Arts of Kashan
Arts and crafts of Kashan have been continuously praised. In fact, every time that a story turns to the most remarkable lraniar art achievements, Kashan is inevitably mentioned.
Archaeological finds yielded conclusive evidence of the fact that Kashan has been the cradle of many Iranian traditional crafts. Kashan maintained its great importance as a center of traditional industries throughout all historical periods.
Pottery and Tile Making in Kashan
|Pottery and Tile Making|
The residents of the Kashar area knew pottery techniques as early as the 5th millennium B.C., as excavations of Sialk (pp194-195) have revealed. The ceramic industry of Kashan, in a more modern meaning of this word, dates from the 10th century. Its heyday, however, occurred in the period from the end of the 12th to the beginning of the 14th centuries, when beautiful lusterware was produced. Althougll during this period, an emphasis of production was essentially moved from pottery to tile work, beautiful ceramic vessels in the "Kashan" style were still produced on the large scale. These vessels are characterized by the peculiar treatment of the background: the texturing is achieved by scratching spirals through the luster, giving a lightened overall effect. The figures are drawn in relief but are so completely filled in with different patterns that they can sometimes be quite difficult to pick out from the background. The only feature kept entirely plain and white is the graceful moon-face, frequently surrounded by a halo. Among the most characteristic motifs are also a particular kind of plump arabesque. a pigeon-like bird, and a large heart-shaped palmette. The settings are still rather abstract, and landscapes are indicated by an awning above and a pool be-low. Sometimes plants and trees occur, especially in scenes depicting two horsemen.
The "Kashan" style also features innovative vessel shapes, the conical bowl being the most common.
Inscriptions playa more important part in the "Kashan" style than in earlier ceramics and often occur in concentric bands of different types, surrounding the central decoration. Inscriptions in Naskh are scratched through bands of luster and painted on the white glaze, whereas those in Kufic usually occur in ornate friezes, often against a scroll work background. The inscriptions are mostly poems, especially Persian quatrains but also some Arabic verses. Blessings to the Owner are also common, though dedications to particular patrons are not. Dates and names of the potters are also often seen.
Although Kashans pottery is still very rich and compelling, much of the finest work of this period is On tiles. Most probably, Iranian tiles originated in Kashan, as their Persian name - kashi - suggests. Gradually, tile-making required more specialized workshops, with purpose built equipment. Throughour the long history of tile-making in Kashan, local masters have fulfilled the most demanding orders and have produced tiles for the most outstanding buildings.
The two major figures of the pottery industry in Kashan were Mohammad ibn Abu Taher and Abu Zeid, who were active during the Seljuk rule and collaborated on the most important tile work projects of the pre-Mongol period. Their earliest dated joint effort was a sarcophagus in the Shrine of Hazrat-e Masumeh in Qom, where the top panel was signed by Mohammad and the main frieze was signed by Abu Zeid. This work was dated 1206. In Mashhad. in 1215, they undertook a much more ambitious project, cladding the walls in star and octagonal tiles surmounted by an inscription frieze, and installing two large and elaborate mihrabs, one of which is signed by Abu Zeid. This was a work of the highest quality. After the death of the two great masters, there was a sudden decline in The production. However, with the resumption of large-scale The production in the 1260s, some real masterpieces were manufactured. The new generations of potters attempted to imitate the high quality work of their predecessors, and though the technique and quality of execution were generally simpler than in the earlier products, they did produce some good work. Beautiful Il-Khanid-period tiles can still be seen in the shrines of Chehel Dokhtaran (p 184), lmamzadeh Mir Neshaneh (p 192), and Khajeh Taj al-Din (pp 188-189) in Kashan, and in the superb mihrab of the Meydan Mosque (pp192-193). today in the Museum of Islamic Arts in Berlin. The dominant figure in the tile-making industry of Kashan in the late 13th century was Ali ibn Mohammad ibn Abu Taher, son of the renowned master of the Seljuk period. The last project of the Abu Taher family-run pottery business and, in fact, a final and surprising burst of activity in tile production was the mihrab of the Mausoleum of Ali ibn Jafar in Qom (dated 1311-1340). It was made in cooperation with a painter. Ostad (Master) Jamal Kashani ibn Yusef, son of Ali ibn Mohammad ibn Abu Taher; it is Currently kept in the National Museum in Tehran.
Although from the 15th century onwards, the importance of Kashan tile-making decreased, lots of tiles were still produced both for the buildings Inside the town and for other regions such as the buildings of the Royal Mosque in Semnan and the Sepah-Salar Mosque and Madreseh in Tehran. Curiously, the overwhelming majority of the buildings known to have been decorated with tiles from Kashan had funerary functions.
Kashan was famous for its finely woven carpets since at least the Seljuk period. During the Safavid rule, this art culminated in the famous pair of Ardabil carpets, now one kept in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the otheri n the Los Angeles County Museum.
After a short period of decline, the art of Kashan's carpet-making was revibed in the beginning of the 20th century by a trade dealer named Mohtasham Kashani. At that time, Kashan carpets were usually woven in big sizes, but at present, Kashan carpets come in all sizes.
Kashan rugs are characterized by the high quality of the raw material, very fine weaving, md beautiful harmony of colors and designs. They are double-wefted, and the warps are made of cotton, silk, or high-quality wool. Kashan carpets of the early 19th century were made of merino wool, which was imported from England or Australia and had a peculiar beige color known as dughi. Kashan carpets are woven with Persian knots on Persian looms. The typical colors of Kashan rugs are brick red as well as pastel ivory and beige, with dark blue for medallions, quart-medallions, and borders. The designs vary from the crenellated medallions to floral ornaments. The traditional motifs, originated as early as the Safavid period, consist of trees. vases, medallions, prayer-niches, arabesques, and pictorial patterns.
Kashan carpets are among the best produced in Iran. To verify that Kashan carpets are of the highest quality, it is enough to recall the fact that when A. Cecil Edwards, the most respected western expert on Oriental carpets, was asked to choose the best carpet among the two hundred rugs preserved in the collections of the leading museums of the world, he chose seven, of which four were made in Kashan! The best historical carpets of Kashan, which have survived and are kept in Iran, belong to the mausoleum of Shah Abbas II in Qom. These fourteen rugs were woven in 1672 in Joshaqan Qali, a small town in the vicinity of Kashan, famous for the high-quality rugs produced there.
Since the 13th century, when astounded Marco Polo left an effusive ac-count of Kashan textiles, practically every writer has praised Kashan made fabrics in the most enthusiastic terms. Voltaire. the renowned French philosopher and writer, emphasized the great importance of Kashan textiles, which could easily compete with the production of Lyon, the important French textile- manufactu ring center. Chardin mentions more than one hundred kinds of exquisite fabrics produced in Kashan in the 17th century, of which valuable brocade and golden velvet pieces were especially in demand. Some textiles are still made with the traditional techniques in the Handicrafts Workshop .
Engraving on metal in Kashan has a long history. By the Safavid period, it had progressed to the point that many travelers claimed that Kashan engravings equaled, or maybe even surpassed in quality, the items produced in Esfahan, the acknowledged center of chiseling in Iran. After the Afghan invasion, engraving declined, and bronze ware was produced instead of chiseled items. Currently, less than 5% of traditional workshops are engaged in engraving, but, although their number has diminished, the quality of the local goods still conforms to the highest standards. Among the most famous engravings of Kashan is a so-called tray of Alp Arslan, now kept in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was made by Hasan Kashani in 1067.
Interestingly, the over-whelming majority of the most important Iranian painters were of Kashan origin. They range from Reza Abbasi, the most remarkable artist of the Safavid period, to Sohrab Sepehri, modern poet and painter.
The importance of Kashan as a heart of painting, calligraphy, and illumination dates at least from the early Islamic period. During the Seljuk and Il-Khanid rules, Kashan was an acknowledged center of the art of bookmaking, of which a splendid edition of Jame' al- Tavarikh, the Persian medieval history, now kept in the Paris Library, is indicative. It was illustrated by Mohammad ibn Afif Kashani.
The works of Reza Abbasi, a painter who influenced the development of Persian painting for at least two centuries, are among the greatest Safavid art achievements. During the Qajar period, the best artists also came from Kashan. Among them was Sani al-Molk - a founder of the first Iranian art college (inaugurated in 1862), a distinguished portraitist of forty-seven of the most important political and social figures of his time, and author of the famous seven-piece tableau in oil that depicts eighty-four notables at the court. Other important painters from this period were Mahmud Khan Malek al-Shoara Kashani, a poet and painter, Mirza Mohammad Khan Ghaffari, titled Naqqash-Bashi and Kamal al-Molk, and Kamal al-Molk's father Mirza Bozorg Ghaffari.