An introduction to victorious enameling (Minakari)

Examining the enameling works of the Eastern Roman Empire creates the idea that the art of enameling has gone from Iran to other countries. Among the oldest enamel works found are six gold rings in Cyprus and a statue of Zeus in Greece dating back to 500 BC, which show the ancient history of this art in the world.

ancient enameling ring
On of the gold enameled rings discovered in Kouklia, Cyprus, 13th cen BC

Enamel art has undergone various changes throughout history. This art in Iran dates back to the Parthian and Sassanid eras. The brass utensils and enamel works were widely used during the Seljuk period, so the Seljuks commonized and spread the art of enameling. The export of enamel works began during this period. During the Mongol period, court engravings and drawings sat on enamel vessels. In the Safavid era, designs of birds and animals were worked on pale blue, green, yellow and red backgrounds. During this period. miniature designs such as banquets at the court, hunting and horseback riding were more common. and enameling was done on silver. In the contemporary period after the Qajar period, for a while, little attention was paid to this art Today, in our country, a type of enamel called painting enamel is more popular.

ancient enameling plate
Enameled silver plate, Sassanid era, 224 to 651 AD
mina3
Enameled copper basin and decanter, Qajar era, 1789 to 1925

Enameling, brilliant art of fire and soil

Enameling material is a glass powder that is produced in different colors and is combined with a special oil and it is used for painting and decorating metal, pottery, porcelain and glass dishes and objects. Painted objects are baked in the oven to stabilize the color. This process is collectively called victorious enameling (Minakari in Persian). Gold is the only metal that does not oxidize when melted, so it is possible to apply finer enamel patterns on it, but today this art is mostly done on copper. Enameling has been done in different parts of Iran for a long time, but today the city of Isfahan is the main center for creating enamel artworks.

enamel powder
Mina powder

Different types of Minakari

Enamel work has different methods which are briefly explained below .

Embossed Minakari:  In this method, first the patterns and designs are engraved on the desired object and then the gaps that are created in this way are filled with colored glazes and then baked in the oven with sufficient heat.

Celled Minakari: In this method, delicate wires are first soldered to the infrastructure according to the desired design, and thus the surface of the object is divided into a number of cells. Then the desired cells are covered with colorless glaze and placed in the oven. In this way, the wires are oxidized and darkened by heat. The object is then sanded and covered with clear glaze. In the next step, the cells are decorated with different colors and placed in the oven. 

 

celled enameling tea pot
Celled Minakari

Painting Minakari: Today, a type of enameling art known as painting enamel is flourishing in Iran.  For this purpose, first the object on which the enameling is to be applied is glazed with white glaze and then it is placed in an oven at a temperature of 700 degrees Celsius. The glazing and baking process are repeated three to four times in the oven with the aim of stabilizing the white color.

 

Baking glazed object in the oven
Baking glazed objects in oven

After painting on glazed objects, they are baked again in the oven to stabilize the color. In the past, vegetable or mineral colors were used, but today, chemical colors are often used. Enamel art can be considered as one of the creative inventions of human beings because it includes complex interrelated interactions, so it is an experimental art. The dyes used in enameling are obtained by mixing metal oxides with mineral salts and heating this compound. The resulting colors directly depend on the ingredients, temperature and heating time.Therefore, in the Minakari process, the temperature and heating time must be well controlled. 

Baking painted object in the oven
Baking painted objects in the oven
Enameling bowl and plate
Painting Minakari

Quality criteria for enamel products

Currently, enameling is mostly done on copper objects. The most important criteria for evaluating the quality of enamel works are:

–Enamel infrastructure should be uniform and free of excess parts.
–The edges of the infrastructure should be free of green color caused by oxidation and their surface should be free of cracks and shouldn’t be sharp.
–The support surface of the container should be perfectly smooth and even.
–Enamel glaze should be free of cracks, nick, scurf, bubbles, holes and roughness and its thickness should be the same in all areas and there should be no bulge points on the surface of the
object.
–The surface of the enamel dish should be sufficiently shiny.The gloss and smoothness of enamel dishes indicate the use of high-quality paint and their good cooking in the oven, but if you feel
rough and uneven when touching the dishes, it is a sign of poor quality.
–The color thickness in painting and enamel decoration should be uniform and the colors used at the border of the designs should not be combined together.
–In coloring, the original design must be preserved and the painting done with the utmost care. The created patterns must be clean and delicately worked.
–The back of the dish should have high quality glaze without cracks and nick.