Minakari (Iranian handicrafts)dates back to about 1500 BC. It is an art created with the help of fire, soil, and mineral dyes. Delicately it is used to decorate various ornaments and utensils. Dehkhoda Persian Dictionary defines it as:
Painting and decorating metals such as gold, silver, and copper with special glazed paints that are baked and fixed at very high temperatures.
According to the studies, this art was first formed in Iran and then spread to different parts of the world. Enamel (Mina) by itself is transparent. And it is obtained from a combination of metal oxides and several types of salts. To fix the colors we have to put them in high temperatures (750 to 850 ° C). Today, the artists use copper mostly for Minakari. But gold and silver are also good options for implementing this art. Gold is the only metal that does not oxidize with the melting of enamel and therefore makes it possible to implement a design with details on it. However, copper and silver enamels can not benefit from such details.
Isfahan is the center of the Persian Minakari art. It also has a special reputation in the world for this art. There are many eminent masters in Isfahan whose works are unique and exquisite.
In short, for enameling, they shape and size the desired object, and then put a white glaze on it. They glaze the surface three to four times. And each time they put the object in a furnace with up to 700 degrees. They do so to fix the color of the glaze. After that, it is ready to paint and then again the object goes back to the furnace. This time the temperature would be about 400 to 500 degrees to fix the colors.
They use Minakari art to create different works. Let’s see what are the most common ones: Plates, vases, bowls and cups, photo frames, Mina paintings, etc.. in all of these we can see the combination of enameling with other arts such as gilding, Khatam, miniature, jewelry, and so on.
The History Of The Persian Minakari Art
Some claim that Minakari has a history of more than 5000 years. According to experts and what comparing the Byzantine enamel and Iranian works show, this art originated in Iran. And then spread to other lands. Among them, there are some works found in Europe that have a very long history. For example, six gold rings from the 13th century BC in Cyprus. Moreover, the famous Greek statue of Zeus carries the same art and belongs to five hundred years BC. But still, experts believe that the origin of this art was in Iran and the land of Persia.
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Achaemenids And Before
During the excavations in Nahavand experts have uncovered a pair of gold earrings. Interestingly their goldsmithing style dates back to the seventh to eighth centuries BC and is an example of enamel glass glaze on metal. Enamelled gold bracelets are also valuable works of the Achaemenid period in Iran. The bracelets are currently in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The bronze bowl in the Los Angeles Museum of Art is another Persian example of this art. It dates back to 550 to 330 BC. The bronze bowl has a 15-centimeter diameter and a 3.2-centimeter depth.
In Armenia, the experts found the Sassanid plates that are some of the unique works of this art. Currently, they are in the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. You can find other Sassanid noble Minakari works in the Armitage Museum in St. Petersburg and also in the museums of England and France.
The narratives announce the Seljuks’ time was the peak era of the Persian Minakari art. It was when the production of brass and enamel dishes became common and gained many fans. The art became so popular that even attracted the attention of people across the borders. This is how they found their way to the neighboring countries. “Alb Arsalan Tray” is one of the valuable arts of Minakari in this period. The tray is enameled on silver. It is on display in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. This work belongs to Hassan Al-Kashani, one of the prominent masters of this art. His name is engraved in the Kufic script on the dish.
With the changes in the art of metalworking, Persian Minakari also changed during the Mongol period. And a new era started in Minakari history. That’s because the Persian themes replaced the images and shapes with Arabic themes. And Minakari art reached its easternmost form during the Timurid period.
During the Safavid period, miniature designs such as banquets at the court, hunting, and horseback riding became a trend. And Minakari on silver became popular. Islamic and Khatai motifs also found a special place in Iranian art. Additionally, red color became the dominant color during this time.
During the Qajar period, this art was not that popular anymore. It limited to objects such as hookah heads, hookah jars, etc… In the court of the kings, especially Nasser al-Din Shah, whose hobby was smoking hookah, there were enameled hookahs. You could also find enameled hookahs, belts, rosewater sprinklers, earrings, cigarette cans, etc. in the nobles and dignitaries’ houses, only.
From Pahlavi Up To Now
After the Qajar period, it seemed like people had forgotten Minakari art for a while. Until Shokrallah Sanizadeh, a prominent Iranian enamel maker, set up a workshop. He trained artists to bring the Persian Minakari art back like its past glorious days. He revived this art to some extent. Now many artists do Minakari but exclusively in the same style people did during the Qajar period, the same style Mr. Sanizadeh tried to keep alive.
Different Types Of The Persian Minakari Art
Based on the way they perform the art, there are different types of Minakari. Join us with the rest of the journey to learn about them:
Minakari With Embossed Background
In this type of enamel, they engrave the drawings and lines on the desired object. Then they fill the gaps with colored glazes. And as the last step, they place it in a furnace for fixing the colors.
Minakari With Wires
Wire Minakari is an old method in which they use very thin wires. The artist shapes the wires to whatever pattern he has in mind. And then glue them to the workpiece. In the third step, he uses a glaze to cover it. To weld the wires, he puts the object in a furnace at a temperature of about 1000 Celcius Degrees. In the next step, he uses special enamel powder dues to cover the surface. And then again he puts it in the furnace for another 3 minutes at the same temperature. Naturally, during the process, the wires turn black. So to restore them to their original state he uses acid.
This kind of Minakari is common in Isfahan and Tehran. One of the types of this method, “black Mina”, is still ongoing in the south of the country, especially in Ahvaz. Anyway, nowadays, Minakari with wires are not so popular. Instead, Naqqashi Minakari has way more fans.
Naqqashi is the Persian word for painting. Painting Mina is common in Isfahan. First, the blacksmith shapes the object which is usually copper, to the desired design. Second, Mina masters put a white glaze all over it. Glazing is repeated three to four times. And each time they put the object in a furnace with up to 700 degrees. This causes the glaze to find a solid color. The object turns white and then the painting operation begins. After repainting, it is ready to go back to the furnace again. This time the temperature would be about 400 to 500 degrees to fixate the colors.
Dyes in Minakari
Today they use herbal, mineral dyes, and also metal complex dyes for the painting part in Minakari art. In the original Minakari, they used powder dyes with a low melting temperature. To make the dyes they combine the metal oxides with certain types of salts. They use a mixture of Arabic gum solution and glycerin as a dye solvent.
Yellow is a result of iron and chromium oxide combination plus tin. Red is a combination of lead chromate and copper by adding borax to sodium carbonate and gold. The intensity of the color depends on the temperature degree and the time they stay in the furnace.
How To Recognize a Good Minakari Art?
You may be tempted to change the decorations in your home with these stunning Mina-s or maybe give them as a gift to your loved ones. But you might wonder how you can get one or more with good qualities. Here are some ways to recognize a high-quality piece of Mina.
Material And Appearance
They normally use copper as the base work. You should know that quality copper weighs more. So the easiest way is to hold the product in your hand and weigh it. If the weight is not commensurate with the size of the artwork, then the copper is of lower quality and should be cheaper. You can buy this at a cheaper price. But you should be aware of the consequences, especially the loss of the original shape.
Next, touch the Mina product you are buying. If it is perfectly smooth and shiny, then it’s good quality. If its surface is rough, it means that the enamel glaze has burned due to the excessive heat of the furnace or being in the furnace more than necessary. Of course, using low-quality dyes can also cause roughness. Furthermore, pay attention to cracks, paleness, crusts, bubbles, holes, etc.
The back of the artwork should also have a high-quality glaze without any scratches or cracks. Also do not forget the edges, you should not see any colors on the white glaze as well as no cracks and no sharp edges.
Colors And Patterns
In Persian Minakari they use traditional motifs such as Islamic, Khatai, flowers, and birds and their combinations. The elegance of the design and the high variety of colors increase the value of the work. Special colors such as red or purple subsets also increase the price because gold powder is one of the ingredients they use to make these colors.
The thickness of the paint should be even everywhere. However, the colors should not be combined. High-quality Mina designs are originally Iranian. And great Iranian artists do the whole process of engraving and painting with the utmost care.
The certificate is a product’s credit on the market. To identify a high-quality Persian Minakari product, ask for its identity; description of the product, its manufacturer, and warranty. You need to know where the Mina dish comes from, by whom or under which brand it is produced and who is responsible for its quality? The original and high-quality Minakari product has an ID. The name of the artist, the date, and the place of production is on the product.
How To Keep Your Persian Minakari Piece Of Art?
A product decorated with the art of Minakari is very valuable and you should take care of it carefully. The following simple tips can make this souvenir last forever in your home:
Mina patterns are covered with a clear glaze, so you can wash them with warm water and a sponge, but not with steel wool. It can cause serious damage to your Mina. Do not draw sharp objects on its surface, and do not hit it anywhere, both might cause scratches and partial paint loss. Excessive heat can damage the color of the Mina and burn it. So be careful in this case as well.
Thank you for joining us on this trip to the Minakari art world. I hope you have enjoyed it. If so please let us know in the comments. I assure you they are way more beautiful when you see them in person. and you will love them. For more details or ordering your own Mina artworks, you can contact us via the contact information below this page.