INCUNABLE OF PERSIAN LITHOGRAPHY
Lithography was introduced to the Islamic World in the second and third decade of the 19th century. Although much more appropriate for reproducing a hand-written text and calligraphy of the Arabic script than movable type, lithography was often frowned upon as a cheap technique, and was only slowly replacing the letterpress.
Religious texts adopted the technique of lithography only slowly and with skepticism, as stone printing was considered cheap and prone to printing errors. One should also not underestimate long Islamic tradition of calligraphy and the pride of scribes, who produced unique manuscript details and illuminations.
Possibly the first press to introduce lithography to the Islamic world was the Bulaq press in Egypt, under the influence from France and Italy. The first mentioning of a lithographic workshop at the Bulaq press in Egypt is that by an American traveler G. B. English, who saw a lithographed newspaper in Italian and Arabic, made by the School of Engineering in 1822 (A Narrative of the Expedition to Dongola and Sennaar, London 1822, p. viii. In: Hsu Cheng Hsiang, The first Thirty Years of Arabic Printing in Egypt 1238-1267, 1822-1851, p. 57). Books, made in the early years of the Bulaq press, would often use the technology of lithograph for illustrations in printed books on the subjects of the military science and mathematics.
The first known lithographed book, issued other than the Bulaq press, was made in 1832 at the School of Medicine in Cairo (established in 1827).
The first Muslim books, produced in the technique of lithography in Asia, were published in India under the influence of East India Company, who brought lithographic presses to Calcutta in 1823, yet the first book was not issued until 1827.
The first lithographic press in Persia was brought from Tiflis in 1821, but the first recorded book, The Quran, was only published in 1832/1833. The lithographed books, made until the mid 1850s are today known as the incunables of Persian lithography.
Following the tradition, the texts, mostly religious, were often decorated with hand-painted floral ornaments and gilt details, giving the books an appearance of a manuscript.
Our book is a handsome, richly decorated example of such early lithographed religious text, combined with traditional illuminator’s art. On the other hand it shows influences of highly popular photography, which was eagerly embraced by Persian artists and craftsmen. The first photographic equipment arrived to Tehran already in 1842, and soon the reproduction of popular images, in our case decoration of the bindings, was transferred with help of this new technique.