Metalwork ranks high in the hierarchy of the Islamic arts. Although most of what has survived is made of base alloys, it is clear that these were items of great importance in their own time. Almost no gold or silver vessels exist.
During the early Islamic period, Iran produced some of the finest metalwork the world has ever seen. Continuing a Sasanian tradition, metalworkers newly converted to Islam created vessels of great sophistication. They developed a new aesthetic while persisting with animal motifs and other relics from the pre-Islamic past.
Metalwork with inlay continued to develop during the 9th and 10th centuries and reached its summit in the centuries after that. Iran remained the leader in the field, using the figural motifs that were characteristic of the eastern end of Islam. Calligraphic inscriptions and scenes of daily life fill the surface of objects from cauldrons to inkwells, creating a tapestry of tones and colours.
In Egypt and Syria, the late 19th century was a time for Mamluk revival wares. Different types of metalwork evolved throughout the Islamic world. India produced large quantities of bidriware inlaid vessels and works in copper alloys, often with a gilded finish. In China, copper alloys were supplemented by cloisonné enamels. While Safavid Iran emphasised steel and copper, often with a tin finish, the Ottoman contribution relied heavily on large expanses of gilded copper.