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METALWORK. Traditional Islamic metalwork techniques, shapes, decorations, hardstones, and gems continued into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the same conservative styles of the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal dynasties and their adjoining regions. Beginning in the eighteenth century, French, Italian, and Russian designs and techniques had a great impact, while Western industry and imports adversely affected Muslim handicrafts.


Political and economic changes have been cited for the decline of patronage, but a wealth of skillfully handcrafted plate, base metals, gems, and jewelry survive from this period, despite the periodic reuse or melting down of jewelry and plate. The World’s Fairs in the second half of the nineteenth century created an interest in the East, and both tourism and exports stimulated local craft production. Artisans always respected earlier traditions but were not hesitant to adapt some modern innovations. The bazaars of the Muslim countries still contain sections for jewelry and metalwork. In addition, some governments have revitalized craft production.

Gold was reserved for royalty and controlled by the state. Plain or gilded silver served the daily needs of the court, nobility, and the wealthy. Gifts of precious and nonprecious metal objects were made to religious shrines, mosques, and the Holy Cities, and turban ornaments were often important diplomatic gifts. Examples exist in the treasuries of the Topkapi Sarayi and Tehran, and at auction sales.

Plate and base metals were made from sheet, worked in different techniques, and were inlaid or enameled and sometimes set with gems. Champleve enamel on gold in India favored geometric, floral, bird, and animal patterns. Painted enamel figural scenes and portraits on gold or silver are found in Iran. A sun face was a common feature in both countries. In Turkey, floral motifs were executed in painted and cloisonne enamel.

Classical, rococo, baroque, and European shapes and decor were found in Turkish plate. Trophy motifs, rosefilled baskets and vases, volutes, garlands, ribbons, acanthus, and pine cone and rose finials were adapted from European models in major Islamic areas. Traditionally, Bosnia was the source of silver worked mainly in Istanbul, Trabzon (Trebizond), and Erzerum. Assay and hallmarks were used in Turkey and Egypt, but generally not in Iran, India (except for colonial silver), or the Maghrib, though makers’ names are sometimes found. Mughal silver abounds and reflects the synthesis of native Indian, Islamic, and European styles. Iranian silver in the twentieth century is an amalgam of native and European styles. Isfahan and Shiraz were major silversmithing centers. European tea and coffee services, candlesticks, place settings, candelabras, and cigarette cases were copied.

Vessels and architectural elements were made of bronze, iron, and steel, along with the preferred brass and copper, the latter sometimes tinned enameled. Objects could be undecorated, inlaid with gold or silver in geometric or floral patterns, with figural and animal elements common to Iran. Few pieces were inscribed or dated, and now plastic has replaced many domestic vessels; aluminum is used for architectural decor. Gilded copper was highly esteemed in Turkey. Silver and brass vessels, inlaid with niello and jewelry, were made in Erzerum and Van in eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus, where they are still produced.

In Egypt and Syria from the late nineteenth to the first quarter of this century, copper inlaid with silver and brass inlaid with gold, silver, or copper, imitating Mamluk (1250-1517) models, were produced in Cairo and Damascus. Cairo designs were faithful to the originals, but in Damascus more imaginative designs were created. Many pieces carried inscriptions, workshop names, and dates. Misunderstood inscriptions, titles, design variations, gouged rather than chased metal, and the use of copper wire betrayed the copies. This revival of Mamluk designs derived from Westerners, interested in the Middle East, who commissioned the pieces, which were then copied in Europe in glass and ceramics.

Production in India of bidri, a zinc alloy inlaid with silver or brass, increased in the second half of the nineteenth century, and antique and modern shapes were produced in many centers. Today the craft is practiced in Bihar and Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. Later production can be identified by the thin silver inlay and the crowded, repetitive classical flower pattern. Steel inlaid with gold and silver in geometric or floral designs was also made.

In Iran, forged steel vessels, inlaid with gold or silver or silvered or gilded, and inscribed with texts and names derived from its Safavid predecessors, exist in great quantity. A pear-shaped vessel with long spout and curved handle was copied in eastern Iran in brass inlaid with turquoise, and inlaid brass in the Caucasus. Inlaid steel birds, animals, harpies, and fruit seemed to have been inspired by birds found on processional standards. Their function has not been explained.

For jewelry, gold and precious gems were generally used in urban areas, and silver and more modest gems in the countryside. Sheet, filigree, wire, granulation, champlevd, painted or cloisonnd enamel, chasing and engraving, stones, and pearls were employed. Jewelry is still indispensable for dowries, and jewelers abound in the bazaars. Traditional head and body adornments are still worn by women. However, anklets are no longer in general fashion. Traditional jewelry has died out in some areas, especially in urban settings where modern Western designs have become popular. Jewelry has even been ordered directly from Europe. Ethnographers have made detailed studies on regional variations of folk jewelry, but court jewelry studies are lacking.

In India, settings of sheet gold, stone-set (nine gems) on lac, are still used. Jewelry styles illustrated in the Gentil album of 1774 in the Victoria and Albert Museum are still made and can be purchased in bazaars. The Indian tradition of placing enamel on the reverse of jewelry items probably set the fashion in Iran and, perhaps, in Turkey. Pearls abound until the end of Mughal rule in 1858. The fashion for heavily pearled costumes among the late Mughal rulers may have been introduced by the Persians.

In Iran, pearled bandoliers, armbands, jewelry, crowns, and clothing, combined with precious gems, were traditional until the change in mid-nineteenth century. Elongated domed- or half-moon earrings and bird pendants were common. At the turn of the nineteenth century, miniature portraits and European orders and medals were first worn in Iran, and later in Turkey, but apparently not in Mughal India. Hanging ornaments of precious metals and gems were made for the palace and religious buildings until the end of Ottoman rule.

Precious and semiprecious stones included emerald, bloodstone, jade (inlaid with gold and gems in Turkey and India), rock crystal, garnet, turquoise, lapis lazuli, chalcedony, topaz, hematite, red and green jasper, amethyst, rose-cut and square diamonds, amber, spinels, rubies, garnet, sapphire, coral, and agate (the most common), as well as seed and baroque pearls, blue and green glass, plaster beads, imitation stones, and enamelbacked jewelry.

Many of these gemstones were used for seals, current until the mid-twentieth century, and talismans, but cornelian and agate predominated, as well as turquoise for talismans, which were also made in mother-of-pearl, quartz, metal, and jade. Bezels were made and mounted in precious and base metals and other materials, but bronze and brass were favored. Seals were also doublefaced or cabochon-cut, and handled, bell-like signets exist in silver, gold, and enamel. Talismans were fashioned in a larger format than seals and carved in relief, differentiating them from seals, which were incised in reverse. Round, square, rectangular, oval, and the nineteenth-century teardrop bezel exist. The latter two shapes were the most popular. Talismans also had heart, shield, or cabochon shapes. Seals were carried in a bag placed in an inside pocket, suspended around the neck as a ring or hinged seal, or worn on the hand. Seals had political and social significance, indicating the investiture and power of a sultan or officeholder, and the wealth and social position of the owner, male or female. Traditionally they served to authenticate documents and ownership. Talismans, worn to protect or avert the evil eye, had metal mounts, sometimes enameled, and were worn as pendants, on armbands and bracelets, or sewn to clothing or bedding. The choice of stone and mount was personal, depending on wealth, local materials, magical properties, and qualities associated with the stone, and the text selected.

Inscriptions on seals contained Qur’dnic verses and religious formulas, including ShN ones, but poetry, names, titles, dates, and engravers’ names were included. Talismanic inscriptions were religious, rarely dated, and never contained personal names. Cursive and painted texts in Arabic, Turkish, or Persian were inscribed on plain, geometric, or floral and vegetal scrolls. Figures were rare, but the tughrah was used in Turkey. Maghribi script was used in that area. Combinations of talismanic formulas (i.e., words, letters, numerals) abound.Gilded or nielloed silver or, rarely, gem-studded gold ur’anic amulet cases were made in hexagonal, octagonal, cylindrical, and triangular forms, and were decorated with incised floral scrolls.


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Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/metalwork/

  • writerPosted On: August 13, 2014
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