The Mirza Akbar Architectural Scrolls

Held at the V&A Museum, London

These drawings, from which the following examples were selected, were originally acquired for the South Kensington Museum (the precursor of the Victoria & Albert Museum) by Sir Caspar Purdon Clarke in Tehran in 1876.

The collection comprises two scrolls in their original state and some 53 others mounted on cardboard. Purdon Clarke apparently bought them after the death of Mirza Khan who had been the Persian state architect.

The collection is of particular interest since these items represent a rare survival of genuine working drawings. Although not as old as the Topkapi Scroll (see Necipoglu, G in Bibliog.) they do show a continuation of traditional drafting scrolls that continued up to the modern era.

The drawings themselves, while in a good state of preservation, are of very variable quality, from rough initial sketches through to highly finished architectural draughts. They include general plans; outlines of schemes for muqarnas; calligraphic layouts (mainly in Square Kufic); and a variety of proposed decorative features.

It is not clear whether any of these drawings were realised in any actual building projects, but in most cases it seems unlikely, as was the case with the Topkapi Scroll material. This is indeed the very reason for their survival.

The quality of the papers used in these drawings varies a great deal, but there is clear evidence of the conventions of drafting and transferring techniques. Many underlying grids and construction lines are marked by a 'blind' indentation, presumably made by a metal point, and are not immediately apparent; in these only the finished drawings are rendered in ink. Others use a simple square grid as the basis of design. Some of the full-scale drawings show 'pricking through', where the original pattern was transferred via a series of tiny pinpricks onto the wall or object intended to be decorated.