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Iranian Inlaid Work



Inlaid Work (Khatam)



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Inlaid work (or Khatam as it is called in Persia) means wood decorating with multiple regular sides. Khatam is a Persian version of marquetry, art forms made by decorating the surface of wooden articles with small mosaic pieces of wood, bone and metal precisely-cut geometrical shapes. Khatam-Kari is the art of crafting a Khatam. Common materials used in the construction of inlaid articles are gold, silver, brass, aluminum and twisted wire. Artworks with smaller inlaid pieces are generally more highly valued.


Khatam is made in different sides; five, six, eight and ten sides. At present, the six sided Khatam is the most prevalent whose materials are cut and wrapped or pasted in equilateral triangle from with string or glue. Designing of inlaid articles is a highly elaborate process. In each cubic centimeter of inlaid work, up to approximately 250 pieces of metal, bone, ivory and wood are laid side by side.


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There is no evidence to determine the exact date of Khatam-Kari. The oldest available samples of Khatam-Kari art belong to Safavid Period. Inlaid articles in the Safavid era took on a special significance, as artists used this art on doors, windows, mirror frames, Qur’an boxes, pen and penholders, lanterns and tombs. In some royal buildings, doors and various items have been inlaid. The inlaid-ornamented rooms in Sa’dabad and Marble Palaces in Tehran are among masterpieces of this art.


The ornamentation of the doors of holy places predominantly consists of inlaid motifs. These specimens can be observed in the cities of Mashhad, Qom, Shiraz and Rey. The famous case placed in Imam Ali’s Shrine is one of the masterpieces of Khatam art done by Shiraz masters and has been left from Safavid age. Another example of Khatam is some parts of the Monabat Case of Sheikh Safi al-Din’s Shrine in Ardebil. In the Safavid era, the art of marquetry flourished in the southern cities of Iran, especially in Isfahan, Shiraz and Kerman.


In the 18th and 19th centuries, Khatam-Kari 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.

Inlaid work (or Khatam) is formed with a few materials as:

  1. Woods from various trees as: sour orange, ebony, prick, walnut, jujube wood and etc.
  2. Bones from various animals as: camel, caw elephant ivory and oyster shell.
  3. Metal rods from brass and gold
  4. Glue
  5. string


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