Sultan Palace Merv

Metalwork in Iran and Central Asia

The transformation of utilitarian objects into sophisticated works of art made metalwork one of the most important art forms in the Islamic world. At first Classical and Sasanian metalworking traditions were continued, but by the 12th century a new style evolved in which wares made of copper alloys were given rich surface decoration in copper, gold and silver inlay. By 15th century, this characteristic type of inlaid ware had been largely superseded and Islamic metalwork had lost much of its originality. In the 19th century older forms and decorative themes were revived, particularly in Egypt and Iran.

The metalworkers of the Islamic world created objects of great beauty using principally gold, silver, alloys of copper, tin, zinc and lead. The production processes and metal working techniques as casting, spinning, raising and sinking. The decorative techniques as repousse, chasing, punching, engraving, piercing and inlay, the same as their predecessors.

These resources were employed to produce domestic and religious object, architectural fittings, scientific, medical instruments, arms and armor, coins, jewelry. Objects for domestic and religious use are the largest category of surviving pieces. Pre- Islamic shapes continued in use but by the late 8th century or beginning of 9th century a new taste developed for heavier forms, facted bodies, combination of disparate elements.

In the 12th – 13th centuries shapes were refined and zoomorphic features added and in later centuries profiles became more sinuous and attenuated. These utilitarian objects were often distinguished by rich decoration. Geometric, vegetal and animal motifs and panels and bands containing inscriptions. Scenes including human figures were depicted primarily on metalwork made between 10th – 14th centuries and were re-introduced on wares made in Iran from 16th century onwards.

Despite the importance of gold and silver wares in the pre-Islamic period, religious scruples seem to have reduced the demand for such objects from the early 8th century, although silver objects continued to be made in Iran in some quantities. The disapproval of precious metal tablewares by pious Muslims appears to have affected production intermittently over the following centuries.

The others factors, such as metal shortages and the melting down of gold and silver objects for bullion, may have been of equal importance in explaining the lack of surviving examples. Most surviving metal objects are made of copper and its alloys. Few Islamic pieces have been analyzed, so the terms such as BRONZE and BRASS have been applied indiscriminately. The terminology in medieval Arabic and Persian texts is often ambiguous: the term surf was often used for both copper and bronze.