The art of engraving and chasing on metal uses steel tipped tools, sharp for engraving and blunt for chasing. Soft metals like copper, gold and silver can all be used for chasing and engraving. The history of Turkish metalwork goes back five thousand years, but the golden age of chasing was that of the Seljuks, who ruled Iran, Iraq, Syria and Azerbaidjan in the 11th and 12th centuries, and most of Anatolia from the late 12th century onwards.

The Turkish Memluks of Egypt also produced fine quality chasing and engraving, which were introduced throughout the lands of the Near East by the Seljuks, and was inherited by the Ottomans. Little is known about the tools which the Seljuks used for their beautiful and extremely fine chasing and engraving. The rumi and hatayi motifs, animal and human figures typical of Seljuk work were adopted throughout the Islamic world. Inscriptions are in the sülüs, kûfi or talik script styles, and both inscriptions and figures stand out in relief from the ground, which is hatched or crosshatched with closely spaced parallel lines. The arts of the Memluks, who were largely of Turkish origin, are in many ways similar to those of the Seljuks, but their metalwork designs are less intricately worked. In both cases the craftsmen worked by hammering the steel tools to shape the metal surface.

Ottoman period metal decoration can be divided into four main schools: those of Istanbul, Van, Caucasia and Bosnia. Istanbul work is principally characterised by its use of thin and thick lines reminiscent of brushwork. One specialised branch of Istanbul engraving was the extremely fine inscriptions and designs incised on seals of metal or stone. Van engravers made extensive use of niello, in which the craftsmen first incises the designs with fine tipped gravers and then fills these grooves with a powdered amalgam of sulphur, silver and other metals, which is heated to melting point. After the metal has cooled it is sanded down and polished. A wide range of metal objects were decorated in this way, including tobacco boxes, whip handles, sword and dagger scabbards, and spoon handles.

Caucasian work, which is particularly highly developed in Daghestan, is deeper and makes partial use of niello. It has retained all the characteristics of the original Seljuk art. Sword and dagger scabbards, horse trappings, buckles and other items made by the craftsmen of this region have always been highly valued, and many examples are to be seen in museums today. A typical feature is decoration using a mixture of gold and mercury, combined with niello work on silver, so creating a gorgeous contrast of gold, black and silver. Bosnian engraving is easily distinguished from that of other areas by the uniform depth of the incisions and the simplicity of the motifs. The most commonly found motifs are cypress trees, ewers, jugs, ovals and rumi leaves.

Apart from these main types, many local styles of engraving and chasing are used to ornament copperware in Erzincan, Kayseri and Kastamonu.

Reference: Prof Dr M. Zeki Kusoglu / SKYLIFE

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