of tile (glazed brick), manufacture and decoration in Iran, goes back
to the prehistoric period. It has an important position among the
various decorative arts in Iranian architecture. Four main decorative
features could be categorized here. They are stone carvings, brick
work, stucco and tile panels. The intricate method of manufacture,
designs and type of materials used in these four methods have evolved
as a result of natural factors, economical and political effects.
Tiles were used to decorate monuments from early ages in Iran. Mosaic
patterns were the first step in the evolution of tile decoration.
Imaginative and creative artisans put together mosaic patterns using
bits of colored stone and brick and created patterns of triangles,
semi-circles and circles in harmony with the structures they were
placed on. These patterns later evolved into design of natural
subjects, such as plants, trees, animals and human beings. The
earliest examples of mosaic patterns have come from the columns of the
temple at Ubaid in Mesopotamia, and are attributed to the second half
of the 2nd mill. B.C. Here, colored pieces of stone have been
juxtaposed with shell and ivory to create geometric patterns. It is
these early mosaic patterns which are the roots of later tile art. The
first glazed bricks, a further advancement in tile art, have also been
discovered in such sites as the palaces of Ashur and Babylon in the
same area. A most famous example of early tile art on wares is the
mosaic rhyton discovered in the excavations at Marlik. This vessel has
two shells. The outer shell is covered with colored pieces of stone.
This object is known as “Thousand
One of the earliest examples of Iranian tile work on architecture,
actually glazed pieces of unbaked brick, have been excavated at Susa
and Chogha Zanbil, and are attributed to the end of the second millennium
the Achamenian period full use was made of glazed and decorated fired
bricks in yellow, green and brown on the palaces of Susa and
Persepolis. Fired and glazed bricks were an Important advancement in
tile technique. The “Eternal
at Persepolis have long elegant gowns in glaze made of fired earth and
was used on vessels and even coffins in the Parthian period, but
little architectural evidence has been discovered to show that glazed
bricks were used. Turquoise and light green glaze were the most
popular colors. Fresco painting was more popular for the decoration of
Excavations in Firuzabad and Bishapur have yielded much evidence of
tile art and mosaic manufacture for the Sasanid period. Here, tiles
have glaze that is one centimeter thick, and mosaic patterns of
flowers, plants, geometric designs birds and human beings.
The art of tile working blossomed in the Islamic period of Iran. It
became the most important decorative feature of religious buildings.
Iranian tile makers were in great demand and worked in the far corners
of the Islamic empire. The earliest example of Islamic tile decoration
can be seen on the Mosque of the Dome of Rock belonging to 7-8th
Before tile work, as we know today, became popular brick and stucco
were most important in decoration of buildings up to 10-11th A.D. Two
mosques of Na'in and Neiriz have brick decoration in geometric
patterns of the Buyid period. By 11-12th A.D. , brick decoration had
spread from the east throughout Iran. The best examples of brick
decoration of this period are the mausoleums of Pir Alamadar, 1026
A.D., Chehel Dokhtaran, 466 A.D., and the Tower of Mihmandost 1096
The next stage of development was the use of colored glaze on
decorative brick; turquoise being the most popular color. Pieces of
turquoise glazed bricks were used with decorative brick works on
monuments from the Saljuq period onwards.
So artisans were familiar with the technique of manufacture of glazed
bricks by this time. Sometimes these turquoise glazed bricks were used
to create Kufic inscription among the brick patterns or were scattered
among the brick patterns. The earliest example unfired turquoise Kufic
inscription, is a panel stored at Iran Bastan Museum
(National Museum of Iran) ascribed to the end of the 10-11th
A.D. Other religious structures which have turquoise tile works are
Seyed Mosque, Isfahan, 1122 A.D., the red Dome of Maraqeh 1147 A.D.
and the Jame Mosque of Gonabad 1212 A.D.
invasion slowed and halted many artistic traditions and trends. Normal
conditions only returned by the 13th century A.D., when the Ilkhanid
rulers accepted Islam; they also became interested in creating secular
and non-secular monuments and buildings. By this time, decorative
bricks and tiles were used not only on the exterior, but also inside
the building to cover the walls and domes.
The art of tile manufacture reached its highest point of perfection
and beauty at the end of Ilkhanid period and the beginning of Timurid
in the form of Moraq tiles (mosaic style). Tile panels created with
this technique are very durable and could withstand the elements of
time. Here, tiles in such colors as yellow, blue, brown, black, turquoise,
green and white were cut and carved into small pieces according to a
previously prepared pattern. These pieces were placed close together
and liquid plaster poured over to fill in all the opening and gaps.
After the plaster dried and hardened, a large single piece tile panel
had been created , which was then plastered onto the required wall of
the building. Timurid monuments in Herat, Samarkend and Bukhara were
covered by this decorative technique. Among the most famous monuments
so decorated are Goharshad Mosque (1418 AD.), Molana Mosque (1444
AD.), Jame Mosque of Yazd (1456 AD.), Jame Mosque of Varamin (1322
AD.) and Madrassa of Khan in Shiraz (1615 AD.)
From the beginning of Safavid period, another method of tile
decoration was added to the repertoire of artisans. Economical and
political reasons prompted the creation of this "Seven
Colors" (Haft Rang) tile to decorate many religious and
non-secular buildings, which were made in great numbers in this
period. Reasons which caused the popularity of this technique were:
1- "Seven Colors" tiles were cheaper to produce.
2- Less time was needed for their manufacture.
3- Artisans could extend their repertoire of motives and designs for
Square tiles were placed together and necessary design was painted in
glazed colors on them. Each tile was fired. Then all were placed again
next to each other to create the main large pattern. Arabesque motives
were extremely popular. This method
of tile decoration was popular until the end of Qajar period,
when the repertoire of colors extended to include yellow and bright
important type of tile decoration at this time was luster tile. It was
in demand by the end of Saljuq period and reached to its highest point
of perfection in Kharazmshah and Ilkhanid eras.
Luster tile panels were made in square, rectangle, hexagon, octagon
and polygonal forms. They contained luster designs of human, animals,
floral and geometrical motives with borders of inscriptions, which
included poems, proverbs and sayings attributed to Prophet and other
religious personalities. Many of those tiles were discovered in the
excavation at "Takht Soleiman", especially from the palace
of Abagh Khan (Ilkhanid period) and in Gorgan, Kashan and Khorasan
Exquisite luster mihrabs appeared in 13th AD. Workshops of such cities
as Gorgan, Soltanieh, Saveh and Kashan specialized in creation of
these pieces. Shiraz, Kerman and Meshed became important luster tile
producing centers during 17th AD. centuries. In Meshed, Mosque of Imam
Reza (1215 AD.) has fine luster decorated tiles.
Another popular technique was brick and tile decoration, a technique
which had evolved from earlier decorative combinations of tile and
brick; though, polychrome tiles were used instead of monochrome ones.
This type of decoration was used in religious and non-religious
buildings from 13th AD. onwards. Jame Mosque of Varamin (1322 AD.) ,
Soltanieh Dome (1304-1311 AD.), Jame Mosque of Ashtarjan (1315 AD.)
and Vakil Mosque (1773 AD.) contain fine examples of this type of tile
Variety of design of this technique included large inscriptions known
seen mostly in religious buildings such as Jame Mosque of Isfahan
(14th AD.) and Hakim Mosque of Isfahan (1656 AD.)
of brick work, stucco carving and tile panels from the last 14
centuries have provided much evidence of creative and imaginative
nature of Persian Artisans. They placed their art in the service of
religious architecture. This religious inspiration found its highest
expression in ornate inscriptions, which decorated so many works
during these centuries.
In 8-10th centuries AD., most of these inscriptions included sayings,
proverbs, wishes, maxims, names of religious personalities and
invocations of Allah's help, in decorative, simple or broken Kufic
script and are found on poetry, such as ceramic wares of Neishabour.
In 13-14th centuries AD., ceramic wares and tiles were decorated with
many different forms of inscriptions. The most popular were molded
decorations and inscriptions with messages of happiness, good health,
prayers, wish for victory, proverbs, simple messages of good will,
poems and the name of Allah. Workshops at Kashan, Rey and Gorgan
produced these types of ware.
Broken Taliq script became popular in 11-14th centuries AD. This
script was in luster and under-glaze decoration, contained lines from
poems and verses of such poets as Ferdowsi, Hafiz, Molana and Baba
Afzali Kashani. Furthermore, it became popular for artisans of
Kharazmshah and Ilkhanid periods to add the date of manufacture and
the name of maker. The oldest dated tile is of 1203 AD. Tile panels of
these period had mostly square, lotus, star and polygonal form and
were put together to create panels.
In Safavid era, Naskh and Thulth scripts were used. Works of famous
calligraphers, such as Alireza Abbasi, Mohammad Saleh Isfahani,
Mohammad Reza Imami and Hossein Banna have been found.
should be mentioned that the technique of tile and its secrets of
trade were safely guarded and orally handed from father to son and
master to student; thus rarely have designs, patterns and details of
technique been documented and few complete treatises exist on the art
of Iranian tile work in the past.