Profile: Ruyin Pakbaz [b. 1939]

Ruyin Pakbaz (1939, Tehran) is a prominent Iranian art historian, critic, educator and painter.  He studied painting at Tehran University (1967) and then pursued his studies in France (1976). Upon returning to Iran, he began his teaching career by teaching Art history at the Department of Fine Arts, Tehran University. A pioneering scholar, in academic history of art in Iran, Pakbaz has dedicated a good share of his life to researching art history, writing and translating. Some of his books have long been the standard texts for students of arts in Iranian universities.

The greatest of his numerous works so far is perhaps The Encyclopedia of Art (1999), dedicated mainly to painting, sculpture, and graphic design, while pottery, calligraphy, music, and architecture are also discussed. With more than 2800 entries, the encyclopedia is concerned primarily with Iranian art and Iranian Contemporary Arts, making it one of the milestones of Iranian art historiography. The Encyclopedia of Art, arguably the finest and the most accurate of the kind, concerns various artists, styles, schools, materials, tools, technical terminology, and aesthetics. In the first appendix to the book, Pakbaz deals with historical developments in Iranian Arts and then analyses common motifs in Iranian Art such as religions and gods, and events. The last appendix –being one of the most valuable aspects of the work– presents Persian equivalents and similar expressions to over 1580 loanwords.

Pakbaz has also authored Dictionary of Art Terms and Artists (2010) which is one of the most accurate and trustworthy bilingual art dictionaries in the Persian language. Possessing the meticulousness that writing a dictionary demands, Pakbaz makes a considerable effort in compiling the Persian equivalent of the art terms that tend to be used in their original French and English among Iranian artists. He even manages to coin/retrieve a good number of clever Persian equivalents that are gradually being established in Iranian artistic debates and literature.

His title Iranian Painting: from Prehistoric Era to the Present Day (2000) is the most comprehensive research on Iranian Painting. By categorizing the history of painting in Iran into four periods (Old Ages, Middle Ages, New Era and Contemporary Era), Pakbaz chooses to emphasize the stylistic characteristics and identity of the works in each era rather than adopting a mere sociopolitical approach which has proven itself to be an irrelevant method in  many cases. Despite the fact that he acknowledges the common yet inaccurate and overlapping terms in explaining the history of Iranian painting, he casts a light on the history of Iranian painting by his resourceful classification. What makes the book even more significant among other books of the kind is its last chapter which deals with new wave of Iranian painters, a part that can be a lead for other scholars of the field to build up on.

In his title The Guide to Techniques and Material: Drawing and Painting (2010), he fills the technical gap in his publications by incorporating his experiences in painting with the latest knowledge of the field into a textbook that is a veritable source for novice painters and an invaluable reference for accomplished artists, collectors and students of arts.

In Search of a New Language: A Study of the Evolution of Painting in New Era Painting (2002) is Pakbaz’s attempt to manifest the formation process of the language of new paintings in the context of the cultural-social evolution of the New Era? In these over 600 pages worth of research, he presents the reader with the role of various abstract and concrete factors in emergence of different styles in painting both internationally and locally.

His translation of Sandro Boccola’s seminal work Art of Modernism: Art, Culture, and Society from Goya to the Present Day (1999) is his most popular work of translation among his other translations which include  the Persian rendering of M.M. Ashraf’s, Concordance of Painting with Literature in Iran (1988) and Richard Ettinghausen’s Highlights of Persian Art[1] (2000).

Pakbaz is currently living in Tehran, teaching history of art, mostly at private institutions and reportedly working on a four-volume art encyclopedia that will encompass graphics and photography while he expands some of the previously established subjects like painting, sculpting, calligraphy, and architecture.

About Erfan Mojib 2 Articles
holds an MA degree in English Literature from the University of Malaya, and works as a freelance translator and short story writer. He has published some of his translations including Reza Ghassemi's "The Spell Chanted by Lams", Simon Van Booy's "Love Begins in Winter" and "The Illusion of Separateness". He's currently working on the English translation of a short story collection by Bijan Najdi and a novel by Julian Barnes.

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