The Art of Minakari

The art of Minakari or Enameling is called miniature of fire as well as the decoration of metal and tile with mina glaze. Minakari or Enameling is the art of painting, colouring and ornamenting the surface of metals by fusing over it brilliant colours that are decorated in an intricate design.Mina is the feminine form of Minoo in Persian, meaning heaven. Mina refers to the Azure colour of heaven.

The Iranian craftsmen of Sasanied era invented this art and Mongols spreaded it to India and other countries. French tourist, Jean Chardin, who toured Iran during the Safavid rule, made a reference to an enamel work of Isfahan, which comprised a pattern of birds and animals on a floral background in light blue, green, yellow and red. Some experts link the historicity of enameling in Iran to the Arsacides and Sassanid periods. However, the use of this art in the Islamic period is not clear before the reign of the seventh ruler of Mongol empire’s Ilkhanid division in Iran, Ghazan Khan (694-703 AH) who introduced Mongol Persia to Islam.

Ghazan Khan acquired the science of chemistry in a short period and preferred to use his knowledge and endeavors for the art of enameling.

Fine silver is used in almost all enameling because the enamel (glass) melts and sticks best to a pure metal. In simple words, enameling is the process of making metal models (fine silver usually) and then melting various colors and types of glass on to the model to create an objet d’art.

In a more scientific approach, enamel (or vitreous enamel or porcelain enamel in US English) is defined as the colorful result of fusing powdered glass to a substrate by firing, usually between 750 and 850 degrees Celsius.

The powder melts, flows and hardens to a smooth, durable vitreous coating on metal, glass or ceramic. According to some sources, the word enamel comes from the High German word smelzan (to smelt) via the Old French esmail. Used as a noun, an enamel work is a usually small decorative object, coated with enamel coating, such as a champlevŽ or a cloisonnŽ.

The paintings or patterns used for enamel works in Iran are traditional designs depending on the taste and preferences of the artist. In the Iranian version of enameling, copper and silver are the most dominant metals used. There are also special tools used in this ancient artistic endeavor such as furnace, pliers, press machine, brush and so on.

Enamel is usually used to embellish vase, jewelry and candleholder in addition to doors and chandeliers of holy shrines. Isfahan is the most important Iranian enameling hub. Enamel works can be washed with lukewarm water, soap and even ordinary detergents.

Gold has been used traditionally for minakari jewellery as it holds the enamel better, lasts longer and its lustre brings out the colours of the enamels. Silver, a later introduction, is used for artefacts like boxes,

bowls, spoons, and art pieces while Copper which is used for handicraft products were introduced only after the Gold Control Act, which compelled the minakars to look for a material other than gold, was enforced around the world.

Enamel working and decorating metals with colorful and baked coats is one of the distinguished courses of art in Isfahan. Mina, is defined as some sort of glasslike colored coat which can be stabilized by heat on different metals particularly copper. Although this course is of abundant use industrially for producing metal and hygienic dishes, it has been paid high attention by painters, goldsmiths and metal engravers since long times ago. In the world, it is categorized into three kinds as below:

1- painting enamel
2- Charkhaneh or chess like enamel
3- Cavity enamel

What of more availability in Isfahan is the painting enamel of which a few have remained in the museums of Iran and abroad indicting that Iranian artists have been interested in this art and used it in their metal works since the Achaemenian and the Sassanid dynasties. The enamels being so delicate, we do not have many of them left from the ancient times. Some documents indicate that throughout the Islamic civilization of and during the Seljuk, Safavid and Zand dynasties there have been outstanding enameled dishes and materials. Most of the enameled dishes related to the past belong to the Qajar dynasty between the years 1810–1890 AD. There have also remained some earrings. Bangles, boxes, water pipe heads, vases, and golden dishes with beautiful paintings in blue and green colors from that time, Afterwards, fifty years of stagnation caused by the World War I and the social revolution followed. However, again the enamel red color, having been prepared, this art was fostered from the quantity and quality points of view through the attempts bestowed by Ostad Shokrollah Sani’e zadeh, the outstanding painter of Isfahan in 1935 and up to then for forty years.