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Wood, glass, geometry – stained glass in Iran and Azerbaijan

In this article I am sharing my experience of visiting traditional stained glass workshops in Iran and Azerbaijan. I am not aware if this kind of craft is unique for the region I am writing about or it can be found in other Islamic countries. If you have more information than I do, could you possibly let me know.

Shebeke from National museum of history of Azerbaijan in Baku

Shebeke from National museum of history of Azerbaijan in Baku

Window where small pieces of glass were joined together with some kind of binder firstly was a result of technological restriction – craftsmen did not know how to make a large piece of glass. Then the idea of making a decorated window out of coloured pieces of glass painted with religious motifs and combined in way to form a picture popped up. Traditionally in stained glass windows of Catholic cathedrals in Europe strips of lead were used as binders.

The technique of stained glass production in Azerbaijan and Iran is different from European. Instead of lead, strips of wood are used. A strip of wood has channels where glass is inserted. Channels are normally used in traditional woodwork to connect up two pieces of wood together without using nails. The glass is placed inside channels and wooden strips are glued together. The width of a channel is equal to the glass thickness. In the past a 3mm-thick glass was used, but now it is mostly of 5 mm thickness. A panel of wooden stained glass is solid and durable; it can stand a stroke of a man or a strong wind. The design of wooden stained glass based on geometry of a square or a triangle is widespread. Colours are very bright greens, reds, blues and yellows. Sometimes colourless glass is used.

In Azerbaijan wooden stained glass is called ‘shebeke’. Basically, ‘shebeke’ is a stone grill, but this term is also used for the wooden grill. In Azerbaijan ancient town of Sheki is a centre for shebeke production and restoration. Sheki Khan Palace built in 18th century is lavishly decorated with shebeke. Along with geometric shapes there are biomorphic rhomb-shaped motifs. The work is really intricate – some of the constructions are smaller than a female’s hand.

In Iran wooden lattice windows was used as an architectural feature in all kinds of buildings. Magnificent Nasir al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz built in the 19th century is famous all over the world for its stained glass decoration. Ali-Qapu palace and coffee house in Shesh Behesht garden, Madar-e-Shah medresse, old mosques in Isfahan – all of them have wooden grills on their windows. In Iran I noticed that the glass is placed behind the lattice. I guess that it is a result of lattice restoration and historically glass was placed inside wooden cells.

The spiritual meaning of a stained glass lattice window most likely comes from a contrast between light and the absence of light. Light reveals shape and colour; light makes things possible and represent Divine enlightenment. Practically the widespread use of wooden grills (as all other kinds of grills) in Islamic countries can be explained by the need for protection from a daytime heat. It is one of the features that traditional Islamic architecture has in order to help people to feel comfortable inside the building despite on the temperature outside.

The skill of wood windows production and restoration is transferred from father to son. When I was searching for information about shebeke in Azerbaijan I came across an article written in 1977. It was about Sheki master craftsmen whose name was Ashraf Rasulov and his teenager son Tofik. In this article Ashraf says that there are 16 different types of shebeke patterns in Sheki Khan Palace. Among other shebeke constructions from Sheki Khan Palace that Ashraf restored was a little door. The quantity of wooden pieces he needed to carve out for this door was about 14000! He tried different kinds of wood and found out that beeсh wood and sycamore tree are the best for refine carving.

Ashraf’s son Tofik Rasulov, who is about 50 now, is the only master in Azerbaijan who knows the secret of shebeke craft. He kindly showed us around his workshop nearby Sheki Khan Palace and the technique of shebeke production. Another wood workshop that we visited – Ghaznavi – is in Isfahan. It is run by a master craftsman and his son. Both master craftsmen have at least one student to teach and it gives hope that the craft will stay alive.

 

I want to thank Farkhondeh Ahmadzadeh for the trip to Iran, Asmer Abdullayeva for the trip to Sheki and Roya Mai Souag for her photos.

Stained glass in Dolat Abad garden wind tower building in Yazd, Iran

Stained glass in Dolat Abad garden wind tower building in Yazd, Iran

Nasir Al-Mulk mosque in Shiraz, Iran, 19th century, photo by raweesh

Nasir Al-Mulk mosque in Shiraz, Iran, 19th century. Photo source – raweesh.livejournal.com

Sheki Khan palace interior, 18th century

Sheki Khan palace interior, 18th century

Shebeke and wood workshop in Sheki

Shebeke and wood workshop in Sheki

Wood workshop Ghazavi in Isfahan, photo by Roya Mai Souag

Wood workshop Ghazavi in Isfahan, photo by Roya Mai Souag

Shebeke and wood workshop in Sheki

Shebeke and wood workshop in Sheki

Wood workshop Ghazavi in Isfahan

Wood workshop Ghazavi in Isfahan

Wood workshop Ghazavi in Isfahan

Wood workshop Ghazavi in Isfahan

Wood workshop Ghazavi in Isfahan

Wood workshop Ghazavi in Isfahan

Wood workshop Ghazavi in Isfahan, photo by Roya Mai Souag

Wood workshop Ghazavi in Isfahan, photo by Roya Mai Souag

Shebeke door decoration in Baku, Azerbaijan

Shebeke door decoration in Baku, Azerbaijan

Shebeke in Sheki Khan palace, 18th century

Shebeke in Sheki Khan palace, 18th century

Sheki Khan palace interior, 18th century, photo by gdruslan

Sheki Khan palace interior, 18th century, photo by gdruslan

Shebeke in Sheki Khan Palace, 18th century

Shebeke in Sheki Khan Palace, 18th century

Sheki Khan palace interior, 18th century, photo by Peretz Partensky – Creative Commons license

Sheki Khan palace interior, 18th century, photo by Peretz Partensky – Creative Commons license

Sheki Khan palace interior, 18th century

Sheki Khan palace interior, 18th century

Shebeke from National museum of history of Azerbaijan in Baku

Shebeke from National museum of history of Azerbaijan in Baku

Sheki Khan palace interior, 18th century

Sheki Khan palace interior, 18th century

Window in Medresse Madar-e-Shah, Isfahan. Photo by Roya Mai Souag

Window in Medresse Madar-e-Shah, Isfahan. Photo by Roya Mai Souag

Window in Zayed mosque in Isfahan

Window in Zayed mosque in Isfahan

Window in Zayed mosque in Isfahan

Window in Zayed mosque in Isfahan

Window in Shesh behesht garden coffee house, Isfahan

Window in Shesh behesht garden coffee house, Isfahan

Window in Shesh behesht garden coffee house, Isfahan. This photo shows that the glass is behind the wooden lattice

Window in Shesh behesht garden coffee house, Isfahan. This photo shows that the glass is behind the wooden lattice

Window in Ali-Qapu palace, Isfahan

Window in Ali-Qapu palace, Isfahan

Window in Ali-Qapu palace, Isfahan

Window in Ali-Qapu palace, Isfahan

Shebeke master Tofik Rasulov at the entrance of Sheki Khan palace

Shebeke master Tofik Rasulov at the entrance of Sheki Khan palace

 

Shebeke master Ashraf Rasulov, the father of Tofik Rasulov, in 1977

Shebeke master Ashraf Rasulov, the father of Tofik Rasulov, in 1977. Photo source – www.vokrugsveta.ru

 

  • colured glases lahore
  • iran glass work
  • islamic art desings with coloured glass
  • islamic wooden stained glass

About the Author
Marina holds a Master of Art degree in Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts from The Prince's School of Traditional Arts (PSTA) in London. She does surface pattern design, ceramics. She teaches Islamic geometry and keeps exploring Islamic arts doing her own research. She is also involved in an outreach programme of PSTA.
5 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I have got a message from Alan Adams with some useful information about the topic of this article. I have got his permission to publish this message:
    “There is an excellent publication by the Italian Institute for the Middle and Far East (IsMEO). The auther is Roberto Orazi, “Wooden Gratings in Safavid Architecture : Grate Lignee Nell’architettura Safavide”, Rome 1976. It is not common. A good academic library will have a copy.
    The Ali Qapu examples you show are recent, from the 70’s. I suspect that most of the examples in Isfahan are recent based on Safavid designs. When the Ali Qapu was restored in the early 70s there were very few surviving examples to follow. There may be some survivors in Transoxonia, but I suspect that almost all of those are new as well.”
    Many thanks to Alan for the information!

  2. here is a link to some works of Abouei one of masters of this art in Yazd, Iran
    http://gerehchiniabouei.blogfa.com/

    • Thank you for the link!

      • “Gereh Chini” is one of the designs used in shebeke.
        Other designs as Eslimi as well as human and animal designs which are very rare. There are some books in farsi printed in Iran as well as some thesis.
        I appreciate you attention in this topic and would like to invite you to “Protected Monuments of Iran”, a center for the lovers of persian architecture.

        Regards

  3. hi
    i am an iranian
    my father’s job is repairing and making this kind of art,iranian islamic arts,specialy artistic doors and windows
    http://www.facebook.com/pardis.exhibition
    you can visit our facebook page which i mentioned,,hope that you like our work
    contact with us if you want more informations
    and thank you for following and supporting our arts

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