The most ancient models of material culture in the territory of Azerbaijan are from the 8th millennium BCE. Ancient megalith monuments, herdsman stones, dolmens, caves, defense buildings, burial mounds, metallic instruments pottery, and jewelry were typical of Azerbaijani households of that period. The national cultural and aesthetical ideations are reflected on rock carvings within Azerbaijan. The Azikh cave near the town of Fuzuli serves as evidence that Azerbaijan is one of the most ancient dwelling places of humankind in the world.
The fine arts of Azerbaijan presented a unity with the applied art and architecture in the Middle Ages. Monumental wall pictures in Shaki khans palace gained particular fame. These pictures, created by Alili Gulu, Gurban Ali, Shukur, and other masters of the 18th and 19th centuries, stand out with thematic richness and multiple colors of the decorative elements.
To the right: Battle Scene on the walls of the Palace of Shaki Khans, 18th Century
Colorful and bright pictures, stylized ornaments, pictures of people, animals and birds, multi-figure pictures describing war, and hunting scenes replace each other in internal salons and rooms of the palace. You can see architectural monuments of Baku, Shusha, Iravan, and other towns within the works of Russian painters who visited Azerbaijan in the 19th century.
To the left: A photograph of Sheki Caravanserai, a historical monument in Sheki, Azerbaijan, that was built in the 19th Century and is now partly used as a hotel for guests in Azerbaijan.
Classical Azerbaijani art used Islamic styles and techniques. It included pottery, ceramics, metalwork, carpet-making, calligraphy, and manuscript illumination, especially the miniatures of the famous Tabriz school. Azerbaijani decorative arts were marked by exquisite craftsmanship and rich ornamentation. The art of the modern period had not fully emancipated itself from the domination of classical influences when it was faced with the constraints of Soviet controls and Socialist Realism. Only after the end of the Stalin era did Azerbaijani artists strive to make up for lost time and catch up with developments in the contemporary arts of the world.
The development of theater-decoration art is related with scenic embodiment of Azerbaijan operas, ballets, dramas, and musical comedies. Cloth sketches, made for some theatre spectacles, and artistic design, made for drams, operas, and ballets like “Deseaseds” from the first half of the 20th century represent an important development of Azerbaijan theatre-decoration art. With a tendency toward novelty strengthened in scenic design, painters attached importance to sharpness, laconism, and symbolical picture means since the 1960s. Due to their bright and multi-colored nature, paintings from this era are distinguished as romantic.
Left: National Art Museum of Azerbaijan, established in Baku in 1936
A new development stage of monumental and easel sculpture began in Azerbaijan after the Second World War. Monuments of N. Gandjavi in Gandja (1946; the USSR State Prize, 1947) and in Baku (1949) were important muses for Fuad Abdurahmanov, the associated member of the USSR Academy of Arts. His monuments in Baku, such as “Free Woman” (1960), are the most successful examples of Azerbaijan monumental sculpture. Statues of M.A. Sabir (1958), N. Narimanov (1972), and the monument of the Soviet Union Hero general H. Aslanov (1983, Lankaran) are also valuable examples of Azerbaijan sculpture.
Azerbaijani applied arts, especially carpet weaving, occupy a special place in the history of its national culture. The most widespread folk art is carpet weaving. It made its way into the everyday life of the people of Azerbaijan and turned into a symbol for the nation. Because of their high aesthetic value, fleecy and pile-less carpets, decorated with various patterns and signs, are used to decorate the walls and floors of marquees, huts, homes, nomads’ tents, and other buildings.
Written sources of the middle centuries give interesting information about the products of Azerbaijani woven carpets and their graphical specifications. In a written work Hudud al-alem, an unknown author gives the information about palases and horse-clothes (chul) weaved in Mugan and carpets weaved in high-tones of Nakhchivan; the epos Kitabi-Dede Gorgud tells us of silken carpets, while the works of Abul Ula Ganjevi, Nizami, and Khagani (12th century) provide information of fleecy carpets and that of carpets without pile.
For more information on Azerbaijani carpets and rugs, please see our Textiles/Rugs page.