Persian Minakari

  • March 8, 2012 3:25 PM EST


    This is a project that was inspired by an Iranian jeweller coming to my studio with an enamelled bowl and asking me what materials he would need to re-create this technique. He had actually been taught to do it when he was young - but it had been so many years (he has lived in Canada for 25 years) he didn't remember anything. I hope this will jog his memory! To me it looked like fairly straight-foward sgraffito.

    This is a series of tests I did to try and figure out common materials to recreate this ancient (and very beautiful!) technique. Here is a traditional piece

    I started by trying three "paints" on three whites I used Ultramarine fines (the medium blue), China paint (the darkest) and Prussian fines (the lightest) all mixed with a water medium that I got from Coral Schaeffer (#1368) Iused 1010 Undercoat, 1020 Titanium and 1030 Foundation as my whites. You will see that the Prussian fines did not scratch very well.These were just initial tests so I didn't put too much effort into the design ;-)

    The next level of test were influenced by an observation that my apprentice Alex Bolduc made - noting that the colour inside the lines was underneath the scratch marks - and must have been painted on before scratching - so I decided to try painting both the background and the pattern before scratching. I had eliminated the fines after the first test - I didn't have enough control - they were too 'slushy'. In the subsequent tests I used only blue china paint mixed with Coral's water medium. It is very slow to dry (at least 10-15 minutes on top of the kiln before it is dry) as opposed to the Thompson acrylic blue (which was the only other colour used in these tests) which dried very very fast.

    In the final piece I tried putting the acrylic paint on quite a bit thinner when it was a base coat, but for some reason it would not flow when it was painted over the china paint

    Now for the final tests I eliminated the 1030 Foundation - the paint seemed always to go too blurry with this base. I felt that the china paint lost it's brightness and became to much like navy on the 1020 Titanium - so I used the 1010 Undercoat for the final tests.

    I mixed the china paint with white liquid enamel - but I had the same problem with it not flowing. I am very happy with the turquoise background - but will need to go out an purchase some white china paint before I am entirely happy with the darker blue.

    The red was Thompson Acrylic. It is by itself on the turquoise piece - but I thought it needed to be deeper - so I mixed it half and half with brown.






    The trouble with Thompson Acrylic - is that the palette is limited to 12 colours - while china paint can be purchased in an unlimited palette. I will be doing some more tests with different mediums (I am going to try an oil medium today) so I will keep you posted!

  • Member
    March 9, 2012 12:22 PM EST

    Great experimentation! You might also try asking Avissa Nouri, my dear friend from Iran who just joined this forum.  She might be more familiar with this technique. 

  • March 14, 2012 11:33 PM EDT


    That's a beautiful piece you are working from!  Now that I've seen it, I'm extremely interested in it!

    I've seen a number of medieval Fatimid enameled jewelry pieces and some more enamels from Andulusia, but hadn't seen any medieval enamels from Iran.  I adore medieval Iranian art and have been learning as many different media as I can.

    Here's a useful link I just found, that lists the mineral/metal content that the traditional colors are based on:

    I'm having trouble following the dialog describing your process as not all the photos are showing up.  I'm very interested in doing so as you're clearly on the right track - not to mentioned talented as well.

    Thanks for posting this!


  • March 14, 2012 11:34 PM EDT

    As for the original bowl, the red lines appear to be ridges.  Is that an artifact of the enameling process or just the underlying shape of the bowl?

  • March 15, 2012 7:49 AM EDT

    Hi David - I am extrememly excited by this technique also, but I am just barely learning about the history of enameling in Persia.

    It was brought in at the time of the rise of the Moghul empire - probably from China - but I will be doing more reasearch on specifics. Originlly it was a sort of champleve that included a lot of gems - the kind of enameling that is still popular in India (brought there by the Moghuls also) But this particular distinctive blue/turquois on white is only about 80 years old and was spearheaded by a German enamelist working in conjunction with local craftsmen in Isphahan (where it is still centered)

    I will be collaborating with an Islamic art specialist and an Iranian jeweler to but together some comprehensive information about the art in an article that we will hope to pubish in conjunction with the SNAG 2013 conference (held in Toronto)

    Meanwhile - I can say that the picture of the traditional piece is a bit of an optical illusion. Sometimes when you look at it the lines seem to be raised and the decorative areas recessed - other times the lines seem to be recessed and the decorative areas pillowed. I think the latter is the real case, but the only actula piece I have seen is a bowl without these repoussed segments.

    The bowls are shaped by other craftsmen than the ones doing the decorative work.


  • March 15, 2012 10:59 PM EDT


    I've gone back thru a dozen reference works on medieval Islamic and Persian arts.  I've found enamel on metal from Fatimid Egypt and Islamic Spain.  I've found Persian enamel on glass, clay and frit, but not on metal. :(  The 1700s are the first reference to Persian enamel on metal I've found.

    I'll keep looking, I have another couple dozen books to go through.

    If you want some works with technical explanations of medieval Persian metallurgry or enamel/glaze manufacture, I'll be glad to give you the references.  Ditto for photocopies of the relevant bibliographies. 

    There is a 13th century Persian treatise on enamel/glaze manufacture and usage for pottery that have been translated, if that would be of use to you.

    If you want someone to proofread/edit your paper, and/or test any instructions your provide for clarity and completeness, I'm your guy. :)  I've done scads of technical writing and editing over the years.

  • March 16, 2012 5:12 AM EDT

    I would be happy of any reference books that might help us, though I am counting on my colleagues being able to find more specific information in the Persian language.

    The inernet is proving very unreliable - not only becasue the articles I find are often obviously translated with a mechanical translater, and so almost incomprehensible, but also becasue many seem just downright uninformed. One page said that enamel was very finely crushed gems that were  then melted! Good luck trying that !! ;-)

    My historical specialty is Celtic enameling which came via Rome. It seems to me that the most likely link to Persia is through Byzantium, but it may also have come through China. The Sassanid empire that the Moguls displaced had conections with Byzantium. The Moguls had both Turkish and Chinese roots. I know very little about the developent of Chinese enameling - so any info in that direction would also be interesting.

    I am going to check Erika Speel's Dictionary of Enamelling for some starting points.

  • March 16, 2012 6:51 AM EDT

    I'll add some new reference works to a web page on my site this weekend and post a link to it.

    FYI, the Sassanids were overthrown by the Arabs around 650AD, the Mongols took over Iran in the early 1200s.  The Moguls in India are Islamic Mongols.

    I love the Celtic enameled pieces too.  Awesome motifs even when simple.

  • March 16, 2012 7:16 AM EDT

    Thanks - this history is entirely new to me - I am working on a good overview to put the details in context