An Introduction to the history of metal arts in Iran

Metal has long been used as a reliable and durable raw material to meet the needs of everyday and after a while it was also used to make decorative items. Today, we often see the manufacture of metal utensils and objects that are used simultaneously for functional and decorative purposes. Throughout the history of Iranian art, metal artworks have been made mainly of gold, silver, copper, brass, and bronze, but Iranians have utilized iron, steel, zinc, and generally any metal or alloy that allows them to express their taste and creativity. 

The golden rhyton discovered in the Marlik hills of IRAN (1000 BC)

In Iran, for the first time, metal arts were in the center of attention during the Achaemenid period and began their growing trend. During the Sassanid era, especially the making of silverware reached its peak of prosperity, and now a huge collection of silver works of this period is kept in major museums around the world. After the Arab invasion and the arrival of Islam in Iran, all the ancient arts of Iran, including Davaatgari and Ghalamzani, stagnated and this trend continued until the Safavid era. During the Safavid period, all these arts flourished with the significant support of the government many works of art were created especially in Isfahan city, the capital of Safavid dynasty.

Silver ewer with dancing females within arcades (Sassanid era: 224 to 651 AD)

Davaatgari art

Before performing Ghalamzani on metal objects, the necessary infrastructure must be provided to perform this art on it. Preparation of infrastructure for performing metal arts such as Ghalamzani and Minakari (Enameling) is done by Davaatgari. The art of making various utensils from metals such as copper, brass, silver and gold in a cold way and using various hammers and anvils is called Davaatgari. Davaatgari is one of the oldest human handicrafts. From the time man discovered metal, he began to make various tools from it, and this was the beginning of the Davaatgari industry. A metalworking artist can only perform his art well on a metal infrastructure that has been prepared by a skilled craftsman (Davaatgar).


Davaatgari tools

The characteristics of an excellent Davaatgari work can be mentioned as follows:

–The percentage of different metals in the alloy used, the use of precious metals and the quality of raw materials used all affect the quality and value of the artwork.

–The trace of hammer blows should be clearly seen on different parts of the body. The more subtle and artistic the hammer blows, the more suitable the substructure is created.

–The infrastructure body must have a smooth surface and be free of any welding or soldering effects. 

–Adequate symmetry, balance and stability of the final product is important.

After creating the appropriate infrastructure, it is time to perform Ghalamzani. 

A Safavid engraved cast brass pail, Western Persia, late 16th/early 17th

Ghalam-zani art

The art of engraving beautiful designs and patterns on the surfaces of metal objects with the help of a chisel and hammer is called Ghalamzani. It should be noted that in most Ghalamzani styles, a mixture of bitumen and gypsum is attached to the back surface of work to reduce the noise and vibration caused by Ghalamzani activities and also to prevent perforation of the work surface. After finishing Ghalam-zani , the bitumen is removed from the product by heating and the rest of it is removed from the body with kerosene.

Bitumen attached to the back of work surface

A variety of pens are used for engraving, each with its own application. The number of these pens reaches more than 140. If necessary, additional operations such as joining parts (if the product is multi-piece), soldering, polishing and sooting (for more visible designs on the work surface) are performed. Engraving on metal is done in other cities such as Shiraz, Tabriz, Kerman and Tehran in addition to Isfahan.

Different chisels and hammers used in Ghalam-zani

Ghalam-zani techniques

There are different styles of Ghalamzani Which are referred to below.

Barjesteh-kari : In this style, the back surface of the metal object is first bitumen coated and then the designs and patterns are drawn on the outer surface with the help of carbon paper. Then, with a special chisel named Nim-bor and a hammer, they create the designs on the surface, and then they remove the bitumen from the bottom surface, and this time they cover the outer surface with bitumen, and the bottom surface is engraved so in this way the designs and patterns will be embossed well. After completing this step, the bitumen is returned to the back surface of the work and the final corrections are made on the outer surface by the relevant chisels. The depth of the patterns created in this style is greater than all other styles of Ghalamzani.


Barjesteh-kari technique

Monabbat-kari: In this style, only one side of the work surface is engraved and the action of embossing the designs is done by lowering the background of the designs by special chisels. The depth of the patterns created in this style is less than the Barjesteh-kari style. In this style, only the underside of the work is coated with bitumen.

Rizeh-ghalam: In this style, very delicate chisels are utilized to create patterns, and the depth of the created patterns and designs was very shallow and can be felt only by touching the surface.

Rizeh-ghalam technique on a plate

Moshabbak-kari: In this style, to show the patterns and designs, the background is cut and separated from the metal surface. Examples of this style of work can be seen in framed Ghalamzani wall hangings.

Moshabbak-kari technique (wall hanging framed with Khatam-kari art)

Hakkaki: In this style, instead of using several different chisels, only a special type of chisel is used, which has a sharp point and the desired patterns are created by scratching the metal surface.

hakkaki technique on a pedestal dish

Quality factors for Ghalam-zani artworks

–Since proper and high quality infrastructure  is the main condition for performing and presenting a high-quality artistic engraving work, so the selected infrastructure for engraving should be completely flawless, free of impurities and free of pores and obvious and even invisible defects .

–The use of ordinary and common chisels , reduces the value of engraving work, and therefore, using chisels made by the artist himself and carving more delicate and innovative patterns increase the value of engraving work. The use of face designs as well as the use of calligraphy, as well as if the engraved object has multiple worked surfaces, increase the value and credibility of the work.
–Complementary operations of Ghalam-zani work such as waxing, polishing, etc are as Important as engraving work, so perfect waxing and correct polishing of the work also Increase the value of an engraving work.

–If the designs and engravings be more detailed and they include more surface of the inside and outside of the work, the value of the work is greater.

–In the case of engraving works that have several parts, sufficient care must be taken to make the correct and flawless connection of the parts.

–It is obvious that a Ghalam-zani work must have the desired symmetry, balance and harmony. An important part of this point goes back to the issue of infrastructure and sufficient accuracy in preparing it.