Byzantine, North Indian and Chinese influences combined with native Persian genius to produce a distinctive art of miniature painting, which flourished from the 14th to the 18th century. The earlier works show, on the whole, more freedom and animation in line drawing; the later ones more decorative treatment of surfaces, which finally be-come overloaded with stereotyped ornamental detail.
In the example shown the style is still both restrained and spontaneous. Beside its quaint illustrative interest, it has a vivacious pattern of lines and colors. The colors are quite superficial, without tinting or shading; but these very limitations are necessary to produce the vivid, jewellike intensity with which each separate part gleams out in pure vermilion, turquoise, lapis lazuli, emerald or coral. If they were separated by soft, melting Venetian transitions, instead of by knife-edge outlines, they would not produce such a lively play of sudden contrasts.
The whole picture is divided into contrasting sections. Around the human figures, the background is cut into many parallelograms and strips of different size, some in plain solid colors, gold or black, others covered with fine intricate floral, geometrical or calligraphic ornamentation, in the same bright colors and gold. Against the flat blue sky, jewel-like flowers and bending trees are silhouetted. The linear outlines of each section, including the human figures, are usually quite simple, repeating some obvious theme of curve or angle. But the effect of all the sections fitted together, usually in unsymmetrical, surprising ways, is cornplex and richly decorative.
The natural converging of lines in perspective is distorted with the utmost freedom. It cannot be said that the picture is entirely flat, for approximate perspectives and re-cessions in space are suggested (as in the couch, gate and house). But the lines are placed, not where they would naturally fall, but where the pattern calls for them. The more distant objects, instead of being placed behind the nearer ones, are pushed upward, toward the top of the picture. Each individual man is seen as if from the same level with him; but the tiled floor, carpet or ground beneath him is seen as if tilted up edgewise, or looked down on from above. The figures, near and far, are scattered over it with equal relative size and clarity, to make them equally effective as parts of the design.