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Toreutics, a popular Iranian art; history and details

Toreutics is an Iranian art characterized by engraving reliefs or patterns on metal objects, including copper, gold and brass. In other words, Toreutics is the art of hammering lines and motifs on metal objects. Thanks to its soft and ductile nature, copper is the most commonly used metal in toreutics. On the other hand, according to archaeologists and art historians, copper is the first metal that attracted human attention in the art of metalworking and Toreutics.

This great art which represents the culture and civilization of Iranians was first practiced on the mountain rocks. Researchers have also observed it on the stone walls of the palaces, historical monuments, and even on the cave walls during the cave-dwelling era. Toretutics is actually the developed form of engraving art that has its roots in the art of stone-cutting. In fact, artists later carved motifs and images engraved on building stones and mountain rocks on precious stones like agate. So people used to know this art as “Engraving” in the past. Creating Toretutics dates back to historic times and is one of the traditional Iranian art s. Furthermore, experts classified Toretutics as a metalworking craft in classification of Iranian art s.

Iranian art
Iranian art

The history of Toretutics in Iran

Toretutics dates back to the time of the Scythians or Siths who were actually of Aryan race. And the Golden bowl of Hasanlu dates back to the first millennium. Archaeologists discovered it in 1957 and motifs of chariot-riding gods are the distinguishing characteristic of this bowl. Furthermore, experts have classified the Marlik gold bowls as the Toretutics art works of the same era.

We also can find historical trace of Toretutics artworks at the time of Medes in the 7th century BC. This was the time Medes rose to power in Iran.

Toretutics was revolutionized during the Achaemenid reign. This era actually marks the culmination of metalworking. However, due to the invasion of Alexander and burning of Persepolis, many of the Toretutics artworks were destroyed. In fact, these artworks were melted ​​into coins at Alexander’s decree!

During 224 – 650 BC, when trade ties between Iran, Greece and Rome developed, these countries’ art effect Iranian art. Tray was the most commonly used dish in that period. The Sassanid engraved trays depicting images of king hunting and other ceremonies such as gift-giving rituals.

Iranian art
Iranian art

Toretutics after Muslim conquest of Persia

Arabs imitated Sassanid Toretutics in the early Islamic centuries. In the following centuries, Persian indigenous and mythological motifs had been gradually replaced by Kufic calligraphy, Quran verses, and Hadiths due to the Persian artists’ interest in Islam.

During the Seljuk era, Toretutics, like many other arts, received considerable attention and support. calligraphy and Kufic script are the distinctive characteristic  of the engraved dishes of Saljuk era.

During the same era, we can observe calligraphy in Toretutics and also calligraphic motifs on the dishes as decoration. Timur’s invasion of Iran provided the ground for retrieval of Herat’s artistic position as the then largest art center.

Silver-inlaying was brought to the pitch of perfection in the Safavid era. Artists used Illuminated manuscript and arabesque in particular, in this era. In addition, they applied Nastaʿlīqand Thuluth calligraphic scripts on the Toretutics artworks.

Currently, Isfahan is the most important center of copper and brass Toretutics. About 81 percent of Toretutics experts design and apply the motifs by themselves. However, about 7% of them copy the decorative motifs, and 12% just make some minor repairs on Toretutics. Toretutics is commonly practiced in Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz, Tabas and Kermanshah by some specific groups of artists.

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