Persian Art 11 Sep 2023 BY Arash Morshed

Persian Sculpture: From Past to Present

Persian Sculpture is the art of crafting three-dimensional forms that encapsulate the artistic expression in Iran.

Through various materials and techniques, these sculptures come alive, telling stories and embodying the essence of Persian civilization. Deeply rooted in Persian culture, these sculptures often reflect themes of religion, mythology, literature, and daily life, serving as visual storytellers of Iran's cultural heritage.


History Timeline of Persian Sculpture

Dating back over 2,500 years, Persian Sculpture offers a profound glimpse into the grandeur of ancient empires, with distinct periods and influences shaping its development. Here is a timeline of key developments in Iranian Sculpture history:

ancient kings sculpture

Ancient Persia (c. 550 BCE - 330 BCE)

During the Achaemenid Empire, monumental stone sculptures were created, such as the massive winged human-headed bulls at Persepolis, serving as protective guardian figures.


Hellenistic Influence (c. 330 BCE - 247 BCE)

Following Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia, Greek artistic influences began to merge with Persian art. This period saw the emergence of sculptures that combined Greek and Persian styles.


Parthian Period (c. 247 BCE - 224 CE)

The Parthians, a Persian dynasty, created sculptures featuring stylized human and animal figures, often found in relief on tomb facades.


Sassanid Empire (c. 224 CE - 651 CE)

The Sassanid period witnessed the development of sculptural techniques in rock reliefs and stucco work. Notable examples include the colossal rock carvings at Naqsh-e Rustam.


Islamic Era (7th Century CE - Present)

With the spread of Islam, the focus of Persian art shifted to calligraphy, decorative arts, and architectural ornamentation. Calligraphic inscriptions became prominent in mosques and buildings.


Seljuk and Ilkhanid Periods (11th Century CE - 14th Century CE)

The Seljuk and Ilkhanid periods saw the continuation of Islamic architectural ornamentation, including intricate stucco work and glazed tile mosaic.


Timurid Dynasty (14th Century CE - 16th Century CE)

The Timurid rulers were great patrons of the arts. Timurid Persian art featured highly detailed and finely crafted metalwork, ceramics, and architectural embellishments.


Safavid Dynasty (16th Century CE - 18th Century CE)

The Safavid era marked a revival of Persian art, including sculpture. Notable examples include the sculptures and reliefs on Safavid mosque facades.


Qajar Dynasty (18th Century CE - 20th Century CE)

During the Qajar period, Persian sculpture and art saw a blend of traditional and Western influences. Sculpture, including portraiture, began to gain prominence.


Modern and Contemporary Era (20th Century CE - Present)

In the modern era, Iranian Sculpture continues to evolve. Contemporary Iranian sculptors draw from both traditional and Western influences, creating a diverse range of works.

Persian Sculpture

The Characteristics of Persian Sculpture

Persian sculpture, like other forms of Persian art, exhibits unique characteristics that set it apart from other sculptural traditions. These characteristics are shaped by the rich history, culture, and artistic influences of Persia (modern-day Iran). Here are some of the key characteristics of Persian sculpture:

  1. Architectural Integration: Iranian Sculpture often serves as an integral part of architecture. Sculptural elements are incorporated into buildings, monuments, and palaces, enhancing the overall design and aesthetics of the structure. Examples include the sculpted reliefs at Persepolis and the intricate stucco work on mosque facades.
  2. Narrative and Symbolic Imagery: Iranian Sculpture frequently conveys narrative and symbolic content. Sculpted reliefs and figurative sculptures often depict historical events, royal scenes, mythological stories, and religious themes. These sculptures serve both an artistic and educational purpose, telling stories and conveying cultural and religious messages.
  3. Intricate Detail: Persian sculptors are known for their attention to detail. Whether working in stone, metal, or other materials, they produce finely detailed sculptures. The intricacy of the work is evident in the meticulous rendering of clothing, facial expressions, and decorative motifs.
  4. Animals and Nature: Animals and nature are common motifs in Persian sculpture. Persian artists have a long history of depicting animals, both real and mythical, in their works. These representations often carry symbolic and cultural significance.
  5. Geometric and Floral Patterns: Geometric and floral patterns play a significant role in Persian sculptural ornamentation. These intricate designs adorn architectural elements, creating a visually stunning interplay of shapes and forms.
  6. Continuity of Tradition: Persian sculpture has maintained a continuity of tradition over centuries. Even as artistic styles evolved and Persian empires changed, there is a recognizable thread of artistic identity that runs through Persian sculptural works.
  7. Cultural Diversity: Iranian Sculpture reflects the diverse cultural influences that have shaped the region over time, including influences from Central Asia, the Middle East, and other parts of the world.
  8. Balance and Harmony: Iranian Sculptures often exhibit a sense of balance and harmony in their compositions. The careful arrangement of elements, whether in architectural ornamentation or freestanding sculptures, contributes to the overall aesthetic appeal.


Materials and Techniques in Persian Sculpture Art

Persian sculpture art has a rich history and encompasses a wide range of materials and techniques. Here are some of the materials and techniques commonly used in Iranian Sculpture art:



  1. Stone: Stone, particularly marble and limestone, has been a popular material for Persian sculpture. Artists often carved reliefs, statues, and tombstones from these durable materials. Persepolis, for example, features numerous stone sculptures.
  2. Bronze: Bronze was another significant material used in Iranian Sculpture. It allowed for the creation of detailed and durable sculptures. Persian bronze sculptures often depicted animals, human figures, and mythological beings.
  3. Clay and Terracotta: Clay and terracotta were used for both utilitarian and artistic purposes. Ancient Persian pottery often featured intricate relief designs and decorative motifs. Additionally, figurines and small sculptures were crafted from terracotta.
  4. Metalwork: Persian metalwork included techniques like casting, repoussé, and chasing. Artists used metals like bronze, brass, and silver to create sculptures and decorative objects, often adorned with intricate designs.
  5. Wood: Wood was employed for various sculptural purposes, including architectural elements, wooden doors, and ornate details in buildings and structures.
  6. Plaster and Stucco: Plaster and stucco were used in architectural ornamentation and decorative sculptures. These materials allowed for intricate and delicate designs to be added to buildings and interiors.



  1. Carving: Carving is a fundamental sculpting technique in which material is removed to shape a sculpture. Persian sculptors carved intricate reliefs on stone surfaces, depicting historical events, royal decrees, and mythological scenes.
  2. Casting: Casting involves creating a mold of a sculpture and then pouring molten metal, typically bronze, into the mold. This technique allowed for the production of multiple copies of a sculpture.
  3. Repoussé and Chasing: These metalworking techniques involve shaping and decorating metal sheets by hammering them from the front (repoussé) and the back (chasing). They were commonly used in Persian metalwork and decorative arts.
  4. Relief Sculpture: Relief sculpture is a style in which figures or designs are carved or molded onto a flat surface, creating a three-dimensional effect. High-relief and low-relief sculptures are common in Persian art. High-relief sculptures project prominently from the background, while low-relief sculptures are more shallow but still display intricate detailing. Reliefs often adorn the walls of palaces and tombs.
  5. Mosaic and Inlay: Persian sculptures and architectural elements often featured intricate mosaic and inlay work using materials such as tiles, faience, and glazed bricks. These added vibrant colors and patterns to the artwork.
  6. Terracotta Figurines: Artists crafted small terracotta figurines using hand-building techniques. These figurines often represented human and animal forms and were used for various purposes, including religious rituals.
  7. Woodcarving: Persian woodcarvers used various tools to carve intricate designs and patterns into wooden surfaces. This technique was employed in architectural ornamentation and decorative objects.
  8. Stucco and Plasterwork: Persian artisans used stucco and plaster to create intricate decorative motifs and patterns on architectural surfaces. These materials allowed for detailed relief sculptures to be added to buildings.


Famous Persian Sculptures

Persian sculpture encompasses a wide range of artworks from various periods and dynasties, and there are numerous notable sculptures with rich histories.


The Winged Human-Headed Bulls at Persepolis

Achaemenid Empire (c. 550 BCE - 330 BCE)

These colossal sculptures served as protective guardian figures at the entrance of the ancient city of Persepolis. They symbolized divine protection and power.

Current Location: The ruins of Persepolis, Iran.


The Ardeshir Relief

Sassanid Empire (c. 224 CE - 651 CE)

The Ardeshir Relief depicts Ardeshir I, the founder of the Sassanid Dynasty, receiving the ring of kingship from the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda. It commemorates Ardeshir's rise to power.

Current Location: Naqsh-e Rustam, Iran.


The Rock Carvings at Taq-e Bostan

Sassanid Empire (c. 224 CE - 651 CE)

These rock carvings depict various Sassanid kings in ceremonial scenes, including King Shapur II's victory over the Roman Emperor Valerian. They showcase the glory and achievements of the Sassanid rulers.

Current Location: Taq-e Bostan, Iran.


The Tomb of Cyrus the Great

Achaemenid Empire (c. 550 BCE - 330 BCE)

The tomb of Cyrus the Great, also known as the Cyrus Cylinder, was built to honor the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. It is a symbol of his legacy and leadership.

Current Location: Pasargadae, Iran.


The Chehel Sotoun Palace Frescoes

Safavid Dynasty (16th Century CE)

The frescoes at Chehel Sotoun Palace depict scenes from Safavid court life and were intended to glorify the Safavid rulers. They served as a backdrop for royal receptions and ceremonies.

Current Location: Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan, Iran.


The Statue of Nader Shah

Afsharid Dynasty (18th Century CE)

The statue of Nader Shah, a prominent Persian military leader, was erected to commemorate his achievements in expanding the Persian Empire.

Current Location: Laleh Park, Tehran, Iran.


The Sculptures at Golestan Palace

Qajar Dynasty (18th Century CE - 20th Century CE)

The sculptures at Golestan Palace in Tehran depict scenes from Persian mythology, history, and daily life. They served as decorative elements within the palace complex.


Saadi Statue

The statue commemorates Saadi Shirazi, one of the most famous Persian poets and authors of the medieval period. Saadi's works, including "Gulistan" and "Bustan," are celebrated for their wisdom and moral teachings.

Current Location: The Saadi Mausoleum in Shiraz, Iran.


Khayyam Statue

The statue pays tribute to Omar Khayyam, a renowned Persian polymath, mathematician, astronomer, and poet. Khayyam's poetry, particularly the "Rubaiyat," remains celebrated worldwide.

Current Location: Laleh Park, Tehran, Iran.


Ferdowsi Statue

Ferdowsi is celebrated as the author of the "Shahnameh" (Book of Kings), an epic poem that preserves Persian mythology, history, and heroic tales. The statue pays homage to his role in preserving Persian culture and identity. The presence of a statue depicting the child figure of Zal next to Ferdowsi's figure adds depth and symbolism to the square, celebrating the rich narratives of the Shahnameh.

Current Location: Ferdowsi Square in Tehran, Iran.



The Most Notable Persian Sculpture Artists

Persian sculpture has been shaped by numerous talented artists throughout its history. While many Persian sculptors may not be as widely recognized as those from other regions, their contributions to the world of art are significant.


Abul Hassan Siddiqui (19th-20th Century CE)

Abul Hassan Siddiqui, also known as Mirza Abolhassan Khan Ghaffari Kashani, was a renowned Persian sculptor and painter of the Qajar period. He is celebrated for creating several statues and sculptures of prominent Persian figures, including Saadi, Khayyam, Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna), and Ferdowsi, as mentioned earlier. His works are often found in public spaces and cultural institutions in Iran.


Farhad Meisami (1941-2002)

Farhad Meisami was a contemporary Iranian sculptor known for his modern and abstract sculptures. One of his major works is the "Abstract Eagle" sculpture located at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. His sculptures often combine elements of abstraction and traditional Persian motifs.


Parviz Tanavoli (Born 1937)

Bahman Mohasses was a sculptor, painter, and poet known for his abstract and expressionist sculptures. One of his significant works is the "Siah Mashq" (Black Exercise) series, which reflects his innovative approach to sculpture.


Soheila Sokhanvari (Born 1970)

Soheila Sokhanvari is a contemporary Iranian sculptor and artist known for her diverse and thought-provoking sculptures. Her works often explore themes of identity, displacement, and cultural hybridity. One of her notable sculptures is "Requiem" (2017), which is part of the permanent collection at the British Museum.


Sadegh Barirani (Born 1931)

Sadegh Barirani is known for his bronze and stone sculptures that often feature abstract and geometric forms. His work "Orion" is an example of his use of abstract geometry in sculpture.


Bottom Line

Persian sculpture, with its historical significance, intricate craftsmanship, and cultural richness, continues to inspire modern artists around the world. When traveling Iran, e xplore the timeless beauty and cultural depth of Persian sculpture for yourself. Visit museums, galleries, or cultural institutions that showcase these remarkable artworks and discover how they continue to inspire artists and enthusiasts today.


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