Handicrafts

 

Artistic productions including handmade crafts are very potent cultural representatives, particularly for countries with ancient civilizations. Iran owns an enormous wealth of traditional masterpieces remained from old, middle, and modern arenas. The geographical location of Iran, bridging west to the east, along with the country’s long history of trade with other countries such as China and India, has contributed to the huge diversity of arts and crafts displayed in the country’s museums. Furthermore, the contemporary crafts, beside artistic and decorative aspects, offer functional utilities for people, which can be found in traditional bazaars in full variety.Handicrafts refer to products of art and industry which mainly rely on indigenous and traditional specialties and, independent from high technologies, are generally created by hand, using local raw materials and hand tools which can be either in a studio or simply at home; handicrafts have had both artistic and functional characteristics and have been generally called as “art-industry”. The most famous Iranian traditional handicrafts include drawing, miniature paintings, calligraphy, gilding, carving, engraving, pottery, carpet waving, and tiling.

 

Toreutics, Precious Artistic Metalworking

Toreutics is an Iranian field of art which is considered as handicrafts and artistic metalworking. There is no clear history on its background; however, according to some archaeologists and art historians it dates back to period of Scythians or Sakas who were of nomadic Iranians living in pre-Achaemenid era. This art has first been seen in the forms of carving on mountains and on building stones of royal palaces and historical monuments and even in the era of cavemen; and, afterwards it was developed to engraving and, finally, toreutics. In other words, toreutics generally refers to decorating and engraving beautiful and exquisite pictures and patterns on the main surface of the metal objects made of gold, silver, copper, brass and steel through hammering or engraving with a burin. Among the above-mentioned metals, copper is more popular in this artistic metalworking due to its softness and flexibility. The art of toreutics or engraving on metals with burins has drawn the artists’ attention mainly due to considerable lifespan and persistence of the products comparing to other objects or materials. The contemporary artists or craftsmen in this field first coat the inner or below part of the concerned metal dish or tray, usually made of silver or gold, with a tar and plaster solution so as to decrease the sounds of hammers or burins and at the same time diminish the potential risk of dish penetrations. Then, they draw the pattern on the dish and after choosing the proper burin they place it on the pattern and start to hammer the end of burin to form the desired grooves and patters on the dish with changing the intensity of hammer hits. Motifs and symbols used in the patterns of toreutics have always varied based on ideological and cultural changes throughout the various historic and cultural periods, and have been influenced by the social conditions and have had their own particular historical evolution. Different styles in the art of toreutics include relief, mid-relief, engraving, and lattice work. Moreover, in another perspective, there are two major styles in Iranian toreutics: Isfahan Style and Tabriz Style. In Tabriz Style, motion and pressure of the wrist is used for engraving, and in Isfahan Style it is done with hammering hits. Therefore, burin of Tabriz is flat and shallow while the burin of Isfahan is deeper.

 

Termeh, Luxurious Royal Fabric

Termeh is a woven fine and precious cloth with traditional Iranian patterns or textures which is woven by hand with two sets of warp and weft yarn made of pile, wool, natural and synthetic high-quality silk with tall fibers. Although some believe that the origin of Termeh is the heart of Central Asia and Kashmir highlands, some other believe that weaving Termeh has originated in Iran and then found its way to Kashmir. However, weaving Termeh was developed and became popular in the early Safavid period in Isfahan, and its excelling evolution took place in the reign of Shah Abbas Safavid and became one of the Iranian exportable products. Taste and initiative of Iranians in the weaving delicacy, material and fantastic schemes of this handicraft is unique; therefore, one of the important duties and barriers of the weaver of Termeh is on choosing and matching the colors as this matching is done whether by choosing harmonious colors or even by choosing contrasting colors in a particular form which can represent kind of congruity and beauty and it is considered as a secret in the Iranian style of weaving Termeh. In general, the colors for weaving Termeh, and especially colors used for its texts, consist of natural herbal colors as well as natural materials in colors like dark red, light red, green, orange, and black; and, the patterns generally include various traditional curved patterns and schemes. This delicate and fine cloth had been used for different occasions such as sewing aristocratic and noble clothes, curtains, prayer rugs and robe, and were worn mainly by people from noble, aristocratic and monarchal classes, in the past times; however, in the present time, most of the upper- and middle-class people offer it to each other as gifts in weddings, eves, and official or family occasions, and is sometimes used as furniture cloth or table cloth.

 

Carpets And Rugs

Carpet or rug, defined as a precious textile fluffy ground cloth woven from cotton, wool and silk in some cases, is considered as one of the ancient industries of Iran; and, as per the artifacts recovered from people of the past and what writings of historians, tourists, and fighters implies, weaving different types of carpets in Iran, as a craft and public, rural, and nomadic art has long been popular and ancestrally incentive. Investigating texture and images of the oldest carpet in the world, i.e. the Pazyryk carpet, suggests that the carpet motifs is considerably similar to the reliefs in Persepolis, and many researchers consider this carpet as a Persian carpet woven by people of Median-Parthian territories or Persia (Greater Khorasan). Baharestan Carpet, dating back to the Sassanid period which is also known and  associated with Bahar Khosrow and Bahar Kasra names, is well known as another symbol of evolution in carpet weaving and the peripheral industries such as design and dyeing in ancient Iran, and was fragmented and destroyed being transmitted to Medina after the Arab invasion of Iran. At the domination of the Mongols (thirteenth or fourteenth centuries CE) which coincided with the reign of Ghazan Khan, the industry reached a very high level in terms of style and technique. However, the most apparent excellence of Iranian classic art of carpet weaving, which is also referred to as the renaissance of Persian rug, is believed to have taken place in the reign of Safavid Shahs especially Shah Tahmaseb and Shah Abbas. In that period, medallion carpets replaced the carpets which were then known as having Mongolian and Timurid designs, and besides the medallion carpets, weaving carpets with images of animals or hunting grounds in their patterns became popular.Today, there are around 3000 carpets remained from this period, and are kept in the world’s greatest museums or personal collections. Overall, motifs and pattern of the carpets represent how the craftsmen or artists view the environment, climate and the nature around; and, motifs and patterns of handmade carpets sometimes convey a message representing the current culture, history, architecture, climate, and the time of weaving. Also, the geometrical patterns of Iranian carpet, sometimes implies a verse of poetry, a verse or sura of Quran, a legendary or historical tale, or a hadith from the prophets. According to some carpet experts and designers, carpet patterns or textures can be divided into two styles quite distinct from each other: the rural style (broken or geometric patterns) and urban style (curved or revolving patterns); in some patterns these two styles are combined leading to an almost compound style called as revolving-broken pattern. At the present time as well, the most important industrial product of Iran is handmade or hand-woven carpet and rugs, and the major centers of carpet weaving in Iran are the cities of Tabriz, Isfahan, Kashan, Kerman and Mashhad.

 

Persian Miniature

Miniature or Persian miniature is an art that brings the ability of depicting the whole nature in a small frame and basically refers to any delicate artistic phenomenon, regardless the way it has been created. The word miniature in Persian literally means a small and delicate nature, though the word itself has entered the Persian language in the middle of the recent century and almost since the Qajar period, it is an art which has for long existed and is of an ancient history in Iran.The historical development of Persian miniature is attributed to the distant past before the advent of Islam. Indeed, Persian miniature, which has once been inspired by Chinese painting methods assimilated with unique perspective of Iranian art, has made a path for emergence of divine effects in Iranian painting before the advent of Islam; and, afterwards, has finally merged with theosophy and Islamic thoughts. The tiles, some of which still exists, suggest that years before Mongol invasion of Iran, the same painting and drawing styles and methods, which were then adopted as styles of book paintings, were used in Iran. On the contrary, there is another popular belief which suggests the origin of this art is Iran, it is believed by many researchers that this art has originated in Iran, and afterwards has spread to China; and, in the Mongol period it has returned to Iran in a rather developed form.Hence, in the first centuries after emergence of Islam, Iranian artists made an extraordinary effort to complete and develop this art, establishing special painting schools such as schools of Shiraz, Harat, Tabriz, Qazvin, and Isfahan, and combining it with Arabic script or handwriting. Gilding edges and frontispiece of Qur’an, arabesques and Khitan patterns are all the precious works of miniature which originated as a combination of miniature and Arabic handwriting, in the third century AH, i.e. when Iranians succeeded to enter the Abbasid court. Unfortunately, a considerable portion of these works was destroyed during the Mongol invasions in the seventh and eighth centuries. Moreover, during Ilkhanid period when the country has returned to a relatively calm situation, other prominent works of art emerged including Shahnama of Ferdowsi and Demotte Shahnama. After this period, due to the constant intellect and freedom of act with which craftsmen were provided after Bagdad school, Iranian miniature works in Herat school developed to some extent and finally the art of Persian painting and miniature, after Herat period, was transferred to the Safavid era. In this period, after selection of Tabriz as the capital, Kamaleddin Behzad was invited to Tabriz and was appointed as the head of the royal library and, in collaboration with great craftsmen, endeavored to develop and evolve it. Therefore, in an overall classification, style and school of painting in Safavid era can be considered two distinguished sections:

  • Tabriz School whose style remained as before until Qazvin became the capital. Regarding this school, it can be noted that miniatures in this era were all of a similar type, and in terms of elegance, pen strokes, color and design, it followed the Herat school, and differs only slightly.
  • Isfahan School which was established when Isfahan became the capital city, and during this period style and methods of work changed dramatically and as obvious and typical examples we can refer to decorative motifs of mosques in Isfahan, as well as Chehelsotoon and Ali Qāpu palaces.

 

Enamel, Brilliant Art Of Fire, Earth And Furnaces

Enamel refers to the art of painting and decorating metals such as gold, silver and copper (and sometimes glass and ceramics which is also called as vitreous enamel or porcelain enamel) with opaque or transparent colorful material; and, indeed, it can be considered as an experimental or laboratorial art which consists of a series of complex interactions and the final product is a decorated object which, once heated, is brought by combination of metal oxides and salts. This is why this is called a brilliant art of fire, earth and furnaces. Enamel is basically done on copper, but it can also be done with gold and silver objects. Gold is the only metal which does not oxide when the enamel is melt; therefore, it always provides the capability of implementing detailed and precise patterns on enamel while on copper and silver enamels the result is not of the same quality. The colors used in enamels are classified in three groups: herbal colors, mineral colors, and metal colors. It is not easy to determine the date the enamel became popular in Iran, but some assume its history dating back up to around 5,000 years. No enamel is currently available belonging to the pre-Safavid era, and nor are there any considerable sample from the Safavid period. In the Qajar era enamel was rare and the enameled objects mainly include different parts of hookahs such as head or topper part, jugs, and funnel. In the present time in Iran, the major center of making the enameled objects is the city of Isfahan, and some prominent craftsmen are active in this field by producing enamels based on the painting enamel style.

 

Tiling, Symbol Of Ornamental Elements In Iran

Tiling is considered as one of the important symbols and prominent ornamental elements in Iranian architecture, and one of the old crafts of this land which was mainly carried out using glazed bricks for the  strength and facets of buildings; however, gradually became usefully applicable for appearance and facade of the buildings. Also, the word “Kashi”, i.e. the Persian equivalent of ‘tile’, takes its name from the city of Kashan which was the most important center of pottery and exquisite tile works in central Iran. Age and history of this art dates back to ancient times and the second millennium BC, and pleasant samples of Achaemenid enameled and painted bricks have been recovered from archeological excavations in the monuments such as Chogha Zanbil, Susa Apadana Palace, and the other Iranian ancient spots. In the Sassanid era, making tiles was continued the same style of Achaemenid era and with thicker enamels. However, with the arrival of Islam, this craft was gradually taken over by the artistic field of Architecture, and turned to one of the most important ornamental and covering elements for stability various buildings, especially religious buildings, and finally in Safavid and Timurid era was rapidly developed and evolved. Today, scientists and mathematicians believe that the Islamic Tile Art is closely related with mathematics and music. As the most beautiful and oldest tiles of this period, we can refer to the turquoise tiles of Isfahan and ancient inscriptions of Seljuk minarets. Overally, the main techniques in tile decoration include: Lustre, under-glaze paintings, over-glaze painting, mosaic faience, angular, Mo’qeli or Bannai tiles, and Cuerda seca, some of which are used only for inside of the building and some for both the inside and outside; moreover, craftsmen concerned in tiling believe that the Cuerda seca tile is one of the most famous arts in the remained historical monuments from the era of Islamic Tile Art. The colors used in tile each represent a specific period of history and the colors in the old tiles, as they were only a mixture of lead and tin, have had a great deal of resistance over centuries and have still kept their own beauty. As the most important masterpieces of Iranian tile art, we can refer to Susa Apadana Palace, Jame Mosque and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, Tomb of Sheikh Abdussamad Isfahani in Natanz, Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (AS) in Mashhad, Sepahsalar Mosque and School in Tehran, Moaven al-Molk Tekiye in Kermanshah, Dome of Soltaniyeh in Zanjan, and Blue Mosque in Tabriz.

 

Pottery, Earthen Arts And Craft

Pottery is the craft or art of making dishes from clay by hand or wheels and the dishes made in this way are called earthenware. The earthenware pots which are made from different raw materials, mainly reddish brown clays or a mixture of Pottery and different materials with a lighter color, have different colors and, depending on taste of the potter or the clients, sometimes are finally painted with glazes. Generally, in Iran, we can consider pottery as one of the main branches of traditional Iranian handicrafts, which has existed since the dawn of civilization and has undergone various changes and, in terms of development, innovation and decorations, it can be compared only with two countries of Greek and China. The period when earthenware containers were made is not known precisely; and, it has been predicted to date back from the eighth to the fifth millennium BC, but what certain is that some parts of the country including Baluchistan, Kurdistan and Gilan have been the main areas of the emergence of this craft. Moreover, considering the emergence of painted pottery by the first inhabitants of the Iranian Plateau, it can be concluded that Iranians have excelled the other nations in this industry, and this invention might have been particularly invented by them. Along with the rise of the Achaemenid Dynasty, the art of pottery went through profound transformations including creation of Rhytons and other containers of various shapes which became popular since this period. During the Parthian period, the art of pottery was developed as the traditional and pure Iranian art and gradually spread from the Euphrates to China, from Siberia to India, and from the highland plateaus of Mongolia to Bosporus, as it is even assumed that this industry has expanded to China from Iran. Besides, it can be concluded by the excavations conducted in the Anahita Temple, located in Kangavar, that two groups of pottery dishes, bowls and jugs have been common in this era: unglazed pottery containers and a group of potteries covered with red, gray, green pea colored glazes, as well as alkaline glazes which was made for white earthenware. In the Sassanid period, the art of pottery remained as it was in the Achaemenid period, and generally included bowls, jars, jugs, sculptures, thermoses, and earthen homunculus and sculptures as well as animals; and, the jars, jugs, and bowls were made from laterite with rough reliefs and carved, geometric and herbal decorations and sometimes decorated with ancient Pahlavi calligraphies. Glazed dishes with paintings of fish and cattle heads, decorated with rough motifs, were particularly made by potters of the Sassanid period and distinguish them from the Achaemenid and Parthian periods. Common motifs in Sassanid pottery, which have also been influential among the arts and works of the Islamic period, include different kinds of the first arabesque designs, winged animals, legendary birds, and the famous Sassanid eagle. Today, a number of earthenware found from different eras including Sassanid period are kept in the National Museum of Iran.The impacts motifs, design, and glazing of Sassanid period on pottery of Islamic period resulted in decorating earthenware with the motifs previously applied on metal works, and lead to this false impression that these works have been made by Zoroastrians; therefore, a particular group of these earthenwares was called Gabri. Seljuk period can be considered as the “Golden Age of Chinaware” in Iran, since in this period all the various known technical methods such as etching, relief, latticework, color engraving under or over the glazes, gilding, and enamel work were commonly adopted. In the Safavid period too, Shah Abbas the Great invited Chinese potters to train Iranian potters on porcelain industry. Eventually, the entire technical progress lead pottery to be one of the organized professions as it has remained so from then on. Since the craftsmanship of ancient potters have been considerable both in technical terms and in terms of beauty of the products, today in some areas of Iran such as Kalporgan Village in Sistan and Baluchistan Province where pottery dates back to 3,000 years BC, motifs and making ceramics or earthenware pots are still carried out with the same old and traditional methods. In this area, men bring the mud from mines with donkeys, knead it with conventional fuels, bake the earthenware pots and sell various plain bowls, colorful jugs, water bowls, and other dishes in weekly markets. As per researchers, potters of areas such as Gilan, Sistan and Baluchistan, Hamedan, especially Lalejin and Shahreza village, link prehistoric pottery of Iran to today’s pottery of the country.

 

Persian Calligraphy

Calligraphy is the calligraphy of Persian writing system. It has been one of the most revered arts throughout Persian history. It is considered to be one of the most eye catching and fascinating manifestations of Persian culture.