Enamel as an oriental charming art in Iranian culture

 We are going to be familiar with “Enamel art ” as a charming art in the following article:

Enameling is a kind of decorative art that simply means the process of connecting or covering metal or pottery with glass. The origin of enameling can be traced to ancient times when vitreous (made from glass) enamels were used on and in metalwork. Enamels are typically applied by dry sifting the particles onto the surface or by wet packing the enamels into channels or depressions in the metal.

Vitreous enamel is actually a smooth, durable coating for metal, made of melted and fused glass powder.

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Enameling art

History

The earliest enamel all used the cloisonné technique, placing the enamel within small cells with gold walls. This had been used as a technique to hold pieces of stone and gems tightly in place since the 3rd millennium BC, for example in Mesopotamia, and then Egypt. Enamel seems likely to have developed as a cheaper method of achieving similar results.

The earliest undisputed objects known to use enamel are a group of Mycenaean rings from Cyprus, dated to the 13th century BC. Although Egyptian pieces, including jewellery from the Tomb of Tutankhamun of c. 1325 BC, are frequently described as using “enamel”.  Enamel was also used to decorate glass by the time of the Roman Empire. Applied to pottery, it is first seen in Persian mina’i ware from the late 12th century, using a group of seven main colours. Presumably the potters learnt the technique from glassmakers.

Slightly later it appeared in Chinese ceramics in Cizhou stoneware from as early as the 13th century, with use on porcelain following within a century, Though it did not become predominant until later, and the full possibilities were not realized until the 17th and 18th centuries in the famille jaune, noire, rose, verte group of palettes. Some techniques use thin metal leaf, including mina’i ware as well as the more usual pigments, which are typically applied in a liquid or paste form, painted by brush, or using stencils or transfer printing. The Japanese kakiemon style, and other Japanese styles, used the technique from at least the second half of the 17th century. The technique was also developing in Europe, firstly in what the French called petit feu faience, and in the 18th century in porcelain, and there appears to have been some influence in both directions between Asia and Europe. From about 1770 to the mid-20th century it was the dominant decorative technique in expensive pottery, mostly porcelain, made in Europe, East Asia, and (to a lesser extent) North America.

In 18th-century England, where the technique was developed, the earliest forms of transfer printing on pottery, for example by Sadler & Green in Liverpool, were overglaze, although by the end of the century it was normal to print as underglaze.

Today overglaze decoration is much less commonly used, other than in traditionalist wares, as the range of colours available in underglaze has greatly expanded.

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Islamic countries

Enamel was established in the Mughal Empire by around 1600 for decorating gold and silver objects, and became a distinctive feature of Mughal jewellery. The Mughal court was known to employ mīnākār (enamelers). These craftsmen reached a peak of during the reign of Shah Jahan in the mid-17th century. Transparent enamels were popular during this time. Both cloissoné and champlevé were produced in Mughal, with champlevé used for the finest pieces.

Enamel was used in Iran for colouring and ornamenting the surface of metals by fusing over it brilliant colours that are decorated in an intricate design and called it Meenakari. The French traveller, Jean Chardin, who toured Iran during the Safavid period, 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. Gold has been used traditionally for Meenakari 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 artifacts like boxes, bowls, spoons, and art pieces while copper which is used for handicraft products was introduced only after the Gold Control Act, which compelled the Meenakars to look for a material other than gold, was enforced in India. Initially, the work of Meenakari often went unnoticed as this art was traditionally used as a backing for the famous kundan or stone-studded jewellery. This also allowed the wearer to reverse the jewellery as also promised a special joy in the secret of the hidden design.

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Historical enameling ware
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Minaei ware

Mina’i ware is a type of Persian pottery developed in Kashan, Iran, in the decades leading up to the Mongol invasion of Persia in 1219, after which production ceased. It has been described as “probably the most luxurious of all types of ceramic ware produced in the eastern Islamic lands during the medieval period”. The ceramic body of white-ish fritware or stonepaste is fully decorated with detailed paintings using several colours, usually including figures.

It is significant as the first pottery to use overglaze enamels, painted over the ceramic glaze fixed by a main glost firing; after painting the wares were given a second firing at a lower temperature. “Mina’i” (Persian: مینایی‎), a term only used for these wares much later, means “enamelled” in the Persian language. The technique is also known as haft-rang, “seven colours” in Persian. This was the term used by the near-contemporary writer Abu al-Qasim Kasani, who had a pottery background. This technique much later became the standard method of decorating the best European and Chinese porcelain, though it is not clear that there was a connection between this and the earlier Persian use of the technique. As in other periods and regions when overglaze enamels were used, the purpose of the technique was to expand the range of colours available to painters beyond the very limited group that could withstand the temperature required for the main firing of the body and glaze, which in the case of these wares was about 950 °C.

The period also introduced underglaze decoration to Persian pottery, around 1200, and later mina’i pieces often combine both underglaze and overglaze decoration; the former may also be described as inglaze. Most pieces are dated imprecisely as, for example, “late 12th or early 13th century”, but the few inscribed dates begin in the 1170s and end in 1219. Gilded pieces are often dated to around or after 1200. It is assumed that the style and subjects in the painting of mina’i ware were drawn from contemporary Persian manuscript painting and wall painting. It is known these existed, but no illustrated manuscripts or murals from the period before the Mongol conquest have survived, leaving the painting on the pottery as the best evidence of that style.

Most pieces are bowls, cups, and a range of pouring vessels: ewers, jars, and jugs, only a handful very large. There are some pieces considered to be begging bowls, or using the shape associated with that function. Tiles are rare, and were perhaps designed as centrepieces surrounded by other materials, rather than placed in groups. Mina’i tiles found in situ by archaeologists at Konya in modern Turkey were probably made there by itinerant Persian artists. Sherds of mina’i ware have been excavated from “most urban sites in Iran and Central Asia” occupied during the period, although most writers believe that nearly all production was in Kashan.

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Techniques of artistic enameling

The three main historical techniques for enamelling metal are:

Cloisonné, French for “cell”, where thin wires are applied to form raised barriers, which contain different areas of (subsequently applied) enamel. Widely practiced in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia.

Champlevé, French for “raised field”, where the surface is carved out to form pits in which enamel is fired, leaving the original metal exposed; the Romanesque Stavelot Triptych is an example.

Painted enamel, a design in enamel is painted onto a smooth metal surface. Limoges enamel is the best known type of painted enamel, using this from the 16th century onwards. Most traditional painting on glass, and some on ceramics, uses what is technically enamel, but is often described by terms such as “painted in enamels”, reserving “painted enamel” and “enamel” as a term for the whole object for works with a metal base.

Overglaze enamelling or on-glaze decoration is a method of decorating pottery, most often porcelain, where the coloured decoration is applied on top of the already fired and glazed surface, and then fixed in a second firing at a relatively low temperature, often in a muffle kiln. It is often described as producing “enamelled” decoration. The colours fuse on to the glaze, so the decoration becomes durable. This decorative firing is usually done at a lower temperature which allows for a more varied and vidid palette of colours, using pigments which will not colour correctly at the high temperature necessary to fire the porcelain body. Historically, a relatively narrow range of colours could be achieved with underglaze decoration, where the coloured pattern is applied before glazing, notably the cobalt blue of blue and white porcelain.

The kiln used for the second firing is usually called a muffle kiln in Europe; like other types of muffle furnaces the design isolates the objects from the flames producing the heat (with electricity this is not so important). For historical overglaze enamels the kiln was generally far smaller than that for the main firing, and produced firing temperatures in the approximate range of 750 to 950 °C, depending on the colours used. Typically, wares were fired for between five and twelve hours and then cooled over twelve hours.

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