Ulrich Marzolph
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Roxana Zenhari
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The art of lithographic illustration in Persian books of the Qajar period constitutes a unique opportunity for assessing the period’s art and material culture. It was most impressively performed by Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi, the unsurpassed master of this specific form of artistic expression. Intending to serve as a reference work for future studies, the present publication documents the artist’s work in a comprehensive manner.

The history of printing in Iran has increasingly gained attention in recent years. Even so, this book explores new and hitherto little studied terrain, particularly for its extensive documentary dimension. The project that lies at the core of the present publication roots in a number of inspiring conversations I had with Basil Robinson (1912–2005), the doyen of Qajar art history, in the early 1990s. Robinson first drew attention to the work of Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi in 19791 and accompanied my progress with great sympathy as I researched and wrote my book on illustrated lithographed books of the Qajar period.2 I fondly remember how he expressed his appreciation in response to the published copy I had sent him by informing me that it was about time to address me explicitly as “Dear Marzolph,” thus in the distinguished fashion of a British gentleman welcoming me into the small circle of aficionados of Qajar art.

The present publication has been in the making for more than two decades. Essentially, it is a much expanded version of the short passages devoted to Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi in my 2001 book that presented an updated summary of my first attempt to comprehensively assess the artist’s work in 1997.3 Having become aware of Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi’s profound importance for the art of illustration in Persian lithographed books of the Qajar period, some years later I conceived a research project aiming to document the artist’s production so as to provide a solid basis for future analytic studies. Funded by the Fritz-Thyssen-Stiftung for a period of three years, my former student Roxana Zenhari devoted her energy to classifying the artist’s illustrations in detail from 2014 to 2017 and kindly remained available afterwards to work towards the project’s completion. Throughout, the project was supervised by myself, a scholar educated in Islamic Studies with profound professional experience in historical and comparative folk narrative research. Zenhari, by education an artist and historian of Islamic art who acquired her German Ph.D. in Iranian Studies,4 wrote the initial drafts of the descriptive texts and significant sections of the introduction, both of which we continually revised and elaborated in an intensive exchange over an extended period of time. The result of this joint venture is a hybrid. Zenhari contributed her fascination and expertise to study the position of the artist’s illustrations in the context of the visual culture of the Qajar period. My own main interest lay in exploring the “popular” dimension of Persian lithographed illustrations that for the first time in Iranian history made the art of the book, which in the many preceding centuries of manuscript production was primarily accessible to small circles of “the privileged few,”5 available to larger audiences.

Whereas each manuscript is unique in terms of calligraphy and illumination or illustration, the introduction of printing to Iran resulted in print runs of several hundred copies. Admittedly, the larger audiences of printed books in the early Qajar period were still privileged, as the books were comparatively expensive, and only a limited percentage of the Iranian population could read. Illustrations in lithographed books thus constituted an additional means to convey and to a certain extent “popularize” a given book’s message to the illiterate audiences similar to, e.g., wall paintings in Shiʿi sanctuaries6 or narrative tiles on public buildings that were particularly popular in Qajar Shiraz.7 Although the “reading” of an image also requires a special literacy, the repetitive character of narrative scenes as well as their stereotypical and to some extent standardized depiction would have enabled illiterate audiences to follow the narrative’s plot and create strong and lasting mental images of important scenes with a high recognition value.8 The documentation of this “folkloric” dimension thus constitutes the key intention of the present study. Zenhari contributed her ease of reading a large body of Persian lithographed, i.e. handwritten, texts in prose and poetry and classified the illustrations. In addition, she added her expertise in Persian visual art that is particularly evident in the book’s introduction.

The present study thus combines our efforts in producing a reference work that aims to provide a solid basis for future analytical studies of the art of lithographic illustration in Persian books of the Qajar period, including its relation to traditional manuscript illustration and related areas of the visual arts in Iran, its iconographical dimensions, its depiction of material realities, and many other aspects. Although our introduction tentatively sketches the potentials of analyzing the presented material, our prime goal remains documentation.

All but relegated to oblivion more than a century after his productive existence, Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi was put on the map of art history by Basil Robinson.9 On an international scale, Robinson’s article resulted in the artist’s listing in the online database Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon/Internationale Künstlerdatenbank.10 Since then, Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi has received considerable scholarly attention. In addition to now being recognized in at least two comprehensive encyclopedic articles,11 he is listed (albeit cursorily) in major surveys of Islamic and Persian art12 as well as being assessed in a (short and defective) monograph study,13 numerous articles (in Persian) and yet more master theses in Iran.14 In fact, of the early illustrators of Persian lithographed books, only Ostād Sattār Tabrizi (fl. 1850–1858)15 and Mirzā Ḥasan b. Seyyed Mirzā Eṣfahāni (fl. 1854–1864),16 both of them second to Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi in quality as well as quantity of output, received some attention. In Iran, Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi was and still is enthusiastically embraced by art historians and artists. In May 2019, he was graced with an exhibition of his works together with a scholarly symposium at the Malek Museum in Tehran. Even so, the studies available since 2001 rarely add new data to those previously published. Being the major representative of the art of lithographic illustration, an artistic practice that was completely forgotten (az yād rafte) in today’s Iran and is only recently being revived, it is about time that Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi receives due recognition. He may not be, as Robert Hillenbrand once sympathetically mocked my fascination, “a Michelangelo.” Nevertheless, the ingenuity and appeal of his art together with his tremendous productivity and the lasting impact of his work deserve to be acknowledged as what they are—a major contribution to the Persian art of the book in the Qajar period.

The present publication aims to document Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi’s artwork in a comprehensive manner. The first volume introduces the artist and reconstructs his career in the context of the contemporary political, cultural, and artistic developments of the Qajar period. A survey of the artist’s production leads to a preliminary assessment of the stylistic criteria that guided him and the impact of his artwork. This is followed by a detailed documentation of the books illustrated by Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi. In the content summaries of the relevant books, particular attention is devoted to the illustrated scenes that are again listed after the summaries. The second volume documents the illustrations created by Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoʾi, arranged in the same sequence as the previous listing. In order to facilitate a simultaneous appreciation of the textual and visual assessments, both volumes should ideally be placed side by side. The concluding Album serves to convey a detailed impression of the artist’s work by reproducing a small selection of images in large size.

In the course of the many years that our study matured into publication, various institutions and individuals contributed to its successful completion. First and foremost, our sincere gratitude extends to the numerous libraries that generously made their holdings available. Particularly in Iran, the past two decades witnessed a growing awareness for the unique character of lithographed books. Previously indiscriminately stacking lithographed items together with other printed books, most Iranian libraries today pride themselves of separate sections for their lithographed holdings. They thus acknowledge the fact that lithographed books of the Qajar period are not only comparatively rare but that, potentially, each lithographed item is unique, since the stone slabs used for printing might have broken during the process and replacements, particularly those of illustrated pages, would necessarily have resulted in a different execution of layout and visual representation. The list of libraries consulted gives due credit to their holdings. Equally important, and maybe even more so, was the generosity of private collectors who allowed me to access and make copies of their extensive collections, including several unique items that are presently not known to exist in any public institution. In addition, our research project is indebted to numerous individuals, too many to be listed here, who with their inspiration and unstinting support contributed to the present publication. Of the senior generation, over the years Ṣediqe Solṭānifar and Iraj Afshār (1925–2011) gave valuable advice, and Bāqer Ṭaraqqi and Javād Ṣafi-nezhād shared with me the holdings of their extensive collections. Of the younger generation, we are particularly indebted to the enthusiastic support granted by ʿAli Buẕari, Moḥammad-Reżā Fāżel Hāshemi, Majid Gholāmi Jalise, and Maḥbobe Qods, all of whom continuously discussed new findings with us, shared our fascination, and helped to solve problems whenever there was an opportunity to do so. In this manner, the present publication not only bears witness to international scholarly cooperation but also to an active intercultural understanding that is fueled by common interest and mutual friendship.

Last but not least, Sandra Williams is to be thanked for her meticulous proofreading of the book’s final text. We sincerely appreciate that the editors of the series “Islamic Manuscripts and Books,” Christoph Rauch, Karin Scheper, and Arnoud Vrolijk, kindly agreed to include the book in their series. Teddi Dols at Brill deserves our gratitude for diligently steering the book through the various stages of production and Pieter te Velde for seeing the volume through the press.

Many people helped to make this book possible and to make it better. Whatever defects and deficiencies remain are our own responsibility.

The book is dedicated to the people of Iran and to all those who value the country’s cultural history and artistic legacy. Although our study explores but a small facet of the history of the printed book in Iran, we hope that it contributes to an adequate understanding of Iranian culture in a historical period that laid the foundations for modernity.

Ulrich Marzolph

Kitzingen, September 2021


Robinson, Basil W., 1979. “The Tehran Nizami of 1848 & Other Qajar Lithographed Books.” In Islam in the Balkans/Persian Art and Culture in the 18th and 19th Centuries. ed. J.M. Scarce. Edinburgh: Royal Scottish Museum, pp. 61–74.


Marzolph, Ulrich, 2001. Narrative Illustration in Persian Lithographed Books. Leiden: Brill.


Ibid., pp. 31–34; Marzolph, Ulrich, 1997. “Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Xuʾi. Master of Lithograph Illustration.” Annali (Istituto Orientale di Napoli) 57.1–2, pp. 183–202, plates IXV.


Zenhari, Roxana, 2014. The Persian Romance Samak-e ʿayyār: Analysis of an Illustrated Inju Manuscript. Dortmund: Verlag für Orientkunde.


Folsach, Kjeld von, 2007. For the Privileged Few: Islamic Miniature Painting from the David Collection. Copenhagen: Humlebæk.


Mirzāʾi Mehr, ʿAli-Aṣghar, 2007. Naqqāshihā-ye boqāʿ-e motabarreke dar Irān. Tehran: Farhangestān-e honar-e Jomhuri-ye eslāmi-ye Irān, 1386; ʿIsā-zāde, Peymān, 2013. Chehel majles: divār-negārehā-ye ziyāratgāhhā-ye Gilān. Rasht: Farhang-e Iliyā, 1392.


Seif, Hadi, 2014. Persian Painted Tile Work from the 18th and 19th Centuries. Stuttgart: Arnoldsche; Riyāżi, Moḥammad Reżā, 2016. Kāshi-kāri-ye qājāri. Tehran: Yasāvoli; Seyed Mousavi, Atefeh, 2018. Narrative Illustration on Qajar Tilework in Shiraz. Dortmund: Verlag für Orientkunde.


See also Marzolph, Ulrich, 2019. “The Visual Culture of Iranian Twelver-Shiʿism in the Qajar Period.” Shii Studies Review 3 (2019), pp. 133–186.


Robinson 1979.


Beyer, Andreas, Bénédicte Savoy, and Wolf Tegethoff (eds), 2009. Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon/Internationale Künstlerdatenbank. Berlin: De Gruyter.


Marzolph, Ulrich, 2011. “Khoʾi, Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli.” In Dāneshnāme-ye jahān-e eslām. vol. 16. Tehran: Bonyād-e Dāʾerat al-maʿāref-e eslāmi, 1390, pp. 528–530; id. 2015. “Ḵoʾi, Mirzā ʿAliqoli.” In Encyclopædia Iranica (


Bloom, Jonathan M., and Sheila Blair, 2009. The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. 3 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, vol. 2, p. 248 (strangely listed as ʿAliquli Khuvayyi); Āzhand, Yaʿqub, 2010. Negārgari-ye Irān (pazhuheshi dar tārikh-e neqqāshi va negārgari-ye Irān). Tehran: Sāzmān-e moṭāleʿe va tadvin-e kotob-e ʿolum-e ensāni-ye dāneshgāhhā, 1389, p. 801.


Āzhand, Yaʿqub, 2012. Mirzā ʿAli-Qoli Khoyi. Tehran: Peykare, 1391.


For bibliographic references up to 2014 see Buẕari, ʿAli, and Moḥammad Āzādi, 2011. Maʾkhaẕ-shenāsi-ye ketābhā-ye chāp-e sangi va sorbi. Tehran: Ketābdār, 1390; Abṭaḥi-nezhād Moqaddam, Ṭorfe, 2015. “Maʾkhaẕ-shenāsi-ye ketābhā-ye chāp-e sangi va sorbi: az ebtedā-ye zemestān-e sāl-e 1389 tā pāyān-e zemestān-e sāl-e 1393.” Faṣl-nāme-ye naqd-e ketāb, Mirās̱ (1394), pp. 145–172.


Buẕari, ʿAli, and Orkide Torābi, 2014. “Bar-resi-ye jāygāh-e Tabriz dar taṣvir-sāzi-ye ketābhā-ye chāp-e sangi, bā moṭāleʿe-ye ās̱ār-e ostād Sattār-e Tabrizi.” Pazhuhesh-e honar 2.7 (1393), pp. 95–100.


Buẕari, ʿAli, 2005. “Mirzā Ḥasan bin Āqā Seyyed Mirzā-ye Eṣfahāni: siyāh-qalam-kār-e ʿahd-e nāṣeri.” Ḥerfe honarmand 13 (1384), pp. 146–149.

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