Post-Islamic Iranian Metalwork
Iran Exports and Imports
May - June 1998, No. 53
Text: The art and craft of metalwork in Iran has a long history beginning thousands of years ago. It is beyond doubt that metalwork in Moslem Iran was based on trends, techniques and samples which had passed down from the Sassanid empire. The motifs found on early Moslem metalworks in Iran, clearly show the influence and imprint of the Sassanid era and styles.
Many metal trays, jugs, pitchers, bookcases for holding copies of the holy Koran and a few other objects remain to day from the early Moslem Iran, in which geometric and floral designs can be seen: in some cases as embossed metalwork, in others as inlays of gold and silver, sometimes both. Some of the pitchers that remain, resemble birds, with the lid in the shape of a bird's head covering the top.
As with other Moslem arts and crafts, metalwork flourished and developed significantly during the Seljuk era (1038-1256). The samples that remain from this period clearly demonstrate that the craftsmen of the age had developed new techniques, and beautiful designs and motifs such as the fine latticework; and new styles of inlaid metal. Broadly, the Seljuki metalwork styles can be divided into four categories: latticed metal; carved metal; metal inlays; and embossed designs and motifs. Most metal objects are made of bronze or brass, and the inlays are of gold or silver. There are many inlaid candlesticks, bowls, trays, incense burners etc., remaining from the period. Some experts believe the origin of these inlaid metal objects is in Musol (in present-day Iraq, then a part of Moslem Iran) with Hamedan, Isfahan, Mashhad and Zanjan being concurrently important inlaid metalwork centers, which based their styles and designs on the Musol school. The best samples available are bronze metal objects inlaid with silver, found in Yuzinjerd near Hamedan with motifs that depict scenes of hustings and feasts and decorative geometric silver inlay designs.
During the Golden Age of the Safavid dynasty (1502-1722) the art of metalwork developed further - like all other arts and crafts. Most metal objects of this period bear floral designs and motifs, sometimes a human being and/or scripts. Inlaid metalwork was still quite common and had reached a high level of technique and skill, with much more plastic and fluid designs.
Historical developments, as indicated by the samples left from the various ages, clearly show that gradually oil-lamps were increasingly replaced by candlesticks. Many candlesticks remain today.
Other commonly found metal objects are those which had been used in holy shrines and which often depict floral designs: branches, leaves and flowers with naskh script in medallions.
In post-Safavid eras, silver and gold objects became more widely available and concurrently the enamel technique was perfected. During the Qajar dynasty (1796-1921), for example, exquisite enamel designs and pictures were created on gold and silver surfaces. Most depict birds, specially roses, and gold-inlaid medallions.
In addition to fine enamelwork, the Qajar period is also rich in steel boxes with gold platings, as well as statues of birds and other animals in steel, with gold and copper inlays.