Persian Marquetry (Khatamkari)

Khatamkari or Persian Marquetry which is a form of inlaid working is one of the finest Iranian decorative wooden handicrafts. Pieces of wood, camel bone, and metal are cut in small geometric parts and then trimmed to create all kinds of decorative objects. You can find objects made with aluminum, brass or gold. Creating such piece requires a huge amount of time and also the exceptional skills of the craftspeople, as some pieces can be an assemblage of more than 400 tiny parts. Khatamkari is one of the Persian arts of marquetry wherein the surface of wooden or metallic articles is decorated with pieces of wood, bone and metal cut in a variety of shapes and designs.

Various types of inlaid articles and their quality are known by the size and geometrical designs. Smaller pieces result in a higher value of the artwork.

This type of handicraft consists in the production of incrustation patterns (generally star-shaped), with thin sticks of wood (ebony, teak, ziziphus, orange, rose), brass (for golden parts), camel bones (white parts).

Gold or silver can also be used for collection objects. These sticks are assembled in triangular beams, assembled and glued in a strict order to create a geometrical motif such as a six-branch star included in a hexagon.

At times, cylinders are cut into shorter cylinders and then compressed and dried between two wooden plates, before being sliced for the last time, in 1mm wide trenches. These sections are ready to be plated and glued on the object to be decorated, before lacquer finishing.

The tranche can be softened by heating in order to wrap around objects. Many objects can be decorated in this fashion, including jewelry boxes, chessboards, desks and, musical instruments.

In Safavid era, “khatamkari” was so popular in the court that princes learned this technique alongside the art of music or painting. In the 18th and 19th centuries, “khatamkari” declined, before being stimulated under the reign of Reza Shah, with the creation of art schools in Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz.

Incorporating techniques from China and improving it with Persian know-how, this craft existed for more than 700 years and is still practiced in Shiraz and Isfahan.

Nowadays, this art is being practiced in Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran. Inlay masters, preserving the nobility of their art, have brought forth great innovations in this fine art.

Woodcarving is one of the outstanding Iranian arts, which require dexterity and artistic skills. It provides wood, ivory or bone in simple or complex shapes for use in “khatamkari”.

Excellent specimens can be found in historical mosques, palaces and buildings. Some of the Iranian inlaid works are preserved in museums at home or abroad.

Images of leaves, flowers, birds and animals predominate.

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