Rediscovered Heritage highlights the treasures of the world’s cultural patrimony that have sunken into oblivion and been rescued thanks to restoration or archival and museum preservation. In a visual journey across time and space, the audience is invited to re-discover historical testimonies of the evolution and metamorphosis of art's languages through the ages. Once buried, decayed, and often neglected, these historical sites, archeological vestiges, or artistic masterpieces are visually experienced in their original splendor and historical context.

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The Safavids  (1502 – 1736)

Named after Sheikh Safi-ad-din Is’haq Ardabili (1252 – 1334), a leader of a sufi order from Ardabil, the Iranian region reached a new cultural period of splendor, under the rule of the Safavid dynasty. After disastrous wars against the Ottomans, the Safavids withdrew to the Iranian core land, and began to create a national self-image. This was crucial when the Shiite religion became a national state religion. It gave the Iranian region a national-religious identity, which continues to this day.

After that, an intensive construction activity started: Shāh ‘Abbās the Great (reign 1587 – 1629) built the systematical planned capitol Isfahan, with strong symmetrical axes and public spaces and palace buildings in pavilion style (Kiosk). The ceramics were decorated under the influence of east asian motifs. After the Mongolian and Timurid era, miniature painting experienced a new period of  splendor. In Tabriz, in Herat and in Isfahan impressing and magnificent book paintings were produced, and grandmasters like  Behzād, Mahmud Muzahhib, Sultan Mohammed and Reza-e Abbasi shaped this era.

ikono presents a selection of this miniature examples of the Safavid Era to introduce these master pieces of Islamic artworks in Iran that, still today, have not lost its fascination and splendor.


ikono has taken great joy in rediscovering the rich artistic and architectural treasures of the Achaemenid Empire:

The Achaemenids are named after Achaimenes, the legendary leader of the great Persian migration at 701 B.C., where the Kings of the Achaemenid dynasty were generous sponsors of Art and Architecture. Confronted with a great variety of building and decoration motives, the formerly nomadic Persians established splendid cities and impressive art objects. This period allowed for an independent character of Achaemenid art to slowly develop. The decoration motifs of the Elamites served as a role model here, and heraldic motives, including lions, griffins and crowned mythical creatures (half animal, half person) moved into the decorative repertoire.  Achaemenids architecture is based on Greek and Egyptian traditions. In turn the architecture ornamentations show clear influences of the Mesopotamian Kingdom of Babylon.

All of these different influences manifest themselves in the capital of Persepolis and in the palaces in Susa and Pasargadai. Slowly but surely the result became a heterogeneous culture of art and architecture, which was parallel to the expansion of the kingdom. Today, this culture continues to exert a great influence on Iranian contemporary art.

Heritage Persia

The Treasures of Ancient Persia show impressing art objects from the pre-islamic Era of the Iranian Cultural region. Works from the Achaemenid, Sassanian and Parthian Dynasties includes valuable style components about this magnificient  Art.

When Reza Shah, the first Pahlavi shah, introduced the name “Iran” instead of “Persia”, he was not simply asking to change the name of a country. “Iran” had actually been the name for the whole area since pre-Islamic times, while “Persia” was only a name used for its southwestern parts and “Persian” referred to Iran’s main language. The name Persia for the region has already been used by the ancient Greeks and the word “Iran” was used especially in the empires that ruled for a few centuries before the Islamic conquest of Iran in the seventh century, but also after the territory of today’s Iran was divided among several states.

The advent of the Islamic era in Iranian culture did not a break with the region’s pre-Islamic history though. This is noticeable both in the literature (the Iranian national epic, Book of Kings, “Shahname”), as well as in architecture (Ivane and grave towers) and the decorative arts (architectural ornaments and decorative motifs on bowls, tiles and stucco panels).

The presentation of pre-Islamic art from Iran thus also serves the understanding of a peculiar reminder culture and identification of the Iranian population, which has always been strong, especially since the rulership of the Samanids and the The Great Seljuq Empire. This handing down of Parthian, Sassanid and Achaemenian decorative motifs and architectural elements still influences the artistic creations in Iran today.

Embedded in the very abstract looking Islamic art it serves your own historical identity and conscious separation from the Arab hegemony that has felt obligatoire by a prophetic calling to Islam to not only spread Islam but also manage the newly acquired territories and to Arabize them. This becomes clear when looking at the Umayyad Caliphate rule in the Iranian cultural regions Pars and Khorasan.

The Umayyad Caliphate, founded by Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, long-time governor of Syria, after the end of the First Muslim Civil War in 661, conquered 5.79 million square miles (15,000,000 km2) and built the largest empire the world had ever seen, and the fifth largest to ever exist until today. But the constant campaigning exhausted the resources of the state. The Umayyads, weakened by the Third Muslim Civil War of 744–747, were toppled by the Abbasid Revolution in 750. A branch of the family fled across North Africa to Al-Andalus, where they established the Caliphate of Córdoba, which lasted until 1031 before falling.

For more information please follow the link
Professor Ahmad Ashraf: Iranian Identity in the pre-Islamic Era

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Painted by Albrecht Altdorfer (around 1480-1538) and his workshop between 1512 and 1515, the triumphal frieze of Maximilian I. of Habsburg (1459-1519) is an imaginary parade of the most important encounters, events and achievements of the emperor’s life. The frieze has been comissioned by Maximilian I. himself, who was a great patron for the arts of his time. Originally more than 100 meters long, only the second part of the precious vellum paintings has been preserved. Today the elaborately restored frieze is part of the collection of the Viennese museum Albertina, which in 2012 has been presenting the scenes for the first time as continuous series due to a particular exhibition design.

ikono is very happy to having the opportunity of showcasing this gem of Northern alpine Renaissance painting. In close collaboration with the Albertina we produced a 15 minutes journey through the life of the Habsburg emperor, focusing on the details and refinements of Altdorfer’s monumental masterpiece.

Please read the introduction by Dr. Eva Michel, curator at the Albertina’s Graphic Art Collection, for getting more information on this unique rediscovered heritage, and follow the link for gaining an overview over the frieze’s single scenes: Altdorfer’s triumphal procession of Maximilian I., Contents of sheets





Pen drawings with watercolor and gouache, gold and silver heightening, on vellum;

c. 45 x 95 cm each (total length of surviving sheets 49 – 109, incl. the authors’ page, when lined up as a painted frieze: 53.8 m)

Vienna, Albertina, Inv. 25205 – 25263

By Eva Michel


The Triumphal Procession was commissioned by Maximilian I of Habsburg (1459 – 1519), elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The cycle of originally 109 large-format colored pen-drawings was executed in 1512 – 1515 by the famous German artist Albrecht Altdorfer and his workshop as a frieze with a total length of more than 100 meters. Unlike the woodcut version of the Triumph Procession published from 1516 onwards, the exquisite paintings on costly parchment were certainly intended as an exclusive display copy for the emperor’s own personal use.

This outstanding work exists only as a fragment today. The original first part (sheets 1 to 48) of the Triumphal Procession has been lost, nothing is known of its fate or whereabouts; only a transcript of Maximilian’s written concept of 1512 and two later copies allow it to be reconstructed. The second part – sheets 49 to 109, measuring about 45 by 95 centimetres each – has survived and is preserved in the Albertina Museum in Vienna (Austria), where it was the focus of the exhibition “Emperor Maximilian I. and the Age of Dürer” (September 2012 to January 2013).

The subject of the Triumph dates back to antiquity and to the practice of staging processions to mark the ceremonial entry of victorious Roman generals. It was popularized via humanist literary descriptions and their adaptations during the Italian Renaissance. Maximilian’s Triumphal Procession reveals a new conception of the ancient model, drawing its rhetoric authority into the orbit of imperial aims. The pageant depicted never actually took place, nor does it mark any one victory in the field. It is rather an idealized review of the most important persons and events of the Maximilian’s life, intended to link himself and the House of Habsburg to prestigious Roman origins, to glorify the emperor during his lifetime and to keep his memory alive for all eternity. It displays family and lineage, military campaigns, private pastimes such as jousting, hunting, and music-making, and imperial demonstrations of power in the form of coats of arms and standards.  The protagonists are not dressed up in classical garb, but the parade is made up of contemporary lansquenets and knights. The classical elements are thus partly overshadowed by late-medieval entry pageantry and references to Maximilian’s personality and life. The sequence of the sheets and the reading direction run from right to left, against the direction of the procession. This creates the effect of the participants of the Triumphal Procession encountering the viewer moving in the opposite direction.

The beginning of that part of the program that has been preserved in the Albertina marks the depiction of Maximilian’s marriage to Mary of Burgundy in Ghent on 19 August 1477. The golden chariot bearing symbols of the cities and castles is followed by a magnificent display of spectacular battle scenes on painted banners and by chariots laden with trophies and war booty. This fictional showcasing of Maximilian’s military prowess leads to the imperial artillery with its state-of-the-art cannons and artillery pieces and then to the carriages laden with the emperor’s sacred and secular treasures, displayed here to prove that the emperor had riches beyond imagining. The battlefield feats are followed by historic key events in Maximilian’s life, such as the marriage of his son Philip the Fair to Joanna of Castile in 1496. A series of statues of Maximilian’s ancestors underscores his noble descent. They are followed in turn by the prisoners of war, the antique bearers of victory, and the trumpeters and heralds announcing the arrival of Maximilian’s mother on her chariot. The emperor himself, clad in full regalia with crown, scepter, and palm frond (a traditional symbol of victory), is enthroned on a triumphal chariot drawn by twelve white horses. Before him are his first wife, Mary of Burgundy, and their daughter Margaret, and seated in front of them are his son Philip with Joanna and their children. This depiction of the emperor’s immediate family sharing the same chariot was intended to stress the importance that he himself attached to family and to the perpetuation of the Habsburg Dynasty. Following the imperial chariot in order of rank are numerous princes, counts, lords, knights, and lansquenets, a wagon fort and the “kalikutischen Leut,” here represented by the Indians, as an allusion to Maximilian’s hegemonic claims to territories outside Europe. The Baggage Section —a motley group of ordinary men, women, and children— follows the army. Apart from the landscape backdrop to one part of the Baggage Section, the protagonists march against the neutral ground of unpainted parchment. This forces us to focus our attention on the figures and scenes themselves, whose purpose, being cut off from time and place, is to glorify Maximilian in the collective memory.

The impressive length of Maximilian’s purely imaginary Triumphal Procession at over 100 meters raises the question of its original presentation and storage: The parchments seem too small-scale in terms of their imagery for a mural decoration, and too well preserved to have been hung for a long period. Diagonal folds and evidence of rubbing on the surfaces of the parchments seem to have been caused by the rolling them up, which fits perfectly to the rhetoric effect of classical rotuli, thus using an antiquizing format for the antiquizing content. The parchment band could have been used in the manner of a scroll that is viewed manually, with one hand unrolling, and the other rolling up, according to similar principles as prayer scrolls and the Torah. The exquisitness and sensitivity of the material, as well as its dimensions, meant, that the miniature Triumphal Procession – in contrast to the later woodcut version – remained a magnificent treasure, reserved only for the emperor and a small group of selected courtiers. The Triumphal Procession, which in reality never took place, is a celebration of Maximilian’s life and works and thus became a triumph over death and time.

For more information, please consult the catalogue of the exhibition “Emperor Maximilian I. and the Age of Dürer”, ed. by Eva Michel and Maria-Luise Sternath, Albertina, Prestel Verlag, Munich 2012.


Cultural Sites of Al Ain

Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and the Oases Area – The Cultural Sites of Al Ain, located in the United Arab Emirates, are witnessing a continuous settlement in the desert region starting in Neolithic times and being conveyed by archeological vestiges of a large number of prehistoric cultures. The remains of mudbrick constructions, of residential buildings, palaces, towers and the impressive circular stone tombs from around 2500 B.C. are representing “a culture that evolved over time and was characterized by its ablitiy to overcome the challenges and limitations of a harsh natural environment”, consisting of desert, mountains and oases.

Since 2011 the Cultural Sites of Al Ain are part of the Unesco’s World Cultural Heritage.

ikono is proud to present the archeological treasures of Al Ain by a selection of stunning photographs from the last decades, chosen by Dr. Sami el-Masri, Co-Founder and Cultural Development and Management Specialist and Advisor of Onda Culture. Please find his introduction below.



by Sami el-Masri

The desert sands of Al Ain, located in the United Arab Emirates, yielded cultures over six thousand years old, contemporary with the Jemdet Nasr Period in Ancient Mesopotamia, and the Mohenjo-Daro culture of the Sind Valley. The Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and the Oases Areas) were included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2011; they represent a culture that evolved over time and was characterized by its ability to overcome the challenges and limitations of a harsh natural environment. The vast wealth of archaeological remains and their natural settings demonstrate the extraordinary importance the area held as a cradle of desert civilization.

One of the remarkable features of Al Ain is the mosaic between the desert, lush oases, and mountains. The sites of Al Ain could not have been formed without the interaction and combination of these three ecozones.

The roots of Al Ain’s distinctive culture go back to the Neolithic Period, between 8,000 and 4,000 BC, where evidence of desert encampments and remains of flint tools located on elevated outcrops suggest that small nomadic communities inhabited that area in the past. These communities were pastoral nomads, who moved around with their domestic cattle, sheep and goats, remaining somewhat close to water sources. Jebel Hafit itself is a spectacular, barren limestone structure that rises abruptly out of the flat surrounding desert plains and dune fields. The mountain was formed some 25 million years ago. The natural heritage of Jebel Hafit (with its flora & fauna) and the surrounding oasis areas is exceptional, as is Al Ain’s red desert sand dune landscape.

Alongside pastoral communities that continue to exist until this day and time, late 4th to early 3rd millennium permanent settlements emerged and relied on farming, establishing trade relations with other cultures, such as those of Mesopotamia, Persia and the Indus Valley. While evidence of these settlements is preserved mainly at Hili, funerary architecture of that period is represented in the Hafit Graves.

Hafit cairns, consisting of round tomb single-chamber structures with multiple burials, is believed to have sheltered the buried bodies of communities that lived and traded across long distances in that area. Objects from Ancient Mesopotamia consisting of pottery and beads of the Jemdet Nasr period of southern Iraq, dating to ca. 3100-2900 BC, were deposited with the dead inside these cairn structures.  The Hafit funerary tradition, which includes over 120 graves, is known internationally as the “type-site” for the period designated as the “Hafit Period” or “Hafit Cultural Horizon”, which dates to between 3200 and 2700 BC.

Sometime around the beginning of the Bronze Age period, at around 3000 BC, sedentary communities practiced small scale irrigation and grew enough crops to sustain small communities living inside fortified tower-like structures incorporating a source of water (a water well). Around that time, trade intensified between the cultures of the ancient world (Mesopotamia, Persia, Indus Valley) and the land of Magan (incorporating large parts of Oman and the eastern part of Abu Dhabi Emirate). Settlers were probably drawn closer to the junction of an important trade route linking the coastal and inland sites of Oman with those on the Emirati coast. These communities developed a sophisticated culture with monumental architecture in the form of dwellings as well as burials for the dead. Nowhere in the region can one find such a representation of settlements and graves to illustrate the emergence of the Bronze Age cultures of Hili and Umm an-Nar, situated on the crossroads of inter-cultural trade.

Around 1000 BC, a new technological advancement changed the model of life and structure of society in that part of the world through the invention of the ingenuous falaj (aquifer water system) system. The new invention challenged the limitations of the scarce desert environment and expanded the potential of the water resources, allowing an unprecedented expansion to occur on many levels. Being the precursor of the well-known qanat water system in Iran, the falaj system consisted of an underground tunnel, which brought water by force of gravity across long distances from the source of an aquifer (situated at the foot of the mountain) all the way to low-lying oasis agricultural terrain. Once the water reached the oasis it was distributed to farmers via a complex water allocation system. This necessitated a developed administrative system, which allowed the community to grow and thrive. The potential of oasis agriculture in allowing for a wider range of vegetation to grow and larger produce to be collected entailed an expansion in the population. This had a profound effect on the way of life, subsistence economy, security and the expression of the very same culture through architecture, religion and art. Moreover, this meant that a new capital could be amassed in order to influence developments in trade and exchange across the region.

This evolutionary model of a modest self-dependent agricultural system based on small-scale irrigation by water-wells, evolving into a large-scale engineering project which provided running water in substantial quantities to allow for the significant expansion of agricultural terrain, and its repercussions on settlement as well as funerary architecture and traditions, is all witnessed through the archaeological remains of Hili Assemblage.

The Oases of Al Ain are six in number and are scattered along the urban core of the city. Al Ain’s six oases sustained the settlement of the area in the 2nd millennium BC (and possibly earlier); they now constitute an indissoluble aspect of the landscape of the city. Each oasis most likely started with one farm or a group of trees, possibly watered by a deep well, and then grew larger as technological innovations associated with the invention of the falaj irrigation systems made it possible to increase cultivation, sustain a larger settlement and grow surpluses which were then traded against other commodities. Today, the oases are dense irrigated date palm gardens surrounded by bustling modern city streets.

Al Ain’s oases have roots in the past; they are surviving elements of a culture which developed in the Iron Age period and possibly earlier. These oases are an important heritage asset, not only for their ecological value, but also for the important cultural value they hold, which is linked to a way of life that has survived until today. The practice of harvesting dates and other crops continues as it has for generations. The oases of Al Ain are still watered by historic falaj irrigation systems that bring water from mountain aquifer recharge zones through arid regions to the cultivated areas.

Major Historic Buildings associated with the Oases. Historic oasis architecture is of several types, including large forts, defensive towers, and fortified houses (murabbas) built to protect the inhabitants of the oases and their produce. All these buildings demonstrate the traditional building techniques of Al Ain – massively thick mud walls with limited small openings for light and air, roofed with palm logs and palm mat roofs, and mud plaster floors and walls.

Traditional building materials at Al Ain there is a long and rich tradition of mud brick building using clay collected from the wadis (ravines) that bring down water from the nearby mountains. Surviving ancient examples of local mud brick architecture include the houses of the Iron Age settlement at Rumailah as well as round buildings with massively thick mud brick walls found in both the Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements of Hili. Archive photographs show that mud brick houses, often supplemented by arish structures (made from palm branches and leaves), continued to be extensively used in Al Ain until the end of the pre-oil era in the 1960s.

Historic mud brick buildings have evolved as an integral part of the oasis systems, although some of them lie within the actual oasis boundaries, defined by the boundaries of individual farm plots, some buildings lie outside these boundaries and their relationship with the main oasis areas have often been severed by modern development.