The 17th, 18th and 19th centuries present the period of decline in miniature art followed by its complete disappearance. With an ever-increasing number of artists opting for oil
and canvas, the miniatures became more and more sporadic, mainly found in frescoes adorning architectural landmarks of the day.
Miniature art in Azerbaijan in the late 17th-early 18th century, as well as the newly-emerging style in Qazvin, were linked with a bunch of Sultan Muahammad’s followers, such
as Mir Zeynalabdin Tabrizi, Ali Rza Abbasi Tabrizi (1565-1635), Muhammadi (1548-1597) and Sadyg bey Afshar (1533/34 Tabriz – 1609/10 Isfahan). However, as of the 17th
century, there was an obvious stagnation in book decoration and miniature art in the country.
Samples of classic miniature works created in Azerbaijan in 17-19th centuries indicate a relative decadence in this genre compared to previous periods. Illustrations to
Kalila &
by Avazali Mughanly (1809),
by Mirza Aligulu (1850),
by Mir Mohsun Navvab (1854), and
Yousif & Zuleykha
by Najafgulu Shamakhyly
all of them nowadays kept at the Manuscript Institute, the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, provide a clear evidence of regression in visual arts.
In general, this period features works by such famous painters and miniature artists like Sadiq bey Afshar (also known as Muhammadi Sadiqi Bey Afshar or Sadiqi Kitabdar
Tabriz – 1609/10 Isfahan)), Shah Gulu (died in 1556), Muhammadi (1548-1597), based in Mashhad, Qazvin and Herat in the 1560’s-1590’s, Ali Rza Abbasi (1565-1635,
also known as Reza Abbasi or Rizay-I Abbasi), Valijan, based in Turkey in the 1580-1600’s, Ali Gulu Jabaddar, active since the 1660-‘s to 1717, Mirza Kazym Iravani (1825-1875),
Khurshudbanu Natavan (1832-1897) and Mir Mohsun Navvab (1835-1918).
In the 18-19th centuries, with an overall decline in miniature art, a new impetus was given to mural painting, another genre with deeply-rooted traditions in the Azerbaijani art.
During this period, mural paining became the major source of information for art historians and researchers in Azerbaijan.
The importance of mural painting is nurtured by the fact that on the one hand this art was based on the classic miniature paintings, i.e. miniatures of the 13-17th centuries,
whereas on the other hand, it already had the elements of a new perception of the world that will finally crystallize in Azerbaijan as of the early 20th century.
This was a less expensive form of art as opposed to miniatures to manuscripts. In the meantime it was more democratic as well since murals and frescoes were adorning residential
houses in Iravan, Tabriz, Baku, Shamakhy, Sheki, Shusha, Ordubad, etc. Along with ornamental frescoes, both geometric and vegetal mural paintings depict battles and hunting
scenery, feasts and music assemblies, plots from literary works and folk motives, as well as portraits of some outstanding historic figures. Day-to-day life scenes were far not
infrequent either.
In 1796, P.Butkov, participant of one of the Russo-Persian wars, reported battle and hunting scenery together with lyrical and day-to-day life compositions in the murals at one
of the residential houses in Sheki, northern Azerbaijan. General Bulgakov witnessed murals with historic scenery at the palace of the Baku Khan (Duke). In the 1840’s another
Russian artist, G.Gagarin, made sketches of a bathhouse with ornamental murals, as well as hunting scenes featuring multiple figures. No less interesting are reports of murals
by an artisan named Ashraf (usta Ashraf) in residential houses of Lahyj, a highland town in Azerbaijan.
That being said, murals in the palace of Husseyngulu Khan, the Sardar of Iravan (Erivan) Khanate, are of the highest value, particularly the ones adorning the Mirror Hall. Baron
August von Gasthausen together with artists V.Mashkov and G.Gagarin provided an extremely interesting information regarding some breathdtaking scenes and portraits. (See
The Mural Hall at the Erivan Sardar’s Palace
, 1840-1847,
the State Russian Museum, paper, watercolor, bronze paint). The artists witnessed the Palace and frescoes while being
restored by Mirza Kadym Irevani, a famous Azerbaijani mural painter, back in 1850. Scenes from Shah-nameh were accompanied with rich pictorial scenery on a variety of topics.
The Khanate of Iravan was an independent Azerbaijani duchy founded upon the death of Nadir Shah Afshar in 1747. The Khanate embraced the territory of today’s Armenia,
Sharur and Sadarak Districts of modern-day Autonomous Republic of Nakhchyvan and the area of Igdyr of today’s Turkey. Pursuant to the Treaty of Turkmanchay signed in
between the Russian Empire and Iran, the khanate became a part of Russia.
Upon the annexation of Iravan Khanate by Russian Empire, it became the hub for Armenian immigration. In 1828, an Armenian Region was formed out of the lands previously
belonging to the khanates of Nakchivan and Erivan, and nomadic Armenian communities from Turkey and Iran were allowed to settle there under the auspices of the Czarist
Russian officials.