Persian Metalworking in Iran
Metalwork (also known as engraving) is perhaps the most continuous and best-documented artistic medium from Iran in the Islamic period. At times, echoing the forms of more ephemeral or less costly materials such as ceramics, metalwork from Iran and adjacent lands served a wide variety of utilitarian functions. These were nonetheless luxury wares that absorbed the creative energy of some of the best artists and reflected the main artistic trends and the tastes of successive dynasties. Iranian metalwork is therefore an important resource for understanding the art of Iran in the Islamic period in particular and the history of Islamic art in general.
Early Islamic metalwork
Silver and gold plates, especially the former, provide a well- documented art form in Sasanian Iran and in pre-Islamic western Central Asia. Sasanian silver vessels (bowls, dishes, cups, ewers, and bottles), often decorated with imperial symbolism such as the royal hunt must have appealed to the new Muslim rulers, who sought to emulate the traditions of Persian kingship.
During this period Iranian metalwork underwent considerable modification in terms of technical, iconographic, and aesthetic standards. Although the mechanism for transmission is not always clear, it is apparent that Jaziran (i.e., of Upper Mesopotamia) and Syro-Egyptian metalwork of this period also benefited from as well as contributed to these developments in Iran.
Sometime towar the middle of the 12 th century, the metalwork industry in Iran underwent a major transformation that was to be of signal importance for its history. Bronze and brass objects, some of them copying shapes in precious metal, were inlaid with silver and copper or gold. At roughly the same time, hammered brass began to replace cast brass in the manufacture of luxury meta-ware.
This florescence of Iranian metalwork in the 12 th and early 13 th centuries was part of a larger period of creativity in the so-called decorative arts, one that changed dramatically with the Mongol invasion.
Late medieval metalwork
By the end of the 14 th century, following Timur's invasion of Iran during the last decade of the century, the focus of royal patronage, including metalwork, shifted eastward, first to western Central Asia and then to Khorasan.
Metalwork from the first decades of the 16 th century under the Safavid dynasty continued the forms, techniques, and styles that had evolved in the preceding century in eastern Iran. Such wares can only be distinguished from earlier Timurid examples on the basis of the dates or the content of their inscriptions.
In the second quarter of the 16 th century the decoration became stiffer and more schematized. This transitional style is found primarily on engraved and tinned wares. The designs of the thriving art of the Persian miniature deeply influenced the art of metalworking or engraving. From that era, engraved candle-holders and especially precious astrolabes have remained.
Early modern metalwork
Thousands of pieces of metalwork produced under the Zand and Qajar dynasties have survived, but they are of modest merit, generally utilitarian brass and copperwares with the exception of some fine examples of cut-steel, including copies after 17th – century pieces.
How to engrave
Engraving should be done on metals that are durable. For this purpose, gold seems to be the best metal. But in practice, such metals as silver and copper and such alloys brass are used more often.
To begin with, the artist draws the design on a piece of paper. The paper is embossed. A fine chisel driven by a mallet is used to put holes through the drawing. In order to transfer the drawing on the metal, it is necessary to oil the surface of the metal. The map is placed on the oiled metal. They then rub the map with powdered charcoal which infiltrates through the fine holes on the map and leaves an imprint of the general outline of the design on the metal. The master engraver use diverse chisels to create various effects. In the early stages of engraving, sometimes the metal is covered with tar. This increases the life of the chisels and makes it possible for the artists to do finer engraving.
After engraving has been done, the engraved piece is rubbed with oil so that some of the motifs such as floral motifs are accentuated. The excess oil is wiped away. Before the oil is dried, powdered charcoal is rubbed against the engraved work. This procedure clears the embossed part from any oil and makes them shine whereas the engraved parts are filled with the black charcoal powder. At the moment, the master engravers following different styles are working in the workshops of Isfehan, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Zanjan.