Azerbaijan Folk Art


Azerbaidzhan lies to the southeast of the Great Caucasus Ridge. This ancient land has undergone many changes and upheavals, particularly during its early history. Its artistic formation proceeded under the influence of widely different cultures. When the country was part of the Achaemenid Empire, the Azerbaidzhanians absorbed the best of ancient Persian culture; conquered by Alexander the Great, they came into contact with Classical traditions; and under the Arab Caliphate they drew from the refined culture of Islam. Assimilated in local traditions, all this gave rise to a rich and original culture and folk art.

The making of bronze vessels is one of Azerbaidzhan's most ancient crafts, which was already thriving in the twelfth-fourteenth centuries. The zoomorphic shapes of some vessels show a curious synthesis of ancient symbolism and motifs taken from nature.

Despite Islamic restrictions on the portrayal of living creatures, Azerbaidzhani folk art always maintained contact with life. The walls of metal vessels were often engraved with exquisitely ligatured inscriptions in Persian and Arabic. These were didactic quotations from the Koran, maxims and aphorisms, or the artisan's good wishes to the future owner. Sometimes the artisan's name was skillfully included in the design, appearing within one of the ornamental elements. Bronze-casting in Azerbaidzhan dates from the early Middle Ages, which is corroborated by the fact that in composition and subject motifs its ornamentation is close to the decorative elements of miniature paintings from that time. The making of chased copperware achieved importance in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially in Shemakha, Giandzha, and Lagich. Various jugs,' pails, bowls, candlesticks, and braziers were chased with sumptuous plant designs ingeniously combined with engraved epigraphs so characteristic of Oriental art. The masterly chased and engraved designs seem to flow with ease and smoothness over the vessel's walls, forming a composition of extraordinary harmony and perfect balance. Occasionally these intricately contrived compositions include medallions with hunting and battle scenes or presenting love motifs from Oriental poetry. Today, the leading center for copperware production is the village of Lagich in northern Azerbaidzhan.

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