The qualities of text in Persian miniatures, as in many examples of ancient and medieval manuscripts, give it a substantial graphic touch.
It is this graphic quality that mostly attracts western observers, which admire the calligraphy, yet are rarely able to understand its meaning.
The rich ornamentation of the different cursive fonts, together with the compact appearance of text, transforms it into something that has the potential of bridging into the figurative side of the miniature.
This is particularly evident in Persian and Islamic miniatures, because of the distinctly pictorial quality of alphabet and font, however it is also notable in many western ancient manuscripts.
By looking at a folio, the closest graphic construct to the text can be identified with the pattern.
Islamic sacred art and architecture specifically avoid figurative ornamentation for religious reasons, which require the complete absence of iconographic images. This led historically to the development of a wide variety of alternative modes of representation, such as the pattern, which enable the presence of the sacred in an alternative way.
When buildings are present in a miniature, they generally carry a heavy load of patterned surfaces and volumes, which often are capable to subtly blend together.
We can now observe how the real power of the pattern, at least in 2d representations, lies in its ability to visually connect seemingly disparate areas of the drawing.
Often one miniature contains different kinds of drawing constructions, from flat elevations to axonometric, to perspective.
The pervasive nature of the pattern, derived from its obsessive repetition, starts to blend these spaces together, helping to identify the miniature as a single construct, rather than a composite image or a collage.
Mir Sayyd Ali’s miniature serves as an example of this. This is perhaps one of his most architectural works, which depicts a palace scene, happening simultaneously in different rooms and terraces.
The most striking aspect of this miniature is the over-abundance of situations depicted on the same flat plane, animated by a series of figures and objects at different scales scattered throughout it.
The patterning, however, operates at a more subtle level and is ubiquitously present in the entire composition. Its connective power is perhaps clearest in the parts of the drawing that are similarly coloured. The light brown parts of the miniature, for example, extend across different scenes, and present a series of different patterns and hatches, which contribute at the same time to their differentiation and to their unification. Some patterns are more ornamental, while some others are purely depicting different kinds of brick or stone tiling.
These geometric shapes are used in different parts of the drawing alike: they can be observed on walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors, and at the same time on textiles, clothes, animals and landscapes.
Besides connecting different parts of the drawing which are more or less architectural, the pattern also starts to blend in figures and objects into the composition.
Elaborate textiles are worn by all the figures in the drawing, sometimes flattening them onto the background in which they sit or stand.
It is clear from the analysis of miniatures that the function of the pattern transcends a purely ornamental one.
The repetition of shapes in miniatures and other forms of Persian and Islamic art is traditionally interpreted as suggestive of the infinite nature of reality.
It is also notable that patterns, together with textual annotations, are the only elements that transcend the frame, and start bleeding into the larger area of the folio
The patterns in miniatures are therefore used to suggest an essential unity between seemingly disparate elements. The hidden geometrical layers of nature – what we can now associate with molecules and atoms – are somehow being represented and emphasised by the endless repetition of the patterns.
Alongside visually tying together elements of architecture, objects and figures, we can now understand how the pattern is used as a tool to express their intrinsic unity.