Iranian Mirrorwork For sparkling interiors
The people of Iran have always paid great attention to fine arts, architecture and beautification of buildings.
Throughout the ages, Iranian architects have used many techniques to beautify both the interior and exterior of buildings, using locally-available building materials. The result of this endeavor has produced masterpieces of Iranian architecture.
One of the arts used extensively to decorate the interior of a building is decoration with mirrors or mirrorwork.
Iranian craftsmen have developed this particular art over centuries, as mirrorwork requires a great deal of finesse, attention to detail, skills and patience. This art involves a great deal of painstaking work.
In some regions of Iran, mirror is used in handicrafts as well. For example, mirrors are used in embroidery and sown onto linen, as well as table cloths and various types of fabrics.
Essentially, mirrorwork is the art of making ordered, symmetric and geometrical designs using large and small pieces of mirror in the interior of a building, which creates a luminous appearance.
It results in myriad reflections of light through these pieces of mirror, which produce a dazzling display of sparkling light.
Historical documents indicate that the very first building whose interior was decorated with mirrors was a building in the city of Qazvin in northwestern Iran, built in 965 lunar year, on the orders of Shah Tahmasb Safavi, the king of Iran at the time.
During the reign of Shah Tahmasb, Qazvin was the capital city of Iran for a number of years, but when the capital was moved from Qazvin to Isfahan, the art of mirrorwork was extensively used to decorate royal palaces and mansions.
Thus, many craftsmen used the technique of mirrorwork in Isfahan, which helped turn the city into the center of this art.
Well-known French writer and traveler, Chardin, names more than 100 palaces in the city of Isfahan, the vast majority of which were beautifully and painstakingly decorated with mirrors.
The most beautiful and famous of these palaces was “Ayeneh Khaneh” (Palace of Mirrors)--so called because a very large number of mirrors was used to decorate the interior of this palace.
The palace had a very large veranda that faced the main entrance to the palace. All the columns, walls and ceilings of the veranda and main reception hall were covered with small pieces of mirror.
It is built on the bank of Zayandeh Roud river, which flows through Isfahan and the reflection of flowing water, trees and greenery in the mirrors of the palace walls and columns produces a magical and magnificent scene.
The technique of mirrorwork has also been used extensively in Isfahan’s Chehel-Sotoun Palace. The palace was built after the Palace of Mirrors and full-length mirrors were fitted in the walls of this palace.
Again, small pieces of mirror and colored glass were used to decorate the ceilings, walls, veranda and the main reception hall (Mirror Hall) of Chehel-Sotoun Palace.
The famous 18th-century Italian traveler and writer, Gemili Careri, has written in his travelogue: “I visited a palace in Azarbaijan (northwestern Iran) and in the inner courtyard of the palace was a beautiful mirror hall. When the sun rose, the myriad pieces of mirror reflected the sunshine brilliantly, producing a dazzling display--the likes of which I had never seen “.
Before starting to decorate with mirrors, a designer first designs on paper--then he transfers these designs onto walls, ceilings and columns using special needles.
After that, pieces of mirror are glued, one by one, onto the surface of walls, ceilings, etc. This requires considerable skill and patience. Ideally, pieces of mirror should be about one millimeter thick.
And there are two techniques for mirrorwork, namely flat and relief.
The most common design used in mirrorwork is the so-called knot design. In the Qajar period, full-sized mirrors were often glued to the walls and various designs, often portraits of individuals, were drawn or painted onto the mirrors. Then, craftsmen glued small pieces of glass onto the surface as the finishing touch.
Often mirrorwork was used in conjunction with plasterwork to produce very beautiful internal decorations.
In recent years, colored glass with floral patterns has also been used in mirrorwork.
Another combination is to use mirrorwork with woodwork or inlaid work. An excellent example of beautiful woodwork and mirrorwork can be seen in the Badgir Palace, which is part of the Golestan complex of palaces in Tehran, as well as the Naranjestan mansion in the city of Shiraz .
The political and economic turmoil following the Safavid rule led to a decline in the art of mirrorwork throughout Iran. But during the reign of Karim Khan Zand, decoration with mirrors flourished once again, this time in the city of Shiraz, the capital city at the time.
Many buildings and palaces featuring beautiful mirrorwork were built in Shiraz during Karim Khan’s reign.
In the Qajar period, too, the fondness of Qajar kings and wealthy individuals for ostentatious display and opulence led to a resurgence of the art.
During the lunar 13th century, mirrorwork was used in the many rooms and reception halls of Shams-ol-Emareh Palace and Golestan Palace in Tehran, as well as at the mausoleums of the eighth Imam of Shiite Muslims, Imam Reza (AS) in Mashhad, and of Hazrat Abdol Azim in Shahr-e Rey in south Tehran.
Each one of these is considered a masterpiece of decoration with mirrors.
There are also fine examples of mirrorwork in the Marmar Palace (Marble Palace) in central Tehran, and various palaces in the Sa’dabad complex in north Tehran.
In more recent years, the art of mirrorwork moved out of royal palaces, and became more commonplace, such that we see restaurants, supermarkets, shopping centers, hotels and even private homes using mirrorwork. This has given rise to innovations in the traditional art of mirrorwork.