The Abgineh Museum
The Abgineh Museum, located in the heart of Tehran, is devoted to ceramic and glass objects. The museum's collections transport us to distant times and help us imagine the daily lives of people who lived in Iran in the past, since the fifth millennium BC.
The word abgineh means "glass" in Persian. The Abgineh Museum, located in the heart of Tehran, is devoted to ceramic and glass objects. The museum's collections transport us to distant times and help us imagine the daily lives of people who lived in Iran in the past, since the fifth millennium BC. until the beginning of the 20th century. An attentive visit of the museum makes it possible to follow the evolution of the techniques of the manufacture and the decoration of the objects in glass and ceramic.
The museum building plunges us into Tehran's early 20th century atmosphere. Built about ninety years ago for Ghavam-ol-Saltaneh, it was the residence and the office of this influential politician, five times prime minister from 1921 to 1952. This place (the building and the garden of seven thousand square meters around it) was used by Ghavam-ol-Saltaneh until 1953. It was then sold to the Egyptian Embassy and remained in its possession for seven years. Relations between Iran and Egypt deteriorated at the time when Jamal Abd al-Nasser was the President of the Republic of Egypt, which resulted in the closure of the Iranian embassy in Egypt; the residence of Ghavam ol-Saltaneh was then recovered by the Iranian State and became the headquarters of the Commercial Bank (Bank-e Bazargani). In 1976 Empress Farah Pahlavi's office purchased this place for use as a museum. The restoration work carried out over two years was carried out by a group of Iranian, French and Austrian architects. The socio-political events of the 1979 Revolution delayed the opening of the museum, which was inaugurated in February 1980. The Abgineh Museum is administered by the Organization of the Cultural Heritage of Iran and has been part of the national heritage since 1998.
The architecture of the building is a mix of Iranian and European styles. The external facade decorated with yellow bricks is inspired by the Iranian buildings of the Seljuk period. The architecture of the building's interior is European-inspired, with two horseshoe-shaped stair railings that meet in the middle of the lobby inspired by Russian staircases, and Venetian-style windows. The ceiling of the rooms on the ground floor and the first floor have plaster decorations. The lobby walls are adorned with mirror pieces. There are several chimneys in each room.
The collections of the Abgineh Museum are among the rarest and most valuable museums in Iran. The Abgineh Museum comprises six halls and two halls. The visit generally respects a chronological order, from the oldest objects to the most recent ones. Most ancient artifacts were discovered during archaeological excavations in Iran. The oldest objects are displayed in the entrance hall on the ground floor; these are crystal objects made in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and some glass objects made in Teheran and Shiraz in the early 20th century.
The exhibits on the ground floor
A comparative picture of the different civilizations of the world, in the first room, shows that Iran and Western Asia are the cradles of the world's oldest civilizations. Indeed, the archaeological studies carried out on the Sialk I and Sialk II archaeological sites (located near the city of Kashan in Iran) as well as two sites located in Western Asia have shown that the objects created by the ancient inhabitants of these places date back to 5th millennium BC According to this comparative table, the civilizations of China and Egypt began much later, around 2500 BC. However, recent archaeological excavations at Ganj-i Dareh in the Kermansha plain in Iran have concluded that the civilization of Iran is still older than previously thought. since pottery dating from the 8th millennium BC J.-C. were discovered there. The manufacture of glass objects is old too; it began around the 3rd millennium BC., in Egypt or in Western Asia. The manufacture of glassware began around the middle of the second millennium BC. Archaeological excavations in southwestern Iran showed that the glassmaking industry flourished in the Elam Empire during the 13th century BC.
Objects in opaque glass, especially ornaments such as necklaces and perfume bottles dating from the 2nd and 1st millennium BC. BC are exhibited in the first room of the ground floor. The ceramic objects are simple pottery from the prehistoric era, and objects decorated with geometric designs or drawings of plants or animals manufactured from the 4th to the 1st millennium BC. One of the most famous objects is a bull-shaped rhyton characteristic of the Marlik civilization (an archaeological site in Guilan province, Iran). Glass pipes dating from the 2nd millennium BC AD discovered during excavations in Tchogha-Zanbil (temple dating back to the Elamite era in south-west Iran) as well as objects used in rituals in this temple are also exhibited in this room.
A collection of small glass objects such as seals and perfume bottles, as well as containers such as carafes and glasses, are on display in the second room on the ground floor. The objects date from the Achaemenid era until the first centuries of the Islamic period. A new technique of making glass objects was used in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. At about the same time, glassmakers learned to make colorless glasses. Greek historians have mentioned in their writings that in the courtyard of the Achaemenid kings, wine was drunk in almost colorless and transparent glass sections. Some glass objects dating from the Achaemenid period are displayed in this room and confirm these writings. In Sassanid times, the technique of size (used to decorate glass objects) reached its peak in Iran; objects manufactured at that time in Iran were exported all over the world. The visit of this room allows to follow the evolution of the technique of the manufacture and the decoration of the objects in glass, and to admire the dexterity of the craftsmen who manufactured them. Some 12th and 13th century ceramics made in Neyshabour and Gorgan (cities in northeastern Iran) are also on display here.
The objects on the first floor
The first room on the first floor is devoted to ceramic and glass objects from the first centuries of the Islamic period discovered during archaeological excavations in Iran. Among these objects, three clay bowls with inscriptions in Aramaic attract attention. These are objects found in Shoushtar, in southwestern Iran, where Sabeans lived. The other ceramic objects are mostly dishes with decorations in the form of calligraphic inscriptions in kufic style, or drawings of plants, animals or humans. Among the glass objects, two pipettes, a small mortar and an inkwell dating from the very beginning of the Islamic period are traces of the scientific activities of the Iranians at that time. The objects dating from the 12th-13th centuries come mainly from Neyshabour and Gorgan, which shows that these two cities were important centers of manufacture of glass and ceramic objects at that time which corresponds to the golden age of the manufacture of glass objects in Iran. Size and painting were practiced in Iran to decorate glass objects from the tenth century. Innovations in the technique of decorating glass objects led to the creation of true works of art exported to Europe in the 11th-13th centuries.
The second room on the first floor is devoted to gilded ceramics, famous and much studied by art historians. It is in Iran, most likely in the city of Rey, in the IX-X centuries, that artisans began to use gold to color what they drew on ceramic objects. Other colors (azure, turquoise, green, brown) were also used. The ceramics were decorated with multicolored designs at the beginning, and a few centuries later, the drawings became unicoloured (only gilded). These objects, which were used by rich families in their daily lives, are true works of art. The golden ceramics of the Abgineh museum date from the 10th to the 13th centuries. They were made in the workshops of the cities of Rey, Kashan, Saveh and the ancient city of Jorjan, all located in Iran. The decorations are calligraphic inscriptions, or drawings evoking scenes inspired by classical Persian poems, or scenes from the court life of kings of the Sassanid dynasty. Art historians consider that gilded ceramics were at the origin of the idea of decorating the pages of books with illuminations and miniature drawings.
The third room on the first floor is a collection of glass objects made in the workshops of Shiraz and Isfahan in the 17th and 18th centuries. This period corresponds to the revival of the art of making glass objects in Iran, fallen into oblivion after the invasion of the Mongols. According to Chardin, the Safavid king Shah Abbas I brought glass masters from Venice for this purpose. Remember that the craftsmen of Venice have themselves learned the secret of blowing the glass of the inhabitants of Syria, following the Crusades in the Middle Ages.
Other activities of the museum
New buildings have been built in the museum's garden in recent years to promote the creation of ceramic and glass objects. These new buildings consist of a library specialized in archeology and art, available for students, and workshops where children are taught how to make glass and ceramics. One of the new buildings is dedicated to temporary exhibitions of art objects (glass and ceramics) created by contemporary artists.