The Silk Roads witnessed various political movements shaping and transforming the arts the period. It is notably the case with the presence of the Mongols in the Iranian plateau and Central Asian regions. Contrary to common beliefs, the arrival of the Mongols in the 13th century CE did not eliminate the cultural traditions of the Iranian region; it transformed it by adding new and original elements.
The broad artistic field includes miniatures painting and book illumination (manuscript decoration) of this period, displays the continuity of an artistic environment already prosperous. The Mongol rulers – especially from the Il-Khanid dynasty (1256-1335) – of that time took the arts to their advantage. They used it for their own representation by adding new elements to the model existing, such as Chinese and Mongolian features. This consequently led to the development of the field of book illuminations.
Earlier in the 11th century CE, when the Seljuks arrived from the Central Asian steppes to the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia, they also introduced their figurative artistic traditions. They were the first to bring eastern elements to the local arts. Central Asian clothing, and face features such as round faces, long almond-shaped eyes, or small lips began to appear on the paintings and sculptures.
The influences coming from the East are displayed in the Persian heroic epic Shahnameh (“The Book of Kings”). Written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi in the beginning of the 11th century, it was then illustrated three centuries later thanks to the eastern graphic language. The introduction of landscape painting in the Tabriz illumination schools is linked with the Mongol influence. Nature was represented very modestly. However, the Mongol influence brought depth and width in the painting, and nature was then viewed from a bird’s perspective. Cloudy heavens, rocky mountains, whirling waters were some of the new elements surrounding the people on the miniatures. The colour of the rocks in marble technique, and the linear ornaments of the waves of the water were clearly coming from eastern models.
At the end of the Mongol ruling in the 14th century, their influence on the artistic field lived on. The paintings were still deeply inspired by the Mongol artistic features during the Safavid period (1501-1736). This was continuously the result of the teaching of specific techniques from great art teachers – such as Ahmad Musa or Behzad – to their students and so on. These artistic elements of Mongolian influence eventually integrated into the Persian miniatures leaving a considerable heritage along the Silk Roads.