BEHZĀD, ḤOSAYN (1273/1894-1347 Š./1968), lacquer artist, painter, and book illustrator. Born in Tehran, he was the son of Mīrzā Fażl-Allāh Eṣfahānī, painter and penbox maker and grandson of Mīrzā Loṭf-­Allāh Wāʿeẓ, a religious orator in Shiraz who had moved to Tehran in the late 13th/19th century.

After a brief stay in the Šaraf-e Moẓaffar school Behzād was apprenticed to Āqā Mollā ʿAlī Qalamdānsāz and later to Ḥasan Āqā Peykarnegār, painters who had workshops in the bāzār. There he learned his craft, specializing in copies of the late Timurid and Safavid styles. Eventually he opened his own workshop, first in the Kāravānsarā-ye Ḥājī Raḥīm Khan and then in the vicinity of Šams-al-ʿEmāra. Later he worked in partnership with Mīrzā Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Khan Mīnāsāzbāšī in his workshop in the goldsmith’s section of the bāzār.

It is in this period that he was commissioned to illustrate an old manuscript of Neẓāmī’s Ḵamsa, which like many other works of Behzād’s was eventually sold to a Western museum or collector as an authentic work of the Safavid period (Mīrbahā, p. 117). In his autobiography Behzād claims that this Ḵamsa was commissioned by Fotūḥ-al-Salṭana and eventually sold by him to the British Museum. There it was seen by a number of Persian dealers and scholars, including Dr. Bahrāmī, Leon Gevorkian and Āqā Mīrzā ʿAlī-Aṣḡar ʿAtīqačī. Other patrons and dealers he produced Safavid-style works for in this period include Prince Arfaʿ-al-Dawla, ʿAbd-Allāh Khan Raḥīmzāda, Rabenou, and others less well known (Mīrbahā, pp. 117-26). In 1297/1918 he married ʿAzīza Ḵānom, by whom he had one son, Parvīz. He was an opium addict.

Behzād continued to work in the Safavid revival style, as did many of his contemporaries, to respond to the rising demand for Persian miniatures by foreigners. In 1314 Š./1935, he traveled to Paris and lived there for thirteen months. There he studied whatever Oriental and Islamic manuscripts he could find in the Louvre and Musée Guimet. This period was decisive in the formation of a newer, more personal style, by which Behzād is mainly known. It is a simplified version of the Safavid style, sometimes easel painting size, in which certain elements of Western painting and esthetics are incorporated more or less successfully. His most impor­tant work on his return from Europe was the creation of fifty miniatures for an illustrated copy of ʿOmar Ḵayyām published by Ḥ.-ʿA. Esfandīārī (see bibl.), who had supported him for a number of years, as ʿAlī Jalālī in Tehran had done before him. In 1325 Š./1946 be became an employee of the Office of Archeological Works (Edāra-ye Bāstān-šenāsī) and subsequently taught at the High Schools of Fine Arts (Hona­restān-e Honarhā-ye Zībā-ye Pesarān o Doḵtarān). He participated in many exhibitions at home and abroad (often of a semipolitical or official nature) and presented a one-man retrospective exhibition at the Īrān-e Bāstān Museum in Tehran on the occasion of the millenary of Ebn Sīnā. In 1333 Š./1954 a selection of his works was on display in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Tehran.

At the age of sixty-five he was voted a special pension by the Parliament (1338 Š./1959) and in 1347 Š./1968, three months before his death he was awarded the honorary title of ostād (master) by the High School of Decorative Arts.

A popular figure with Iranian writers, poets, and collectors, Behzād was perhaps the chief representative and advocate of the traditional school of painting in Iran in the 14th/20th century, in spite of his claims of having developed a true Iranian national style comparable to modern Western art.



Anonymous, “Ostād Ḥosayn Behzād,” Honar o mardom, Mehr, 1342 Š./1963, pp. 12-17; Mordād, 1347 Š./1968, pp. 14-20.

Anonymous, “Behzād, ṣūratgar-e bozorg,” Talāš 55, 1354 Š./1976, pp. 46-49.

S. Dānešvar, “Ostād Ḥosayn Behzād o āṯār-e ū,” Naqš o negār 1, 1334 Š./1955, pp. 14-20.

Ḥ.-ʿA. Esfandīārī, ed., The Robāyāt of ʿOmar Ḵayām, Japan, 1970 (with 50 plates by Beh­zād).

A. Mīrbahā, Šarh-e aḥwāl-e Ostād Ḥosayn Behzād, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.

E. Yār-e Šāṭer (Yar­shater), “Namāyešgāhhā-ye Bahār,” Soḵan 5/5, 1333 Š./1954, pp. 337-46.

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(Layla Diba)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: December 15, 1989

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Vol. IV, Fasc. 2, p. 114