The Iranian Safavid Empire (1501-1786) is distinguished from the Mughal and Ottoman dynasties by the Shi'a faith of its shahs, which was the majority Islamic denomination in Persia. Safavid art is characterized by numerous aesthetic traditions: miniature painting, bookbinding, decoration, calligraphy, and handicrafts such as tile making, pottery, and textiles.
In the sixteenth century, carpet weaving evolved from a nomadic and peasant craft to a well-executed industry with specialization of design and manufacturing using quality fibers such as silk. Textiles became a large export, and Persian weaving became the most popular imported good of Russia. The carpets of Ardabil, for example, were commissioned to commemorate the Safavid dynasty and are now considered to be the best examples of classical Persian weaving, particularly for their use of graphical perspective .
Manuscript illustration also achieved new heights, particularly in the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, an immense copy of Ferdowsi's poem containing more than 250 paintings. In the seventeenth century a new type of painting developed based around the album (known as the muraqqa). The albums were the creations of connoisseurs who bound together single sheets containing paintings, drawings, or calligraphy by various artists, sometimes excised from earlier books, and other times created as independent works. Reza Abbasi (1565–1635) introduced new subjects to Persian painting—particularly semi-nude women, youth, and lovers . His painting and calligraphic style influenced Iranian artists for much of the Safavid period, which came to be known as the Isfahan school. In the seventeenth century, increased contact with distant cultures, especially those of Europe, provided a boost of inspiration to Iranian artists who adopted modeling, foreshortening, spatial recession, and the medium of oil painting.
Finally, architecture flourished in the Safavid Dynasty, attaining a high point with the building program of Shah Abbas in Isfahan, which included numerous gardens, palaces (such as Ali Qapu), an immense bazaar, and a large imperial mosque . Isfahan, the capital of both the Seljuk and Safavid dynasties, bears the most prominent samples of the Safavid architecture, such as the the Imperial Mosque, Masjid-e Shah, the Imam Mosque, the Lutfallah Mosque, and the Royal Palace, which were all constructed in the years after Shah Abbas I permanently moved the capital there in 1598.