Minakari or Enamelling is the art of painting, colouring and ornamenting the surface of metals by fusing the brilliant colours over them and decorate them in an intricate design. Mina is defined as some sort of glasslike colored coat which can be stabilized by heat on different metals particularly copper.
The art of Minakari or Enamelling is called miniature on fire as well as the decoration of metal and tile with mina glaze.
The Iranian craftsmen of Sassanid era invented this art and Mongols spreaded it to India and other countries. French tourist, Jean Chardin, who toured Iran during the Safavid rule, made a reference to an enamel work of Isfahan, which comprised a pattern of birds and animals on a floral background in light blue, green, yellow and red.
Some experts link the historicity of enameling in Iran to the Arsacides and Sassanid periods. However, the use of this art in the Islamic period is not clear before the reign of the seventh ruler of Mongol empire’s Ilkhanid division in Iran, Ghazan Khan (694-703 AH) who introduced Mongol Persia to Islam.
To prepare an enameled dish we should make the following steps:
First, a metallic substrate like copper, silver or brass is chosen and shaped by expert coppersmith. This layer is the base of enamel. In the past, the enamel had been applied to tile, ceramic or glass, but nowadays copper is more often used because it is malleable and flexible. A new and firsthand copper layer is better than a recycled one.
Then, the body is covered with a white glaze using the dipping technique.
Next, it is heated at a maximum temperature of 750°C and the body is recoated with a higher quality glaze and heated again. This function is usually repeated three to four times. Generally, the enamel glaze is made of silicon, magnesium, potassium, lead, precious stones, feldspar, kaolin, zirconium, boric acid and tin.
The glazed and heated metal body is now ready for any kind of design, which depends on the creativity of the artist.
This step is called painting with magic colors. These colors attained from the following chemicals:
1- white glaze: Tin, lead crystal, flint
2- Turquoise color: Tin, lead crystal, flint, copper shingle
3- Yellow: Iron oxide, tin oxide and lead oxide
4- Black: Iron oxide , manganese dioxide, lead, cobalt oxide
5- Red violet: Crystal, ammonium nitrate and dissolved gold
6- Green: Copper shingle, flint glass (stone), lead chromate
7- Brown: Chromium oxide green, iron oxide, zinc oxide
8- Blue: Cobalt oxide, zinc oxide, flint.
The final calligraphy is designed on the body before stabilizing the Mina by heating in the furnace.
After the painting is complete, the enamel plates are sent back to the furnace, but this time temperature is about 600oC. This brings out the final colors. In the past, inorganic dyes were used in this art, but at present chemical colors are used as well.
The enamel can be washed with a sponge and warm water, and this does not cause any problem, because the enamel is covered with a transparent glaze.
There are quite a few artists in Isfahan who produce enamels that are very exquisite. There is great demand for these works, because of its artistic value and relatively low price. These artists present their works in Chahar-Bagh Street and the vicinity of Naqsh-e Jahan Square.