A silver song of metal
By Rustam Mirseav


        Embossing is a noble craft. To compare an embosser with an ordinary tinsmith is the same as to compare the cabinet-maker with the carpenter. To produce a jug – oftoba the embosser should master the art of founding, blacksmithing, chasing, engraving, carving and tinning. In addition to household applicability, the embossed copper and brass ware was always appreciated in Uzbekistan, first of all, for its artistic features. It decorated the shelves of open fitted cupboards and indicated prosperity and affluence of the owner.



The art of metal working is one of the most ancient crafts and only yields the superiority to ceramics. Not many ancient samples of this craft have reached our time. Archeologists refer the oldest of them to the 4th millennium B.C. This historical period is known under the name of Bronze Age. The art of metal working attained perfection in the Middle Ages, particularly in the Temurid epoch. For example, in the 1970-s a medieval embosser’s workshop was found during the archeological works in the Registan square in the center of Samarkand. Among the finds there were vessels of golden bronze, ornamented with embossed patterns of foliage and geometrical design. Some of them were inlaid with inscriptions made in gold.

        The fate was rather merciless to a lot of bronze articles. In the old days bronze was appreciated not only for its artistic values, but as an original capital investment. It was a valuable metal which, in case of need, could be easily melted into coins. And this is exactly what happened to many bronze articles as centuries went by, especially in the 16th – 17th centuries, when copper in many respects replaced bronze.

        In the middle of the 19th century the manufacturing of embossed copper articles in the country reached the highest level. Only in Bukhara alone craftsmen – misgars numbered four hundred, whereas in Khiva there were 200 copper workers. The centers of copper working were also Tashkent, Samarkand, Kokand, Margilan, Karshi and Shakhrisabs. Masters made different kinds of embossed articles – from household stuff to vessels for execution of cult ceremonies. Among them were ablution jugs oftoba, tea pots choydish, various bowls miskosa, trays mislagan, caskets kuticha, smoking devices chilim, inkwells syokhdon, pen cases kalamdon and censers for incense isirikdon, all decorated with embossed ornaments. Today these traditional forms are also included into the range of goods produced by embossers. The researchers note, that varied embossed copper ware of Uzbekistan has analogues among the similar stuff created by craftsmen in East Turkestan, India, Iran, Turkey and the Caucasus. This fact evidences the century-old trade and cultural contacts of Central Asia with the countries on the Great Silk Road.
 

        The Uzbek embossing, actually, constitutes various techniques of engraving. The deep engraving kandakory has a more recessed relief; etching chizma resembles hatching with a chisel. Moreover, to make details of lids, lugs and saucers for vessels the Uzbek masters apply a cut-through engraving shabaka. Following the ancient techniques, a kandakor (embosser) uses a copper or brass sheet to manufacture embossed articles. Brass constitutes an alloy of copper and zinc with addition of some other metals.

        The tools and equipment in the embosser’s workshop hardly differ from what handicraftsmen in the Middle Ages used. By means of simple, plain tools the copper-smith creates works of art shaping the articles into any possible freakish forms and decorating them with fine figures.

        The embosser’s workshop is equipped with a furnace, small and big anvils. Hammers, tongs, files, scissors and tinning devices are also necessary for the master’s work. Embossing is executed with various cutters and chisels naksh kalam made of hard steel. The tool kit includes a hone to sharpen the tools. To contour the figure on the surface of the article masters use a pair of compasses pargor. Proficient masters, who are skilful at composing ornaments, cut them out right on the billet. The embosser sits in front of a little low wooden table and processes a billet lying on a special pillow. That is all, actually. The embosser beats out a heated metal sheet into the required shape of the article. While decorating high hollow vessels the embosser fills them with sand. Having finished the work, the master cleans the contours of a pattern, trims and evens the brims, finishes the background and smoothes the product surface. After that the inside of vessels and bowls is tinned.

        To a great extent the fate of the product depends on the master. He should manage the material perfectly, be capable of forming different kinds of vessels and decorating them with dainty patterned embossing and engraving. Moreover, the embosser must be skilful at composing intricate ornaments. He should be able to cast a little dome-shaped lid kubba, a tip for a jug beak, a figured ear handle for oftoba or choydysh and a joint aspak connecting a lid with a jug spout. And in fact, in the old days bronze casting – rikhtagary was an independent branch of metal working. In large quantities there were cast fine articles such as rings, openwork door plates, tongs to snuff candles, belt buckles, harness trappings, stirrups, buttons, bells and jingles for camels that were used by traveling caravans on the Great Silk Road.
 

        To cast a bronze ear handle or a dome-shaped lid the master mixes one part of copper and two parts of tin and fuses them in a fire-clay crucible. The molten metal is placed in bronze moulds consisting of two halves. These moulds are filled with a mixture of sand and glue. In this mixture the handicraftsman stamps the casting form kolip, which is carved out of wood or plaster.

        For decoration of embossed ware the masters mainly apply foliage and geometrical patterns, and less often traditional motives of stylized faunal images. These elements are named as they are: «chashmi bulbul» – an eye of a nightingale, «kuchkorok» – a ram's horn, «kapalak» – a butterfly, «ilon izi» – a trace of a snake. The most widespread technique of decoration of vessels and trays is the ornamental style islimi with continuous procumbent shoots of fancifully twining stalks, flowers and leaves.

        The geometrical pattern is mainly used in contours of big ornaments. Most of them are based on ancient architectural images such as «gisht» – bricks, «mekhro» – a niche, «zanzhir» – a chain. A fine zigzag hatch and compositions of horizontal and vertical stripes are widely applicable in decoration of a background. Since the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th centuries the embossed ware has acquired background brightly painted with enamel paints and inlays of semiprecious stones or transparent glass on a color backing, which add colorfulness and expressiveness to the articles.

        Experts distinguish the regional schools of the Uzbek metal embossing by deepness of engraved relief, dominance of this or that characteristic ornament, techniques of background decoration and, certainly, the form of the article. The Khiva copper-smiths – misgars produce vessels for water with flattened and sometimes ribbed sides. The relief of embossment is much deeper, than the one met in other parts of Uzbekistan, the background is sometimes tinted with black varnish. In addition to the foliage ornament islimi in the form of acyclic shoots covered with flower heads, the Khiva metal articles are decorated with characteristic patterns in the form of lockets against the background of odd-shaped net, which gives the things a particular brilliance.

        A variety of forms and decor distinguishes the articles from Karshi and Shakhrisabs. The Karshi oftoba with a ball-like body, a high thin neck and an ear-handle looks rather extraordinary. The masters have developed an original design of a washing-bowl lid in the form of a cotton boll with its petals opening when you carry the jug. In decoration of the embossed ware the Shakhrisabs masters use laid-on plates and stamped parts, lockets with inlays of turquoise and color glass. They also apply color tinting of the background.
 

        At all times the products of Bukhara embossers enjoyed wide popularity. They made ablution jugs and vessels for water and tea choy-yiddis. Bukhara embossed articles are distinguished by deep relief and background decorated with strokes. Besides a foliage ornament, the articles by Bukhara masters are often decorated with calligraphical inscriptions. In Bukhara today there work the well-known hereditary embossers such as Said Fayozov, Makhmud Gulyamov, Sadyk Musinov. Articles made by these craftsmen can be met in museums of many countries. And the main points of interest at the local art salons are copper trays laaly made by the hands of Bukhara masters. These trays are richly decorated with patterns, sometimes with the images of well-known architectural monuments of Bukhara.

        The Samarkand embossment has preserved the art traditions of previous centuries. A rather original form of Samarkand choy-yiddish can be seldom met among the articles made in the other regions of Uzbekistan. The handles of vessels are often made openwork with fine lacy patterns, and in the foliage ornament there are used ancient motives of a four-petal flower.

        One of the most ancient centers of decorative metal working is located in Fergana valley. The Margilan masters make vessels for water and tea using the favourite motive of the almond-shaped pattern «kalampir». It is notable that the traditional copper lamps and candlesticks are produced only in Fergana. Among the jugs made in Kokand there occur high slim vessels oftoba urdak in a fanciful form of a duck. The Kokand embossed foliage ornament is not deep, but clear and rich in fine details which create fantastical patterns. The articles are decorated with punches, strokes, different kinds of gauzes and figured hollows, and are inlaid with turquoise, garnet and corals. As early as the end of the 19th century the Kokand masters were the first in Uzbekistan to emboss architectural motives on trays, in particular the palace of Khudoyarkhan, and fantastic animals.

        It is necessary to note, that traditional Tashkent metal embossment is similar to the Kokand one in forms and decoration, but the foliage motives are enlarged and geometrical patterns resemble ornaments of woodcarving, particularly in the style pargory. Some elements of the Tashkent embossment patterns can be rarely met in other regions. Among them are «yelligich» – a fan, «zuluk» – a leech, «belanchak» – a cradle, «doyra» – a tambourine. These stylistic features are most evident in the works of master Fazilzhon Abidov.

        The dynasty of Tashkent embossers, the Madaliyevs, have won recognition far outside Uzbekistan. The head of the family and the keeper of century-old traditions, the hereditary master – miscandakor usto Maksud Madaliyev first won popularity in his homeland Margilan, but later he moved to Tashkent where he has lived and worked for more than fifteen years. He skillfully manages the material, forms various vessels and, moreover, he is an outstanding ornamentalist. The unique beverage sets created by Madaliyev have a polished and sparkling golden surface which is accurately embossed with graceful patterns and is inlaid with silver and semiprecious stones. These products are kept in museums of Uzbekistan, Russia, France and Italy and adorn expositions of prestigious exhibitions. The forms of kumgans, oftoba and choydiches with a ball-like body and flattened faceted and ribbed sides never repeat, nor do the patterns created by the original imagination of Madaliyev. Five brothers of usto Maksud followed in his footsteps. His spouse Zuhra-opa has also become proficient in the art of metal embossing and engraving. The successors to this three hundred-year-old dynasty of miscandakors are their sons. As with many other craftsmen of Uzbekistan, the Madaliyevs are members of the Uzbek Union of handicraftsmen «Khunarmand» and they cooperate with Association of craftsmen «Usto».
 

        The art of knives making ranks high in Uzbekistan. Manufacture of knives is a real art and requires a very high proficiency. Before it is a finished product, the billet has to undergo about fifty processing stages. The ornament covered not only the haft and the blade of a decorative knife but also the sheath which was decorated with metal overlays. The forms of knives forged by the masters are diverse: with narrow or wide, straight or curved blades. The hafts are one-piece or composite, inlaid or painted. Chust and Shakhrikhan settlements in Fergana valley have been the most popular centres of knife manufacturing from time immemorial. According to historical chronicles, in the Middle Ages “the iron weapon from Fergana was in general use from Khorasan to Bagdad”. Nowadays more than fifteen kinds of knives are produced here. The knife – pichok designed by one of the Chust masters is a real work of art. It is remarkable for symmetry and proportionality of its forms and thoroughness of decoration. Its sharp blade of elegant shape, which is set in the haft carefully carved from wood, bone or horn, can serve its owner for years and years. As a rule, the knife is sheathed in a leather case decorated with metal overlays, embroidery, application and even painting. Such knives are called «guldor pichok», which means elegant.

        The hereditary masters – pichokchy from Shakhrikhan Rakhmatkhoja Alikhojayev and Ibrohimjon Aliev make brass or copper cases for knives, which they richly ornament with embossing and engraving and inlay with semi-precious stones or color glass. The hafts and sheathes of particularly valuable and unique specimens are decorated with silver patterns «kumush syrpasta» and «chillikha».

        The Khiva traditional knives are notable for abundance of engraved ornamental decor, which covers not only the haft, but also the blade itself from the grip up to the sharp point. The knife-case is also decorated with a smooth network of continuous pattern. The thoroughness of execution of embossed ornaments is comparable with the Khorezm jewelers’ art, whereas graceful figures of the ornaments resemble the Khiva fretwork.

        The traditions of the ancient craft are revived and maintained by modern national masters, who contribute to the development of the Uzbek ornamental art. Just as many centuries ago, copper jingles under the embosser’s chisel and metal clinks under the smith’s hammering.