Persian Metal Work

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“The art of metalwork is special for horse-riding nations like the Parses” , L. Van den Bergh

Exploring metal, was the beginning of important changes in the civilization of man. Without any doubt, the first people, who were successful in making metal objects, were the pioneers of their age. In Iran, the art of metal work goes back to the pre historic era.

The people who were living on Iran’s plateau first proceeded to metal work because of necessity. But little by little this industry was combined with artistic creativity.

In the myths about ancient Persians, there are splendid tales about how metal was explored. Ferdowsi, the great epic Persian poet, has told some of these historically originated tales in his very famous poetical work “Shahname”.

In “Avesta,” the holy book of ancient Iranians, four kinds of metals, gold, silver, steel and a kind of Iron-alloy are mentioned.

“It is correct the statement which said Iran had been the first country in which metal was used. Because, unlike “Beinolnaherin” (Mesopotamia), Egypt and the “Sind Valley” this country has been rich in mines of metal. Metals like gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, had been quarried in Iran and mostly in an area called “Carmania”.

Ancient discoveries in different parts of Iran tell us that the people of this land in addition to the exploration of different kinds of metals were skillful in making varieties of metallic objects and alloys. They also invented the first kind of copper forge in order to form metal.

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Metallic statute of human- Lorestan (2000 B.C.)

From the fifth thousand years (BC) little copper objects have been found in “Sialk” of “Kashan”, which were formed by hammering. The dwellers of this area were aware of forming characteristic of copper. In order to melt the copper, they needed to have forges with a temperature of about 1,200 degree centigrade, but their primary forges failed to reach such a temperature. In the fourth to the second thousand years (B.C.) they invented bellow and by using this device air was passed into the forge forcefully to raise the temperature up to 1200′.

This temperature was enough for melting copper. In an epigraph explored in “Shush,” metal workers are shown blowing into the forge.)

In the second part of the third thousand years (B.C.), using metal flourished. Bronze and silver objects were found in “Shush” and “Tepe-Hissar”:

“Tepe Ciyan” belonged to this era of developing of art with metal work. At the end of the third and the second thousand years (B.C.) art in bronze work in Iran was greatly improved and was carried out skillfully. Artistic artisans combined copper with tin and produced a kind of alloy and by combining of copper with zinc produced a bronze alloy.

Explorations about civilization belonging to “Sialk,” “Hasanlue,” “MarIik,” and “Ziwiye” showed that metal work was widespread among the people of these areas and that the artisans of this races were skillful artists.

The art of using metal started from the “Kassites” era in “Zagross” region. Metal industries were improved during this age. Without any doubt, the way of life of the people, herding and farming, was a suitable factor of this progress. This industry increased so rapidly that at present, there can be found many forges and main mines of explored metals on Iran’s plateau boundary mountain chains and at the margin of central desert. During a long period of change, the use of stone arms and tools were abolished as metal arms like daggers, lances and copper poniard became plentiful.

In the ancient area of “Zagross” and among the graves, many object made of bronze, gold, silver and iron, have been excavated.

Metalic objects from the Zagross region can be divided into four categories. Studying each part of these objects show the kinds of needs of man during that age.

The applications and the artistic characteristics of each of them are considerable.
Metallic Fire stand and Idol- Lorestan (1000 B.C.)

The mentioned categories are as follows:
1- Defensive arms consisting daggers, swords, maces, shields, axes and arrow heads.

2- Equipment and ornaments for horses like ordinary and ceremonial bridles, different suspenders, hawk bells and components of carts.

3- Ornamentals consist of necklaces, rings, earrings, hair-clips, buttons, mirrors and safety pins.

  1. Different kinds of dishes consisting water bowls (special for mourning ceremonies), cups and cylindrical seals. Exploring the treasure of “Ziwiye” in Kurdestan introduces other artistic races who lived in the northern valleys of Zagross.

Valuable treasure is to be found in the remnants of a castle amongst the fortification of “lzirtu” the capital city of “Mannai.” The art collection of “Ziwiye” consist of different valuable ornaments objects made of gold, silver and ivory.

Unknown artists of Ziwiye tried their best skills to make ornamental objects from valuable metals, in the seventh and eight centuries before the Christ.

Stereotypes of Ziwiye’s treasure are kept in “Iran Bastan” Museum. Discovering metal dishes of Marlik in 1961 in a region called “Roodbar” in “Gillan” has proved to be one of the greatest treasures of metalwork in Iran.

The artistic and production quality of these works symbolize the existence of a high-class school of art and industry in ancient Iran about three thousands years ago (the end of the second and the beginning of the first thousand years BC).

Metal treasures of “Marlik” were obtained from 53 graves belonging to rulers, commanders and their families and consist of 63 pieces of dishes and objects made of gold, silver and bronze which have been created with extreme dexterity.

The collections include cups, bowls, tumblers, plates, containers with long necks, pots and other ornamental objects. A lot of dishes of metal found in Marlik are made by gold and kinds of alloys. The number of silver dishes are less and the number of objects made of bronze are more than the objects made of gold.

Metallic Axe- Lorestan (1000 B.C.) Golden cup- Gilan (2000-1000 B.C.)

Silver and golden containers are created in different shapes with different ornaments in different sizes. There are much decorations on cups to create the scarcest masterpieces. One of the famous golden cups is nominated by the name of its discovery site as the “Golden Cup of Marlik” because of its extremely skilled creation and its marvelous quality.

The gold, which is used in the “Marlik cup,” has been selected for its purity and because its flexibility allowed the creation of such scarce and complex decorations. The decorations on the body show four winged cows, which has been embossed by very skillful hammer working. And it is really embossed.

The cup of “The Tale of Life,” a golden cup with a horned horse and other ones, which show a “Simorg” and a winged cow are among the other valuable works of artists from “Marlik” civilization. In addition to the simple designs and drawing on the metal containers of Marlik, there could be seen ornamental visualizing designs, which symbolized the unique imaginations of the artists of Marlik.

In the metal works of Marlik there can be seen smoothness, beauty, action and life in their designs. All the things are shown in action, nothing can be found still in these designs. Deers, horned horses, winged cows, hunters, eagles and birds created on the bodies of cups present kinds of motion. Even a goat engraved on the body of one of the cups is represented by a kind mother goat fondling her child goat. The school of art of Marlik was a new motion and a unique one belonging to this magnificent civilized culture. The influence of this race’s industry and art of metal work can be seen in a vast area in the ancient world and also thereafter in other civilizations especially in the Mad and Hakhamaneshian In Hakhamaneshian era (550-530 B.C.), metalwork enjoyed a great importance among Persian artists. Hakhamaneshian artists produce a variety in arms and ornamental objects made from metals. The artistic standards of this age continued in the “Partian” era and were elevated in the Sassanian era.

Silver cup- Marvdasht (End 0f 3000 B.C.) Golden cup- Hasanlou (1000 B.C.)
Silver jar- Achaemenian    Silver hollow head (300-200 B.C.)

Sassanian artists presented an extreme skillfulness in metal works. Cups and containers of silver created by artists of this era hold simple ornamental embossed designs, which is unique regarding the opinion of scholars of art. They showed much skills in jewels inlaid on metal containers. One of them beautiful metal works of the Sassanian era is a golden jewel inlaid cup called the “Solomon cup”. This cup is kept in Medal’s Hal in Paris (Cabine des Me’dailles). Its surface from inside and outside is skillfully decorated with ruby. Silver utensils belonging to the Sassanian era are the best types of art in metal work. Decorated designs on the bodies of these utensils show hunting, animals and birds.
A silver and golden utensil is in the “Metropolitan Museum,” which carries a design showing Firooz, the First Sassanian king (457-463 AD.) going to hunt a wild goat using bows and arrows.

The most important metal works of Sassanian era was kept in the “Hermitage Museum.” Some other unique samples are different collections in Europe and America.

In studying the art of metal work in Iran, the emergence of golden coins in the Hakhamaneshian era must be regarded. Under Daryoosh the First, the king from the Hakhamaneshian’s era (522-489 BC)golden coins were coined for the first time in the work. The name of these coins were “Derik”. Copper and bronze and silver coins were made widespread, but after the initiation of the Iranians, gold coinage became widespread in other parts of the world.
Golden coin was one of the most important invention of man in facilitating commercial exchange. There was a picture of Daryoosh the first engraved on the first golden coins of the world. This design shows him kneeling down and pulling the string of a bow, he wore a Persian cloth. On the tail of this coin there are unknown signs. After Hakhamaneshian, coining have been continued in Sassanian era and then after in each ages, valuable works were created, many samples of coins belonging to different historical era in Iran have been explored in archaeological excavations and are kept in considerable museums of the world and also in private collections.

The art of metal work in Iran, after emerging of Islam, started, with art of Sassanian in its back ground. Iranian artists could reveal their talent after reposing.

Continuation of Sassanian style in metal work of early Islam era especially in silver utensils is obvious

Two silver utensils belonging to the post Sassanian era kept in Ermitage museum. There are designs about famous tale of “Bahram goor” and “Azadeh” on them. Silver utensils having designs of animals and birds engraved on them, are an important group of metal works of early Islamic period. There were more quill driving and engraving works rather then embossing works in this age.

One of the characteristics of metal work in Islamic era is the variety of creating shape and form in utensils. Among metal objects most remaining after the emergence of Islam in Iran are as follows:

Different decanters, trays, containers, Cases for Quran, candelabrums, bronze cups, ewers, censers, designed bronze and copper utensils. In addition to these, silver utensils and beautiful ornamental objects have remained from this era, which are valuable from the artistic point of view.

The impact of Persian art on Arabs and other nations after Islam, symbolize the value of Iranian art and culture.

Golden necklace with precious stones    Golden Bracelet with rings- Ziwiye (1000 B.C.)
Silver plate with golden pieces  (300-700 A.D.) Silver dish with golden pieces- Hamedan  (600-700 A.D.)

The Arabs, lacking arts industries, little by little have become familiar with the metal works of Iranians. The scope of such effects ere so great that after some centuries, they were seen in India in the Ottoman Turk empire and even European nations. One of the glorious ages of metal works in Iran after Islam is Saljooghian era. Muslim Persian metal workers of this age created works which are unique.

After overcoming of Saljooghe (from Saljooghian dynasty) in the eastern part of Iran (1037 A.D.) a glorious age of metal working started. Saljooghe’s innovative artists created new designs and decorations on bronze gold and silver dishes. Most Saljooghian’s dishes were made in the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. These Works now have great fame among art evaluators and scholars. Two bronzes, silver trays and bronze cups, decanters, flasks, and candelabrums and ewers, from the Saljooghians era are among the most famous artistic masterpieces from Islamic art of this age.

Golden rhyton Silver bowl- Mazandaran Golden rhyton- Hamedan, Achaemanian (500 B.C.)

 

Epigraphs have been found in Farsi and Arabic among remnants belonging to Saljooghian age which show the artists of this age used script in the best way as a factor of decoration. Metal workers of Saljooghian era mainly used two different styles, complementary to each other. One way was to cover the complete surface of the metal objects with a number of designs and layouts that add glory to the manifestation of their works. The other way was to choose a very simple base (background) in order to make the main designs more outstanding. These simple designed bronze works ‘were very accomplished that reflect similar works belonging to the renaissance. From the 15th century (A.D.) we can see the influence of Iran’s metal works in Europe. At the beginning of the century, some Venetian merchants in Egypt, became familiar with the art of metal workers from Iran and Egypt, invited some of them to Venice. The works of these artists were welcomed by European and the style of these artists developed in Venice and other parts of Europe.
The interesting point is that the Saljooghe’s artists sealed a special sign on all of their metal works. This sign symbolized a falcon sitting over its bait, which was a little bird, with its beak thrust into the bird’s body.

Metalic human head statue      Sasanid King  (600-700 A.D.)

Earlier the invasion of the Mongols at the beginning of 12th century (A.D.) caused a bitter impact on art and artists of Iran. After a silent age there came to start glorious art in metal work in the west of Iran. Little by little it expanded to Fars and Khorassan in the middle of 14th century. From remnants, belonging to the second half of the fourteenth century, we can better see characteristics of metal working during the domination of the Mogols in Iran. Several metal boxes, candelabrums and other works of this age are kept in museums such in Metropolitan, in Baltimore and in Cairo.

Metalic parthian statue  (100 A.D.)

 

In Teimoorian era (1370-1502A.D.) metal workers made objects simple and without any decorations. In this age, improvement was slow to gain the importance of Saljooghe’s.

In “Harat” the center of “Khorassan” there were made different metal utensils made of copper, bronze, iron and steel. These dishes were made extremely skillfully, especially in gold and silver. The art of metal work of the Taimoorian era is largely indebted to their ancestors’ experiences.

Improvement in metal work took place gradually. The Persians did not react strongly against the invaders, but with the passing of time, they were successful in introducing their culture and art to the invaders and making them interested in their Metal work in Safavian era (1502-1736 A.D.) came into a new stage of style, variety, beauty and preciousness. Among the qualities of precious art of the Safavians was its elegance of designs and Farsi scripts in the form of verses or historical contents, and the names of Twelve (Shi’a) Imams written on them.

Horse statue- Deilaman  (300 A.D.)

The art of metal work during the age of Safavian, was established on old customs and the skill of the artists of this era, represented by the dexterity and genius in metal works. Designers and painters in this age underwent considerable change with beauty and elegance replacing much roughness which had been seen sometimes in ancient works.
In particular in this age, delicate and beautiful candelabrums were made in different splendid forms. There were changes in engraved censers and candelabrums with Persian scripts substituted for Arabic one. The form of the handwriting was also changed to “Naskh” and “Soiths” (two kinds of writing styles used in calligraphy). These scripts were written by the greatest calligraphists of that age.

The symbol of Safavis metal workers is a lion attacking a reindeer, sitting on its neck and tearing it apart.

Works like ewers, torches, cups, and caps for containers are full of innovations and artistic masterpieces. Jewelry inlaid dishes belonging to the Safavi’s era, are famous for their beautiful and elegance jewels inlaid in bronze objects, which had declined in 15th century, flourished again in this era. Usually they used to whiten copper to make it similar to silver. The decorations of this era show changing tastes of artists. One of the outstanding samples of metallic works belonging to the 16th century is a copper bowl, marvelously engraved with the designs of many kinds of herbs, which is now kept in the Metropolitan museum.

Safavi metal workers were also most skillful in managing iron and steel. They extensively improved the art of steel articulation. Steel workers were used in the decoration of clothes, making weapons or fire arms, epigraphs, chain, helmets and shield. Making steel doors and windows for sacred places and graves for religious leaders also flourished in this age.

Astrolabes were one of the other metal objects which Safavi’s artists showed their talent by making it. Safavi’s kings believed in astrolabes and astronomical commandments.

 
Silver tray- Historical period Marlic golden cup  (2000-1000 B.C.)

 

The astrolabe is a tool made of bronze, which has been used by astronomers to measure the distances between stars, from the noon and sun and also it was used for anticipating lunar eclipses and also eclipses of the sun.

The oldest Persian astrolabe is kept in Oxford museum in England and belonged to the fourth century’ A.H. (Anno Hejira). Sixty-seven historical astrolabes from Iran, which symbolize another part of the art and industries of Persian metal work artists, are kept in great museums of the world and in personal collections.

The art of metal works in the Safavi era had such value that metal workers at present also are effected by them. Most works of present artists have been under the influence of the Safavi’s style, while the Taimoorian’s style also has its advocates.

Khosrow the first cup  (600 A.D.)

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