Miniature: art with a long history


In 2020, during the 15th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage the Art of Miniature of Azerbaijan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey and Uzbekistan was inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Art of Miniature has become the eighth intangible cultural heritage from Uzbekistan, along with Shashmaqom music, Navruz, Khorazm dance "Lazgi" and other elements inscribed on the List.

Though the miniature has existed for many centuries, it continues to evolve, becoming a bridge between the past and the present.

In an interview with the UNESCO Tashkent Office, an art historian Ms Zukhra Rakhimova explains what the art of miniature is and why it has now received international recognition.


Ms Zukhra Rakhimova, Ph.D. in Art History, Professor at the Department of Museology of the National Institute of Fine Arts and Design named after Kamaliddin Behzad.


– Miniature - when did it emerge and in which countries did it develop?

– Miniature is a type of secular art, small picturesque pictures that became common in Muslim countries as illustrations in medieval manuscripts. It was an important element of decoration, along with ornamentation of the pages and the bookbinding.

The art of the book miniature reached its peak in the Near and Middle East, in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Central Asia and Mongolian India, between the XIII and XVII centuries, and in some countries, it existed until the XIX century. Each of these centres had its developmental path, but at the same time, they had a certain similarity of artistic language and subjects based on the Arabic script, literature, classical poetry, and a common type of aesthetic ideas and ethical norms common for that time.

– Could you please explain the subject and technique of miniature?

– In the past, miniatures portrayed the heroes of Arabic urban novels, Iranian epos, the characters of popular Persian or Turkic poetry and various historical events. The miniatures were collected into Murakk albums together with samples of calligraphy and served to enjoy the beauty.

The miniature, above all, valued finesse of writing, decoration and interpretation of the subject within the framework of established canons. Nowadays, miniaturists often turn to these subjects which have become classics.

In the Middle Ages, paints and brushes were made by hand. Miniaturists used natural minerals as pigments and egg white or yolk as binders. Liquid or leaf gold was used to depict the sky, costume details, ornamental décor of architecture or domestic objects, silver was used to depict water. Modern miniaturists try to use ready tempera paints, watercolours and gouache.

– Could you please tell us about the Uzbek school of miniature?

– The origin of the miniature in Central Asia is associated with Amir Temur who took captive specialists and masters of book art from conquered territories.

With the advent of the Uzbek Shaybanid Dynasty in Maverannahr at the end of the XV and the early XVI centuries, the art of miniature as a handwritten book art began to develop intensively in Bukhara and Samarkand. During that period, the Bukhara miniature school was strongly influenced by the art of Kamaliddin Behzad. Later on, the Bukhara school created its original style that has great uniqueness and, according to a major contemporary European researcher F. Richard, "deserves its own chapter in the history of Persian book art". Samarkand miniatures continued to develop local traditions.

The surviving examples of manuscript book and book miniature in Uzbekistan allow us to note the path of development from the late XV to the XIX century that saw periods of flourishing (in the XVI-XVII centuries) and long stagnation which eventually led to the disappearance of this form of art and its replacement by lithographic illustrations in the late XIX and early XX centuries.

– What is the importance of the miniature today and why does UNESCO support its safeguarding? In your opinion, what is the main problem in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage?

– The problem of safeguarding the unique intangible cultural heritage of every nation is very serious, and in Uzbekistan in particular.

In February 2018, at the initiative of Turkey and with the participation of Azerbaijan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Uzbekistan, an expert meeting was held in Ankara to elaborate documents for the possible inscription of the contemporary miniature on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In 2020, this nomination was successfully approved at the 15th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage on 16 December.

It is a great joy and pride for the countries participating in this meeting and above all for the masters of miniature. This is recognition of this form of art and the importance of the contribution of its creators to the culture of modern society, as it creates a "sense of identity and continuity", opens up new opportunities for sharing experiences and contributes to the further development of contemporary miniature art.

During the years of Uzbekistan's independence, the National Institute of Fine Arts and Design named after Kamaliddin Behzad (Tashkent) opened a department of miniature and calligraphy whose graduates were actively involved in the modern creative process. In the 1990s in major Uzbek cities: Bukhara, Khiva, Samarkand, and Tashkent a number of private workshops emerged to create miniature artworks that were in great demand by the local population as well as foreign art lovers.

– Could you please tell us about the art of miniature in modern Uzbekistan?

– With the advent of lithography and the development of book printing, the art of miniature gradually came to an end. The revival of the art of miniature in Uzbekistan began in the last third of the XX century after more than a half-century of oblivion.

In the 1970s, a scientific production workshop of art painting was created at the "Usto" Association of Masters of Folk Art and headed by the famous Uzbek painter Chingiz Akhmarov.

The miniature has nowadays been revived not as an illustration of manuscripts but in a new quality: as a distinctive type of decorative-applied art that transformed the traditions of the style developed over centuries into a new form. Using the stylistics of classical miniature, masters began to decorate various items of traditional household furniture with paintings and ornaments. They adorn decorative vases, dishes, boxes, create lacquer and leather panels or narrative paintings, and decorate tambourines and pumpkins. Thus, the miniature has become a "living heritage". A tradition from the past has found a new life.

Today our miniaturists are active participants in national and foreign exhibitions; their works are kept in many local and foreign museums and private collections. These are Shomakhmud Mukhamedjanov, Niyazali Kholmatov, Davron Toshev, Munira Satybaldieva, Muzaffar Pulatov, Vladimir Lugovskoy, Olim Kamolov, father and son Bakhodyr and Bekhzod Khojimetov, and many others.

The contemporary miniature has become an integral part of the culture and art of Uzbekistan. The works of Uzbek miniaturists combine high craftsmanship and taste, the search for unusual compositional solutions and materials, and the ability to bring the subject up to date.


Miniaturist Sherzod Khatamov's workshop in Bukhara, January 2021
© Natalya Silkina