Bookcover with Christian Themes

Object Name: Bookbinding

Date: mid-19th century

Geography: Attributed to Iran

Medium: Pasteboard; painted and lacquered

Dimensions: H. 11 1/8 in. (28.3 cm)
W. 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm)

Classification: Codices

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Henry Morgenthau, 1934

Accession Number: 34.23


The technique of painting on pasteboard under lacquer varnish had been utilized in Persian bookbinding from at least the fifteenth century. Originating in China, the technique was transmitted to Iran as a result of the expanded contacts with China during the Timurid hegemony. However, painters, and not bookbinders, were responsible for the adoption of the technique and its development in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Safavid Iran. Lacquer painting for book covers gained greater popularity during the Zand and Qajar periods, which also coincides with a gradual decline in the production of leather binding. The bookbinding here reflects the pervasive influence of European art on Persian painting in this period. Stylistically, the European impact is evident in the gradations application of color, the modeling of figures and objects, the observation of the rules of perspective, the use of shading, as well as the atmospheric effects. Thematically, biblical scenes were inspired by the availability of European models in the form of devotional prints or paintings. The book cover is probably by a Qajar artist in the circle of Najaf Ali.