Persian Enameling in Iran
Enamel is a vitreous, opaque, decorative coating baked on metal, glass, or ceramic ware. It is also a material made by fusing powdered glass to a substrate by firing.
Enamel is a heat-fused glass paste colored by metal oxides and used to decorate metal surfaces. The art of 'Minakari' or Enameling is the decoration of metal and tile with mina glaze. Enamel was associated with lapidary, glass-working, and gold-smithing crafts and was probably used primarily in place of precious stones before the 17th century. Anthony Jenkinson, a traveler to Persia in 1561-63 CE, described an enameled and Jeweled aigrette worn by the ruler of Shirvan. The medium was first used extensively in the mid-17th century, however. A variety of textual sources and a few datable examples suggest that at that time champleve enameling and enamel – sometimes in slight relief, in transparent and opaque colors on gold, copper, and silver- began to appear in Persia.
The flowering of this craft may be attributed, at least partly, to the influence of European and Russian enameled wares sent to Persia as diplomatic gifts in the 17th century. According to some sources, European jewelers, goldsmiths, watchmarkers, and enamellers were patronized by the Safavid court, and enamels were ordered from Europe. The jewel merchant Jean Baptiste Tavernier reported that Shah Abbas II (1642-66) provide him with sketches for an enameled knife and spoon which the ruler wished to order. Other travelers described court receptios at which magnificent enameled plates, daggers, and insignia were common. By the late 17th century the position of court enameller (minasaz-bashi) and records of the trade of enameller in the bazaar indicate that European techniques had been mastered by Persian craftsmen.
A number of delicate, small cups with floral, bird, and arabesque designs illustrate the continued excellence of Persian enameling in the later 18th century. Indeed, the enamel painging of this period is characterized by brilliant colors (primarily pink, royal blue, turquoise, and translucent green) set off against gold or opaque grounds; elegant figural, animal, and floral designs; and fine detailing. The medium was well suited to the talents of Persian craftsmen, who continued to produce works equaling or surpassing those of Ottoman, Mughal, and European workshops.
Many dated and signed examples from the later 18th through the early 20th century document the longevity of this tradition. A wide range of objects- including arms and armors, jeqqas (ornaments used on hats, turbans, and crowns), vessels, qalians (waterpipe bases), mirrors, Koran and amulet boxes, snuffboxes, and inkpots for pencases- were the court of Fath-Ali Shah (1797-1834). Court painters were commissioned to provide designs for various media. Their versatility is clear from the production of enamel work: More than twenty-five artists, names have been recorded, including painers also noted for work in other media (e.g., Mohammad Baqer, Mirza Baba, and Ahmad).
Mohammad Baqer was noted for marginal designs and lacquerwork; his work in enamel is attested by a signed covered bowl, saucer, and spoon decorated with astrological figures and dedicated to fath-Ali Shah. Enamelwork continued to be produced at a high standard in the later 19th century, even when royal patronage decreased and other arts were in decline. Textual sources attest to the continued patronage of certain Persian notables. Indeed, the French traveler Julien de Rochechouart recorded more than 200 enamel craftsmen active in Tehran in the 1860s. Although Persian painters attempts to render European technical brilliance of Persian enamellers elicited their admiration. the last significant achievements in this medium occurred in the third quarter of the 19th century and were associated with the workshop of Mohammad Kazem and his sons. Their works featured Europeanizing subjects designed to appeal to the taste of the later Qajar period. By the early 20th century enameling was in decline and had been replaced by works of Swiss, German, and French manufacture.