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Metalwork

Metalwork is perhaps the most continuous and best-documented artistic medium from Iran in the Islamic period. It survives mainly in brass and bronze. Most gold and silver wares, better known through literary accounts, were likely melted down (Ward, pp. 10-11). 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. Written sources are an important means of documenting this medium. In addition to literary works, primarily geographical texts in Arabic and Persian, which provide information on centers of production and sources of metal ores (Allen, 1979, pp. iv-viii), the objects themselves often supply internal documentation through their inscriptions. Iranian metalwork is therefore an important resource for understanding the art Iran in the Islamic period in particular and the history of Islamic art in general.
Early Islamic metalwork, Silver and gold plate, especially the former, provide a well-documented art form in Sassanid Iran and in pre-Islamic western Central Asia. Sassanid silver vessels (bowls, dishes, cups, ewers, and bottles), often decorated with imperial symbolism such as the royal hunt (Harper and Meyers, pp. 40-98), must have appealed to the new Muslim rulers, who sought to emulate the traditions of Persian kingship. 

Sometime toward the middle of the 12th 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 metal-ware. Khorasan has long been recognized as the center for the production of these wares.

This florescence of Iranian metalwork in the 12th and early 13th centuries was part of a larger period of creativity in the so-called decorative arts, one that changed dramatically with the Mongol invasion, which brought to an abrupt end the important metalwork centers in Khorasan. Post-Mongol metalwork, largely attributable to Azarbayjan and Fars, exhibits simpler and less varied shapes. Bowls, deep basins, flat trays, and tall bell-shaped candlesticks predominate.
By the end of the 14th 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. 
 
A distinctively Timurid style of metalwork emerged by the second quarter of the 15th century and continued into the 16th century. It is documented by some twenty-five signed and/or dated objects. Among the signed objects, several include affiliations (nesba) formed after place names near Herat, which must have been the main center of production. 
Metalwork from the first decades of the 16th 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. As in the preceding period, the most frequent type of dated object is a pot-bellied jug with dragon-shaped handle inlaid in gold and silver. Another common form perhaps newly introduced is a small, cylindrical inkwell with dome-shaped cover. 
In the second quarter of the 16th century the decoration became stiffer and more schematized. This transitional style is found primarily on engraved and tinned wares.
Several objects demonstrate the arrival of a new style of metalwork in western Iran around the third quarter of the 16th century. This novel aesthetic is characterized by sleek, tapered forms, while engraved (non-inlaid) figurative decoration reappeared but remained less important than vegetal and abstract ornament, and inscriptions in nastaʿliq proliferated (Melikian-Chirvani, 1982, pp. 263-66).

A group of cut-steel objects overlaid with gold can be associated with western Iran in the 16th and 17th centuries. Beginning in the 16th century, cut steel was used to make vessels and especially pierced plaques, medallions, and standards. The decoration of such objects is better related to contemporary cut and gilded armor than to engraved brass and tinned wares of the same period (Allan and Gilmore, pp. 253-81, 294-97).
In 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 (Allan and Gilmore, pp. 319-20).

Refrence(s):

- Beheshti, Oksana (2003). Travel guide to Isfahan, Kashan and more. Iran. Tehran. Rozaneh publication.


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