Late Medieval Persia – Iran – was a time when the arts and culture of Shia Islam and Iran began to fall into patterns recognizable today. The Safavid Empire was the first of these, and Kamal ud-Din Behzad – or, perhaps more accurately, the school of art centered on the painter – was its most prominent artist (though his career began during the Timurid Empire, some years before the Safavid’s founding). Behzad specialized in what came to be known as Persian (or Iranian) miniatures, illustrations for stories that were more elaborate versions of the illustrated manuscripts of Europe.
Behzad lived his life primarily in the city of Herat, in what is today Afghanistan. His miniatures were exceptional in the way that human figures and architecture were arranged on the page, creating a sense of flow that draws viewers’ eyes around the page. These miniatures were testaments to the cosmopolitanism of the time – they drew inspiration from Chinese art, portrayed individuals of all of the different peoples that lived their lives in the globally-connected empire, and focused as much on everyday moments of humanity as well as those of conquering kings. While Persian art did not forbid showing human figures (as much Muslim art did), Behzad also excelled in incorporating Persian love for architecture and geometry, creating dizzying patterns with tiles, roof gables, staircases, etc (as in the miniature Yusef and Zuleykha).
Behzad remains thought of as one of the most notable Muslim artists of the medieval period.