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Under the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1978), silverware became an essential part of furniture in wealthy homes. Highly decorated candlesticks and large vases were displayed in reception rooms to be viewed and valued by their owners and visitors, while ornate tea sets served to entertain the usually frequent guests.

The collectors

In 2015, National Museums Scotland received a generous gift of Iranian silverware from Fouad and Nadia Kronfol in Montreal. Fouad Kronfol’s parents acquired these vessels while the family lived in Tehran from about 1920 to 1947. The donors decided to share their silver collection, which had been treasured by the family for almost a century, between the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Montreal and National Museums Scotland. Thanks to this important donation, the Museum is now among a few public institutions worldwide which hold examples of this type of silverware. These vessels illustrate a vital aspect of social life in 20th century Iran.

The following slideshow gives you an overview of the items in the Kronfol collection.

  • Circular dish of silver, shallow, engraved with floral decoration and two birds, hallmarked on the reverse, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.59

    Circular dish of silver, shallow, engraved with floral decoration and two birds, hallmarked on the reverse, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.59

  • Circular dish of silver, shallow, engraved with floral decoration and two birds, one above the other, in the top centre medallion, hallmarked on the reverse, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.60

    Circular dish of silver, shallow, engraved with floral decoration and two birds, one above the other, in the top centre medallion, hallmarked on the reverse, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.60

  • Circular dish of silver, shallow, engraved with floral decoration and three birds depicted in profile in the top centre medallion, hallmarked on the reverse, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc.no V.2015.61

    Circular dish of silver, shallow, engraved with floral decoration and three birds depicted in profile in the top centre medallion, hallmarked on the reverse, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc.no V.2015.61

  • Circular tray of silver with a chased pattern of stylized floral motifs and animals, hallmarked on the front, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.62

    Circular tray of silver with a chased pattern of stylized floral motifs and animals, hallmarked on the front, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.62

  • Rectangular tray of silver with a symmetrical pattern of two star shapes surrounded by stylized floral motifs and animals, hallmarked on the front, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.63

    Rectangular tray of silver with a symmetrical pattern of two star shapes surrounded by stylized floral motifs and animals, hallmarked on the front, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.63

  • Rectangular tray of silver with an asymmetrical pattern depicting a landscape with trees and cranes overlaid with fine curved leaves and flowers, with an embossed edge, hallmarked on the reverse, Iran, Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.64

    Rectangular tray of silver with an asymmetrical pattern depicting a landscape with trees and cranes overlaid with fine curved leaves and flowers, with an embossed edge, hallmarked on the reverse, Iran, Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.64

  • Rectangular tray of silver with a chased pattern consisting of birds and stylized floral motifs, hallmarked on the reverse: Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.65

    Rectangular tray of silver with a chased pattern consisting of birds and stylized floral motifs, hallmarked on the reverse: Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.65

  • Egg cup of silver, with chased decoration of animals and floral motifs around the outside and base: Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.66

    Egg cup of silver, with chased decoration of animals and floral motifs around the outside and base: Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.66

  • Miniature ice bucket of silver, with a handle and floral decoration around the outside, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.67

    Miniature ice bucket of silver, with a handle and floral decoration around the outside, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.67

  • Miniature tea cup holder made of silver, with a handle at one side and floral decoration around the outside, part of a set with a saucer and a spoon, hallmarked on the bottom, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.68.1

    Miniature tea cup holder made of silver, with a handle at one side and floral decoration around the outside, part of a set with a saucer and a spoon, hallmarked on the bottom, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.68.1

  • Miniature saucer of silver with floral decoration around the outside rim and hallmarked in the centre, part of a set with a cup and a spoon, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.68.2

    Miniature saucer of silver with floral decoration around the outside rim and hallmarked in the centre, part of a set with a cup and a spoon, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.68.2

  • Spoon of silver with floral decoration on the handle, part of a set with a cup and a saucer, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.68.3

    Spoon of silver with floral decoration on the handle, part of a set with a cup and a saucer, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.68.3

  • Bowl of silver, with three feet and chased stylized floral decoration around the outside, used as part of a set with a spoon: Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.69.1

    Bowl of silver, with three feet and chased stylized floral decoration around the outside, used as part of a set with a spoon: Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.69.1

  • Spoon of silver with floral decoration on the handle, used as part of a set with a bowl, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.69.2

    Spoon of silver with floral decoration on the handle, used as part of a set with a bowl, Iran, probably Isfahan, 1920s-1940s, acc. no V.2015.69.2

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Decorative surfaces

A characteristic feature of 20th century Iranian silver vessels is the resourcefulness of their dense surface treatment. The usually symmetrical patterns include floral and geometric motifs, architectural buildings and animals.

Floral and geometric motifs

Above: Fine, curved stalks with large peonies and clusters of rosette flowers, and interspersed with feathered leaves, set against a plain background. Detail of the tray acc. no V.2015.64.

Above: Concentric pattern developing from three nested eight-pointed stars. Detail of the tray acc. no V.2015.63.

Animals

Above: Two cranes in a landscape with a tree. Detail of the tray acc. no. V.2015.64.

Above: Pheasants flanking a lion face. Detail of the tray acc. no. V.2015.62.

Architecture

Above: A mosque with an onion shaped dome and two minarets. Detail of the tray acc. no V.2015.64.

An unusual piece

One of the rectangular trays in this collection is a rather unusual piece. Unlike the other vessels, it shows an asymmetrical pattern. Straight lines divide the surface in sections. They are filled with a wealth of elegantly feathered leaves and curved flowers sprays with birds and architectural buildings amongst them. It is likely that this piece was made as a kind of pattern book or as a model to demonstrate the style of the workshop to customers.

Above: Each of the individual motifs demonstrates the craftsman’s accomplishment. Detail of the rectangular tray acc. no V.2015.64.

Decorative techniques

Engraving (Persian lit. qalam-zani) and embossing (Persian lit. monabbat-kari) are two of the techniques which were applied to achieve the ornamentation of these vessels. Engraving means cutting grooves into the surface by removing the silver. Unlike embossing, this technique works by sinking the material, without any loss of the precious metal.

Above: Deep grooves were cut into the silver to outline the flower motif as well as the geometric background pattern. Detail of the silver bowl acc. no V.2015.69.1.

Above: Embossing was used to achieve the sculptured border of this tray. After hammering the desired shape from the reverse, the outlines of the leafy scrolls and flower heads on the front were refined by chasing. Detail of the tray acc. no V.2015.64.

Makers’ marks

Nine vessels in the collection are hallmarked. The makers’ marks include Reza, Husain Ehtemam, Ja‘fari, Mahmud Rabi‘i and Husain Parvaresh. Some names can be associated with renowned families of silversmiths in Isfahan.   

The standard mark on all items is 84. This is a Russian mark and was used by silversmiths in Iran in the first half of the 20th century. An obsolete Russian weight measure, 84 zolotnik means a fineness of 875 parts of silver per thousand parts of the metal alloy used.

Above: Two marks from left to right: maker’s mark رضا Reza, silver standard ۸۴ 84 (acc. no V.2015.63). The three plates V.2015.59-V.2015.61 are also marked Reza.

Above: Two marks from left to right: silver standard ۸۴ 84, maker’s mark جعفری Ja‘fari (V.2015.62).

Above: Three marks from top to bottom: town mark اصفهان Isfahan, maker’s mark حسین اهتمام Husain Ehtemam, silver standard ۸۴ 84 (acc. no V.2015.64).

Above: Three marks from left to right: silver standard 84, maker’s mark محمود ربیعی Mahmud Rabi‘i, silver standard ۸۴ 84. (V.2015.65).

Above: Two marks from top to bottom: reading of maker’s mark not conclusive, silver standard ۸۴ 84 (V.2015.67).

Above: Two marks from top to bottom: maker’s mark حسین پرورش Husain Parvaresh, assay office (?) جهرمی Jahrami and silver standard ۸۴ 84 (V.2015.68.1). 

Header image: View of Pahlavi Avenue (Valiasr Av. today), Tehran, 1946-48, from the papers of Sir Clarmont P. Skrine held in the National Museums Scotland Library.  Ref: CPS 2/3/1.

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