Inlay, also known as Khatam or Khatam Art, is one of the precious arts in the Orient and is considered as a laborious detailed craft whose producing and making requires a lot of accuracy and patience. Since the raw materials of inlays are mainly wood and glue and these materials are affected with passage of the time, there is not enough information available in this regard, but some inlayers believe that this art or craft has been miracle of Prophet Abraham.
his art, which has not so far undergone considerable changes and the old and contemporary works do not differ much, refers to decorating the surface of objects with a pattern of regular polygons with different number of sides in a mosaic style, using delicate triangles made of wood, bone and metal; and, the more delicate and fine these pieces are, the more desirable the result will be. In an inlay pattern, making the smallest geometrical pieces requires at least three triangles and making the largest geometrical pieces may require up to four hundred triangles.
This delicate art is consisted of two levels: making inlay patterns and inlaying or setting these patterns on a surface which is consisted of other steps such as making triangles out of wood, bone or metal, wrapping and pasting these precisely-cut shapes with adhesive or glues on a thin sheet of wood, infrastructure design, design for gluing the inlay layers on the underlying layer, oiling, burnishing, and polishing the inlaid articles.
In expensive inlays, the metal pieces used are golden or silver, and ivory is used instead of bone. Inlays, in terms of floral patterns and margins, are of a great variety, some of which known for the highest quality are called “Parreh-Varu Inlays” and “Wired Inlays”. Recently, written inlays are made in which inlay pieces form a pattern including words such as holy names of God. Moreover, some of the contemporary artists and craftsmen have recently come to make new crafts called “Khatam-Mo’arraq” which are mix of inlay or Khatam art and a delicate woodworking craft named Mo’arraq (colorful wooden mosaic design or patterns made with wooden delicately cut pieces which are from different trees and so of different color).
The most important centers of inlay craft or Khatam art in Iran are Isfahan, Shiraz, and Tehran; however, most of the inlayers in Tehran are originally from the cities of Isfahan or Shiraz.
As the most prominent inlay works of these craftsmen, we can refer to an inlaid room with sides of seven meters as well as all the items in a room of Marble Palace in Tehran, and Khatam hall of the National Consultative Assembly in Tehran. Moreover, there are other works and examples of this art remained from the past and include: the entrance door of the Chaharbagh School located in the Art Market of Isfahan, door of bedchamber of the Jame Mosque of Isfahan, Khatam door of the Imamzadeh ShahReza (located in ShahReza city of Isfahan) dating back to the reign of the Safavid Shah Tahmaseb, wooden pulpit in Lonban mosque of Isfahan, inlaid pulpit in Shiraz Atiq Mosque, ceiling of the main porch of the Atiq Mosque of Shiraz which dates back to the eighth century AH (fourteenth century AD) and the tomb of Sheikh Safi al-Din Shrine in Ardabil which has been worked on by craftsmen from Isfahan.
Overall, inlay or Khatam art in Iran dates back to Seljuk period and is originated in the city of Isfahan, but the peak of its evolution and development has taken place in the Safavid period. In the second Pahlavi era, implementation of floral patterns or shapes of birds and animals, instead of regular geometric shapes, in inlays by prominent craftsmen, as a really tough work, led to a new development in this delicate art and consequently very exquisite and precious works.
In the contemporary era, the country of Iran, especially its artistic city of Shiraz, is considered as the most important center of inlay art in the world, and though this art is seen in the other countries as well, their inlay art is not of the same antiquity and elegance as it has in Iran, and generally it can be considered particularly Iranian.