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What is mosaic art ?

One of the most beautiful handicrafts in Iran is the art of wood Moaragh (wood inlay, wood mosaic art).  This unique and delicate art has a special place in Iran. What is mosaic art? 

Moaragh (mosaic) is literally anything flecked. On the other hand, in art, it is about creating beautiful designs and patterns by cutting out and mixing colorful pieces of wood on a black wooden or polyester background.

Thus, wood is the primary and basic material in the creation of a Moaragh artwork. However, Iranians have integrated this art with other arts and also with other materials.

Craftsmen use shells, metal (gold, brass, silver, copper), bone, and ivory in Moaragh artworks. They also perform Moaragh on objects like panels, tables, chairs, clocks, sideboards, fancy boxes, etc.

The oldest artifact of mosaic is a comb found in Shahr-e Sukhteh
The oldest artifact of mosaic is a comb found in Shahr-e Sukhteh

The term Moaragh was introduced to Persian vocabulary after the Muslim conquest of Persia. Yet, Moaragh art dates back to the ancient Persian era.

Moaragh art dates back to the ancient Persian era. However, people  called it “Mosaic” at that time which is from the Greek word “MOZ”.

The history of mosaic art in Iran

We don’t know the exact history of this art but by comparing mosaic and tiling arts, we get the relation of these two arts. Gonbad-e-Sorkhin Maragheh supports this claim. Gonbad-e-Sorkh (literally: the red dome) dates back to the Ilkhanate era and its tiling has the same style.

Nevertheless, the oldest artifact of mosaic is a comb found in Shahr-e Sukhteh. The maker of this comb had created a pretty flower with wood pieces on it. Except this, historians have not recorded any other objective evidence of mosaic art until medieval Islam.

Up to medieval Islam, there had been two other eras which are Seleucid and Arsacid. However, there are not many remainders of Moaragh left from those eras. Instead, mosaic work had become popular in the Seljuq era and reached its peak in the Safavid era. The artists had produced valuable tiling artworks in this period. The Persians used to consider Isfahan, Yazd, Kashan, Herat, and Samarkand as the main centers of prevailing mosaic in Iran.

What is mosaic art
What is mosaic art

Though, this artistic prosperity began to wane in Hotak and Zand periods. During the Qajar period, mosaic tiling was an imperfect imitation of the works of the past. Up to this period, artists used the style of Arabesque in mosaic tiling. Then, as some artists began to visit Europe and got familiar with European art and culture in the Qajar era, they changed the tiling styles. Actually, these changes were the transformation from original Persian motifs to human and weapon designs.

Thus, Iranians of 19th century had considered mosaic as an industry rather than an art.

Contemporary mosaic

Most of the mosaic artworks had traditional Persian designs up to the 1990s. Some of those designs and styles are Eslimi-Khatai (Islamic Arabesque), Gol-o Morgh (Flower and Bird), and Miniature. Iranian artists carried out these projects as mosaics on a wooden background. Besides, the use of materials such as ivory, camel bone, natural shells, cuts of Khatam (an ancient Persian in laying technique) and metals, had given a unique value to the mosaic artworks of this period.

In addition, the craftsmen of this field had performed most of their works on surfaces like tables, splats, boxes, chests…

Parviz Zaboli, Mohammad Emami, and Hassan Azadkhani are some of the most influential artists in the formation of this art.

What is mosaic art

Important and spectacular mosaic artworks

There are many spectacular mosaic artworks from the past, but two of the best ones are not in Iran. These artworks have simple geometrical patterns and belong to the 11th to 15th century AD.

  • The first artwork is a wooden Rehal (book rest) from the 14th century. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has held this piece, and it has engraving, carving, and marquetry.
  • The second one was found in the Gur-e-Amirin Samarkand, dating back to the 15th century AD. The State Hermitage Museum has kept this artwork. It’s good to know that it has carving, marquetry, and delicate mosaic with bone and ivory.

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