Persian Past


Persian Micro-Mosaic on Camel Bone Dresser Box (LEO Design)


Persia—the country we call Iran today—has an important and glorious history that spans at least 9,000 years, making it one of the oldest continuous civilizations in history.  It was the world's first superpower, an empire which (at one point) included 40% of the earth's population.  Later empires—the Greeks, Romans and Ottomans—rivaled and clashed with the Persians and, over time, the Persian Empire was reduced in size and influence.  But, at its peak, Persia ruled from the Balkans to North Africa and well into Central Asia and the Caucuses.  

Before the Muslim Conquest of Persia (633-654 AD), the principle religion was Zoroastrianism.  As Islam spread in Persia, Shia Islam became the overwhelmingly dominant version.  From 1501 to 1979, Persia was ruled by a monarchy.  Ruling factions changed from time to time, but a royal family was a well-established part of Persian culture for centuries.  For the first three-quarters of the 20th Century, Persia was a highly-integrated and modern country.  The Shah pushed to Westernize his country, as Atatürk had been doing in Turkey.  Women were encouraged to seek education, run for office, mix with men and wear western clothing.  The veil was banned, a move considered by many to be a government overreach.  The Shah was also accused of living a gilded (perhaps corrupt) life—and he seemed uncomfortably chummy with suspect Western powers.

Alas, monarchies have been known to lose touch with (and control of) the people whom they rule.  Additionally, in the modernizing world of the 20th Century, more and more people had begun to question whether monarchies were an outdated form of government altogether.  With the Iranian Revolution (in 1979), conservative religious Muslims took control of the country, thus ending the monarchy.  The country was now to be called The Islamic Republic of Iran.  Women were required to don traditional "modest" dress.  The legal age of marriage (for a girl) was dropped to nine years old.  The sexes were separated in all spheres of public life and stoning was reinstated as the punishment for adultery.  In a moment's time, women (and religious liberals) lost any advancements which they had enjoyed during the previous 70 years of liberalization.

Conservative or liberal, Persians can be rightfully proud of nine millennia of glorious aesthetic culture.  Persians are well-known for their incredible mosaic work, in architecture, interior spaces, and on decorative objets.  This camel bone dresser box, made in the 1930's, is covered with thousands of tiny colored shards—red, green, navy blue, white and gold—each one intricately shaped and placed within the precise design.  It is a reminder of the beautiful artistic culture of the Persians and the pride of craftsmanship which accompanied it.  Please click on the photo above to learn more about it.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (

We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques ( or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248