Dazzling Patterns of Shiraz

We were thrilled to visit another course on the Bagri Foundation Open Programme at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts last week. With Iranian artist Farkhondeh Ahmadzadeh, students examined the dazzling Patterns of Shiraz, the City of Poets, addressing selected patterns in mosques and madrassas in the Iranian city.


Shiraz is one of the most significant cities in the medieval Islamic world, celebrated as the ‘heartland of Persian culture’ and the Iranian capital during the Zand dynasty (from 1747 – 79). It is commonly called the “city of poets” with graves of Hafez and Sa’di, both major pilgrimage sites for Iranians, but it is also well renowned as a city of wine and flowers as well as being home to some magnificent mosques. Two frequently visited mosques are the majestic Vakil Mosque and the Nasir-al-Mulk Mosque, which were both particularly addressed in the Patterns of Shiraz course.


The beautiful Vakil Mosque, as the Islamic Arts and Architecture website explains, was built by Karim Khan, Regent (Vakil), the founder of the Zand Dynasty, from 1751 – 1773. The mosque covers an impressive area of 8,660 square metres with an extensive outdoor prayer hall with spiral columns, brick-patterned arches adorned with floral decorative tiles that largely date from the Qajar period. Other elements of the stunning ornamentation in the mosque include iwans and a court decorated with Shirazi haft rangi tiles, a typical feature of Shiraz’s art and industry during the latter half of the 18th century. The Vakil Mosque, as the website continues, also has a night prayer hall containing 48 monolithic pillars carved in spirals, each decorated with acanthus leaves with a ‘minbar’ cut from a solid piece of green marble with a flight of 14 steps, considered to be ‘one of the masterpieces of the Zand period’. For more information visit: Islamic Arts.org 


The Nasir-al-Mulk Mosque, as Cem Nizamoglu explains, was constructed between 1876 and 1888 by order of Mirza Hasan Ali Nasir al-Mulk, one of the lords of the Qajar Dynasty and designed by Muhammad Hasan-e-Memar and Muhammad Reza Kashi Paz-e-Shiraz. The building, with is uncommon usage of rose-coloured tiles which fill its interior is often known as the “Pink Mosque”. However, as Nizamoglu states, it is also named the “Mosque of colours,” the “Rainbow Mosque” or the “Kaleidoscope Mosque. The mosque’s kaleidoscopic effect, as Nizamoglu explains, is due to its extensive usage of stained glass and ‘panj kāseh-i (five concaves)’; as sunlight hits the mosque’s windows, it is ‘flooded by a vibrant rainbow of colours’ and these ‘dance throughout the day like whirling dervishes’. For more information visit Muslim Heritage.com


Drawing inspiration from the stunning patterns in Shiraz’s Islamic architecture, the students on the Bagri Foundation supported course, looked at how to create compositions from 4 and 8 folded geometry shapes. The students learnt how to develop these using a compass and a straight edge, tessellating them and creating their own pieces. Students began with drawings and using colour pencils and pens and then progressed to learning how to create the ‘glow of Shiraz’ as Farkondeh described, and create dazzling, symbolic colours with natural pigments. Persian poetry was played throughout the course and the students looked at photographic examples of Shiraz’s Islamic architecture as well as depictions in Persian manuscripts. View the gallery of photos from the Patterns of Shiraz course here.


Farkondeh Ahmadzadeh is an artist who specialises in the disciplines of Persian poetry manuscripts, sacred geometry and Persian miniatures. She has worked both as an academic and an artist in Iran, America and Europe.


Patterns of Shiraz was supported by the Bagri Foundation as part of the Bagri Foundation Open Programme at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. This programme aims to develop Asian arts courses at The School. The next course will be on Japanese Woodblock Printmaking.