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Past Exhibitions


Uzbekistani ink and watercolor of a class.

Bestowing Beauty: Masterpieces from Persian Lands

December 12, 2020–April 18, 2021

This exhibition celebrates the rich artistic traditions of Persian civilization through the significant private collection of Hossein Afshar, with works from the sixth to the nineteenth century, on long-term loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Persian refers to lands where Persian language and culture were predominant, encompassing a larger area than the modern-day nation-state of Iran. Through the collector’s eyes, we see a portrait of Iran that affirms a strong sense of identity reflected and established by the visual arts as well as an artistic sensibility that has flourished over time.

Works in the exhibition include carpets, textiles, manuscripts, paintings, ceramics, lacquer, metalwork, scientific instruments, and jeweled objects. Highlights include exquisite miniature paintings from the Shahnama (Book of Kings), the Persian national epic; rare Qur’an pages; and monumental silk carpets from the height of Safavid carpet production. Woven throughout the tales of these extraordinary artworks are experiences, ideas, and emotions shared by all peoples, grouped within the exhibition into the universal themes of faith and piety, love and longing, banquets and battles, kingship and authority, and earth and nature. 

Some of the works in this exhibition use two dates; one includes the abbreviation AH, meaning “after Hijra.” The Hijra is the journey the Islamic Prophet Muhammad took from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE. Just as the Gregorian calendar begins with the birth of Christ, the Islamic calendar begins with this pivotal event.

This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


Banner Image Above: Signed Mahmud Muzahhib (Uzbek, active sixteenth century), “The Severity of a Teacher Is Better than the Love of a Father” (detail), folio from a Gulistan of Sa‘di, Uzbekistan, Bukhara, ca. 1545–1560, ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper, the Hossein Afshar Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Click on an image below to learn more.

Art of the Word

The written word is a dominant feature in all forms of Islamic art. The primary role of calligraphy is to transmit the word of God, and a range of calligraphic scripts was developed to achieve this goal, enhancing the aesthetic form and rhythmic beauty of calligraphy, or “beautiful writing.” The predominant style of literary calligraphy in Iran is nastaʿliq, which was created in the fourteenth century as a distinctive Persian script.

Watch contemporary calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya use traditional calligraphic tools and techniques in the film Traces of the Calligrapher, developed by David J. Roxburgh and produced by Gail MacFarquhar and Silk Road TV for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Traces of the Calligrapher


Traces of the Calligrapher
Developed by David J. Roxburgh
Produced by Gail MacFarquhar and Silk Road TV



Organization and Support

Bestowing Beauty: Masterpieces from Persian Lands is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

This exhibition is made possible by

Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor

Delta logo.

Exhibition Series Sponsor

Northside Hospital logo.

Premier Exhibition Series Supporters
The Antinori Foundation
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
wish Foundation logo.

Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters
Anne Cox Chambers Foundation
Robin and Hilton Howell

Ambassador Exhibition Supporter
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot

Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters
Farideh and Al Azadi
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust
Lucinda W. Bunnen
Marcia and John Donnell
W. Daniel Ebersole and Sarah Eby-Ebersole
Karen T. & Jeb L. Hughes, Corporate Environments
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Margot and Danny McCaul
The Fred and Rita Richman Fund
Mrs. Harriet H. Warren

Generous support is also provided by
Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.