Glass Blowing in Iran
Glass Blowing in Persia
Glass blowing was invented in the Syro- Palestinian region during the Parthian period in the mid-first century BCE and quickly spread from there to neighboring regions. Due to this invention, which probably reached Mesooptamia in the first century CE, glassware could be produced more easily and in greater numbers than by the techniques known earlier.
The Parthian period
Knowledge of glass production during the Arsacid period is still very limited, especially for Persia, and it can be difficult to decide whether vessels were made locally or imported from the Syro- Palestinian areas.
The Sasanian period
Production of glass was much more widely spread wighin the Sasanian Empire; it also became in both shapes and types of decoration independent from Parthian prototypes. Due to a number of excavations, much more is known from the western part of the Sasanian Empire, i.e., Mesopotamia, than from Persia proper. However parallels with finds from sites in Persia seem to indicate that the main types had been popular in most parts of the empire. A possible reason for the popularity of glass during the Sasanian period may be that fact that Zoroastrians considered glass to be a ritually pure material. Glass vessels were also used to hold burials in Mesopotamia as well as in Persia. Glass was also used to hold perfumes and cosmetics, for drinking purposes, and as lamps. It often had a light green or greenish color with a somewhat yellow tinge; colorless glass was rare. Red, buff, and a brownish tinge also occur. Typical for many excavated Sasanian vessels is a corrosion that can cause that total decomposition of the glass. This often makes it impossible to see the actual color of the glass.
Early Islamic period (7th – 12th centuries AD)
The technique of glass production in Persia greatly improved during the early Islamic period. The general output of glass seems to have grown, and it is also during his period that some of the greatest achievements in the production of glass during the Islamic period were made. Many of the changes seem to have begun in the 9 th century. Whether this was due to a continuation or revival of the achievements reached in the Sasanian period or due to an influence from the Abbasid court has still to be resolved. Early Islamic glass was blown out thinly, especially so for many of the carved vessels of colorless glass common from the 9th – 10th centuries. The color pattern gradually changed as light green and yellowish green became less popular. Colorless glass of a very good quality was used for the majority of the cut glass vessels. Unfortunately remains of glass furnaces are not well-known. Numerous furnaces of the 10th – 11th centuries are known to have existed within the city of Sirjan, but further research is necessary to verify this. Exports of glass vessels to nearly regions such as Armenia and as far as China are attested, while glass from the Syro- Palestinian region was imported.
Techniques unknown during the pre-Islamic era, such as pinching the glass with a metal instrument, were developed in this period. Cut and engraved glass gained even more importance, and a whole range of new shapes emerged which is now considered typical and a whole reange of new period: miniature bottles, small square bottles, cylindrical and conical beakers, ewers with pear-shaped body and thumb-rest, globular bottles with long cylindrical necks, bell-shaped bottles with necks widening conically. Some of the shapes were imitations of metal vessels. Glass was also widely used to make kitchenware, lamps, inkwells, medical or chemical equipment, window- glass, and jewelry.
In addition to abstract ornamental motifs, one sees the emergence of new decorative patterns, both figural and non- figural and usually in a highly stylized fashion: differently stylized palmettes, arabesque-like shapes, etc. Figural themes, usually representing animals such as birds, ibex horse-like creatures, etc., appear for the first time on glass vessels.
Il-khanid and Timurid periods
Little is known about Persian quality glass production from the Il-khanid and Timurid periods. The glass industry does not seem to have been highly developed, although production of simple blown vessels may be assumed to have continued locally.
Safavid and Qajar periods
The situation in this period seems to be somewhat related to the preceding one, as glass was probably produced only for commercial items and long-distance trade. Glasshouses are reported from Esfahan and Shiraz but seem to have existed in other towns as well. Venetian glass vessels and mirrors reached the Safavid court ghrough Venetian agents. During the 19th century, glass was also imported from Bohemia.
Much of the glass that came to Europe from Persia in the 19th century was labeled as Safavid, but the largest number of pieces seems to have been produced in the Qajar period. Some of these (long-necked bottles, rose-water sprinklers, wine glasses and bottles, nargileh bases, and reverse-glass paintings) are depicted in Qajar paintings.