In Iran lacquer works first became popular under the name of papier-mâché, and was introduced in Safavid dynasty. It flourished during Zand and Qajar dynasties. At the beginning, it was related to the craft of making “Ghalamdaan” or pen holder cases, but it was gradually incorporated in applicable objects such as doors and wooden boxes, too. Papier-mâché is a French word, with the word papier meaning paper and mâché, to crumple. One reason for lacquer work to be called papier-mâché is the usage of paper waste in making the objects. In the art encyclopedia, the word papier-mâché has been defined as the “crumbled paper” and it usually refers to paper objects that are painted or covered by lacquer on the surface.
The history of this craft, which in the past was also known as oil painting or lacquer painting, is not much known however there are some documents that prove lacquer painting was common in Safavid dynasty and flourished and became more completed along with other handicrafts, In the encyclopedia of arts, lacquer (Zirlaki) painting has been defined as “a kind of watercolor painting on objects made of paper such as pen holder cases, holy Quran covers, mirror frames, book covers, make-up cases, playing cards and a kind of tray the is polished by a special oil or lac. With little differences, this craft was also common in traditional handicrafts of other regions such as China, India and etc. In Iran, Zirlaaki painting became common, especially in painting pen holder cases. Most probably, before Islamic era lacquer was used to protect wooden products, and since many artistic wooden objects of Sassanid dynasty have been destroyed, no knowledge of usage of lacquer or decoration of these objects is available. Painters mostly applied the design of “Gol o Morgh” (flowers and birds) on the pen holder cases to meet the demands of the buyers and ornated them by floral, calligraphy and gold inlays. Ali Ashraf and Agha Ali are two of the masters of this craft.
To make a papier-mâché, paper waste, water and glue are mixed to make a paste, and then turn it into small objects like pen holder cases, book covers, mirror cases and other objects. After it is dried, it is painted and the polished by lacquer or oil (a mixture of linseed, Tetraclinis and polish oil). This leads the Zirlaaki painting to achieve an effect similar to oil painting. Isfahan is the center of making papier-mâché.