art at the South Kensington Museum in London.


Patterns on Persian carpets displayed at the Great Exhibition in London influence William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement. Nasir al-Din Shah's prime minister Amir Kabir (1807–1852) establishes the Dar al-Funun for training army officers, engineers, doctors, and interpreters. Artists and military musicians are also trained at the school. Calligrapher and painter Muhammad Davari Vesal (1822–1865) completes the last extant illustrated manuscript of the Shahnama (Book of Kings).


ca. 1852–55 Luigi Pesce (Italian, active 1848–61),Iran
Salt print

In an effort to regain control of Afghanistan, Nasir al-Din Shah wages war on the neighboring province. He briefly takes Herat, but the British force him to withdraw and recognize Afghan independence under the Treaty of Paris. A second war in 1860–61 results in the loss of Merv province.


Nasir al-Din Shah (1977.683.22) grants Baron Julius Reuter concessions for railroad, mining, and banking companies, but is forced to repeal them after widespread revolts.


Russians are brought in to train a Cossack regiment in Nasir al-Din Shah's army; this brigade will play a role in the Constitutional Revolution of the next century. Nasir al-Din Shah opens the country's first museum and places his collection on display.


The British-controlled Imperial Bank of Persia opens. It prints the country's first bank notes.


from Qajar Studies, Journal of the International Qajar
Studies Association, Vol. V (2005): 61. 

The culama and merchants coordinate massive protests when Nasir al-Din Shah awards the British Regie Company the monopoly on collecting, distributing, and exporting Persia's tobacco. The shah is compelled to cancel the concession in the following year.


Nasir al-Din Shah is assassinated by a follower of the Islamic activist Jamal al-Din Asadabadi (better known as al-Afghani, 1838–1897), who opposes his pro-Western policies. Muzaffar al-Din Shah (1853–1907) accedes to the throne.

Portrait Of Muzaffar Al-Din Shah Qajar. Persia, C. 1890
c. 1890

Muzaffar al-Din Shah, who succeeds his father Nasir al-Din Shah to the Qajar throne, remains reliant on European financial support because of the dynasty's poor economic condition. The Belgians are granted control of the customs business and Russia provides loans.


Oil is discovered and rights to drill for the next sixty years are granted to the British entrepreneur William Darcy, who is to split his profits with the Qajar government. The British government buys out Darcy in 1909 and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company is founded in London, with the two administrations as business partners.

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