The damascene from Toledo, the ancient tradition of culture and gold - 3.0 out of 5 based on 2 votes
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Gold from Toledo, that´s how we could know the nobel art of inlay precious metals as gold and silver in steel. Damascene is a handcraft technique originally from Damascus, Syria, though it spread through different cultures over time, so different as the Egyptian, the Greek or the Roman, as well as the Chinese and Japanese cultures. In this last country, damascene or “ataujia” was used to decorate katanas, tachis and wakizashis (different kind of swords in Medieval Japan). A true ancient tradition, there are remains of damascene pieces from over 1500 years ago indeed.

At the Iberian Peninsula there are objects made with this technique from the Pre-Roman age and there are two cities linked to this art, Eibar, centuries ago known as “Villa Armera” (in Guipuzcoa) and Toledo, the Imperial City and capital of Spain for centuries. The Arabs brought the damascene in 711 after invading the Iberian Peninsula, this know-how complemented and enriched the traditional relationship between Toledo and the steel of its forges and swords.

From that time Toledo began the biggest manufacturer of damascene in the world. The offer includes the traditional Arab modeling, the Renaissance style entered in the XVI century depicted by floral motifs, animals or landscapes and the new model called “views”.

 Video of Toledo Turismo on damascene, with an interview to our Master Damascene Artisan, Mariano San Félix

We can define damascene as the art of inlay gold sheets and threads of 22 kt. (green gold of 24 mm thickness), 24 kt (yellow gold of 4 mm of thickness) and silver (9.25 mm thickness) on a soft iron base, this material has previously been treated chemically by the craftsmen with nitric acid with the purpose to create a kind of porosity in the steel, and this is the way to make the inlay of the  gold sheet and thread. They need the chisel and the hammer to merge the sheet of the thread with the porous iron, this process makes one piece of gold and iron.

The next step, once joined iron and gold is the bluing, introducing the object in a caustic soda solution and potassium nitrate at 800 Celsius degrees of temperature so the iron becomes black and gold can shine more. At the end iron is object of a rusting.

 The next process is the decoration with the chisel, we can distinguish several styles:

Arab style is the most genuine and distinctive, the gold or silver thread is highlighted with burins. 

 

Bracelet in Arab damascene style with gold and silver inlays of 24 kt, click on the photo to see more prices and details 

 

Renaissance style with nature motifs, flowers and animals. 

Brazalete damasquinado renacentista de Espadas de Toledo, tu tienda de artesanía toledana

Bracelet in Renaissance style with gold and silver inlays of 24 and 20 kt. Click on the photo to see price and details

 

Last style called “views” in which the city of Toledo is represented, as well as other traditional scenes, some of them focused on Don Quixote, so deeply rooted in these Castilian lands.

Cuadro damasquinado con vistas de Toledo, puente de Alcántara

Damascene picture with views of Toledo, click on the photo to see price and details

The golden age of damascene took place in 16th century, this ancient art was recovered thanks to the luxury displayed by the famous armours wore by the kings of Spain Charles I and Philip II. The Royal Arms Factory in Toledo played a decisive role in promoting even more the tradition of ancient handcrafts production, deriving to the sometimes more industrial production of nowadays. Although we have to say that there are still great master craftsmen that offer their job to Toledo citizens and tourists in a field that bring together more than 100 showrooms just in Toledo.

It´s important to highlight a technique used by the great damascene masters, through the inlay of a gold plated from which the craftsman chisels the shapes with a burin, creating interesting effects with the blurring.

As an epilogue, after doing a review through the history of damascene, we would like to leave you this historic documentary film of the National Film Archive about “Toledo and its old industries”. Enjoy it, History must go on!

 

 

 

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