Reading the Past, Writing the Future: Analysing Persian Miniature Paintings as Documentations of Social History

Sareh Abooali2

2Centre for Asian and Middle Eastern Architecture (CAMEA), University of Adelaide, , Australia

The mixed-methods research approach remains central to the writing of cultural histories. Within this framework, experts recommend employing interdisciplinary methodologies to incorporate historical evidence, new analytical themes, experimental techniques, and concepts. However, discussions on gender and the role of women remain clearly under-represented. In using the abundant images of women in Persian miniatures, this paper suggests how this valuable documentation could bolster social, behavioural, and gender studies, compensating for the scarcity of written documents about women in the official sources. By investigating the visual representations of women in architectural spaces and settings in pre-modern and medieval Persian painting, the study first seeks to discern the social, spatial and cultural implications of such imageries. Thereafter, it suggests how the socio-cultural associations of these paintings would contribute to shaping a better future, one re-envisioning gender’s changing role and socio-spatial settings within the broader span of human experience. The lack of acquaintance with the visual language of Persian miniatures and the absence of an analytical method remain obstacles for decoding the spatial settings in such images. The research introduces a visual analytical method which provides a tool to decode the ambiguous spatial arrangements, that advance the iconographical analysis and expedites the socio-historical studies.


Sareh Abooali completed her Bachelors Degree in Visual Arts and a Masters Degree in Islamic Art History. Sareh is currently a final year PhD candidate at the Centre for Asian and Middle Eastern Architecture (CAMEA) University of Adelaide (Australia). Her research interests include Islamic Art and Architecture, the Viewer and the Gaze, Multifocal Perspectives, Gender, and Persian Miniature Painting.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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