Project Title: Aesthetics of Stucco and Tiles. Archaeometric and Art Historical Perspectives on Architectural Decoration in Iran, 11th-14th centuries

Funding Body: German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG)

Funding Period: March 2019 – March 2022

Applicant: Prof. Dr. Lorenz Korn

Project Cooperation Partners: Art University of Isfahan, Iranian Cultural Heritage Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, Kompetenzzentrum Denkmalwissenschaften und Denkmaltechnologien of University of Bamberg

Research Associates: Iman Aghajani M. A.; Ana Marija Grbanovic M. A.; Dr. Moslem Mishmastnehi

Aesthetics of Stucco and Tiles
DFG Project


Project Description

Artistic techniques and aesthetics of architectural decoration in medieval Iran have long been recognized as a topic of crucial importance in Islamic Art. This project proposes the first systematic research designed to achieve a deeper understanding of this field. It is based on information gathered in large-scale research of monuments with art historical and archaeometric research methods. The project focuses on monuments which were built or decorated between the 11th and 14th centuries (Seljuq-Ilkhanid period).

Stucco, tiles and wall paintings appear on religious and secular monuments: mosques and mausoleums, palaces and caravanserais. Although the Seljuq and Ilkhanid dynasties originated outside Iran, they based their rule on an infrastructure rooted in Iran and in the Islamic cultures of the Middle East. The art and material culture of Iran during this period thus evolved from the pre-existing legacy of pre-Islamic and Islamic Iranian civilizations. Both dynasties formed a uniquely productive climate for the flourishing of arts, crafts and architecture. While the Mongol invasion of the Iranian plateau is frequently interpreted as a major historical break, it appears that the material cultures of the Seljuq and Ilkhanid periods are closely interrelated and were shaped by indigenous traditions and political agendas of the local elites.

Research Aims

The principal aim of the research project is to provide an understanding of Seljuq and Ilkhanid stucco revetment aesthetics. According to the core hypothesis, these architectural revetments did not have simply function as ornamentation or adornment but had specific functions of highlighting selected architectural elements and spaces, thus bolstering the devotional significance of architectural spaces.

Characteristics of function, meaning and artistic principles of architectural revetments determined their aesthetics. The concept of architectural revetment aesthetics encompasses decorative principles of artists, craftsmen and designers, which constitute their artistic rationale for the production of revetments. Decorative hierarchies of different media, relations between the aesthetics, functions and patronage of architectural revetments, are addressed with regard to their architectural context.

Research Methodology

Approximately forty structures located in various regions of Iran will be examined with a focus on material and aesthetic features of (mainly interior) architectural revetments. Field campaigns for the research of monuments comprise detailed documentation (connected with art historical study) and the collecting of stucco samples in order to determine pigmentation and composition. Results of archaeometric analyses will be collated with epigraphic and historiographic material, in order to assess their historical context as well as aesthetic characteristics.

This way, regional characteristics of stucco production, possible characteristics and mobility of stucco workshops, and provenance of the material used for the stuccos will be better understood.Ultimately, evidence for the dating of undated decorative stuccos can also be provided. On this basis, questions regarding function, aesthetics and meaning of stuccos, tiles and wall paintings are going to be discussed.

Such research should also impact efforts for preservation of ruined monuments, such as the Haftshuya Friday mosque and the Gar Friday mosque, or severely endangered monuments, such as the Afin Friday mosque and Ribat-i Mahi caravanserai.

The final output is going to consist of a more comprehensive understanding of architectural decoration in medieval Iran. The interdisciplinary approach can help to bridge gaps between the disciplines of Archaeology, Cultural Heritage Conservation and Art History.


(for complete lists of publications see the individual homepages of researchers)

  • Ana Marija Grbanovic and Richard Piran McClary, “On the Origins of the Shrine of ‘Abd al-Samad in Natanz: The Case for a Revised Chronology.” In print for Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, (2020).
  • Ana Marija Grbanovic, “Beyond the Stylistic Idiosyncrasies: Notes regarding Identity and Mobility of Ilkhanid Stucco Craftsmen in Central Iran c. 1300,” In Print for Proceedings of 11th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, ed. by , (2020).
  • Ana Marija Grbanovic, “Islamic Stuccos made Digital. Digitality and Studies of Islamic Art and Architec-ture.” In: Zeitschrift für digitale Geisteswissenschaften. DOI: 10.17175/sb003_004. (2018)
  • Ana Marija Grbanovic, “The Ilkhanid Revetment Aesthetics in the Buqʿa Pir-i Bakran: Chaotic Exuberance or a Cunningly Planned Architectural Revetment Repertoire?” Muqarnas, An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World 34 (2017): 43-83.
  • Lorenz Korn: “Masǧid-i ǧāmiʿ-i Qurva: Bar-rasī va-pažūhiš-i mauridī barā-i muṭālaʿa-i tārīḫ-i miʿmārī-i Īrān va-siyāsat-i maḏhabī-i ahl-i sunnat dar qarn-i šišum-i hiǧrī/qarn-i davāzdahum-i mīlādī”, in: Asar 77 (tābestān 1396 [= summer 2018]), pp. 83-96.
  • Moslem Mishmastnehi, “The Application of Crystallographic Interpretation on Technical Study of Gypsum-Based Historical Materials (Case studies of stucco decoration of Kuh-e Khwaja and Gypsum Mortars from Shadiakh and Alamut),” Journal of Research on Archaeometry 1:2 (2016), 1-14. (In Persian)
  • Moslem Mishmastnehi, and Parviz Holakooei, “Technological study of the gilded haft-rang tiles of the Imamzadih Ismail mausoleum in Qazvin, Iran,” Heritage Science 3: 15-19.

Conference Papers

Iman Aghajani and Moslem Mishmastnehi, “Stucco decoration in the Imamzada Abdullah in Kudzar (Markazi province, Iran): Art historical and archaeometric analyses”, A Carved History: New Researches on Medieval Iranian Stucco (8th – 14th c.) Online round table and conference, Institute of Iranian Studies, Austrian Academy of Sciences, 15 and 22 January, 2021 (online).

Ana Marija Grbanovic, “Carved Letters, Designs and Ornaments: Ilkhanid Stuccos and “Signatures” of their Craftsmen”, Inscriptions from the Islamic World, American University in Cairo, Cairo, 6-9 September, 2019.

Ana Marija Grbanovic, “Open access photo editing software for studies of Islamic Art”, Workshop on Digital Tools in Oriental Studies, Universities of Bamberg and Erlangen, 4 July, 2020 (online workshop).

Ana Marija Grbanovic, “Ilkhanid stuccoes in Iran c. 1300: Beyond the stylistic idiosyncrasies”, A Carved History: New Researches on Medieval Iranian Stucco (8th – 14th c.) Online round table and conference, Institute of Iranian Studies, Austrian Academy of Sciences, 15 and 22 January, 2021 (online).

Moslem Mishmastnehi, Tomasz Stawski, Satish Mayanna: "From gypsum crystals to archaeometric results: A crystallographic approach for understanding the production process of gypsum-based historical materials", Young Researchers in Archaeometry (YRA 2019 Paris), 23.09.2019.