Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Craft of Takfeet: Inlaying Art with Precious Metals

Wed 08 Feb 2023 | 05:53 PM
Dina Zine El Abidine

The ancient Egyptians discovered the magical beauty of precious metals and their symbolic meanings at least from the Middle Kingdom at the time of the 12th Dynasty.

The production of Egyptian metal sculpture was characterized by placing wires of gold, silver, and electrum directly into the surface of the metal to inlaid specific parts. 

Even the idea behind that was to create a richly polychrome effect, however, the most comprehensive understanding is to highlight decorative elements created on the surface of the metal that may have been inscriptions or details of the costume.

Recent studies have indicated that inlaying with precious metals was probably presented from the Near East to Egypt, where in Mesopotamia, ancient inlaid metal-work appeared at the royal tombs of Ur which dated from 2500 BC, and Egyptian craftsmen may even have applied it in their local workshops later.

However, the inlaid Egyptian metal works are a remarkable testament to what ancient Egyptian craftsmen fulfilled, the earliest example of this inlaid work made in Ancient Egypt is “Hmty km the ancient Egyptian crocodile god Sobek inlaid with electrum wires came from El Fayum which can be dated back to the Middle Kingdom at the time of the 12th Dynasty.

The inlaid metalwork manufacture during the Third Intermediate Period is considered the peak of its flourishing which appeared in the richly inlaid bronze artefacts, it seems to have played a dominant role in the Greek and Roman periods as well.

The statue of Karomama, Louvre Museum, Department of Egyptian Antiquities

The statue of Karomama is a remarkable testament to what Egyptian craftsmen achieved. Here the Divine Adoratress and God’s Wife of Amun, is depicted in a walking pose, with her extended hands shaking sistra ( now missing).

It might have been imagined that this surface was originally painted to contrast with the rich floral decoration worked out over its surface in inlays of different metals gold, electrum, and silver.

Ancient Egypt was a significant cultural center of inlaid metalwork and it was probably one of the sources of inspiration for the Far East, for instance, India, China, and its Japanese counterpart, regards to the trading roads that were a conduit for the transmission of knowledge, arts, experiences, and ideas, such as the Greek and Roman connection with Asia throughout the Silk Road.

However, this is not the only instance as the archaeological evidence showed the occurrence of Roman trade with India.

So after the fall of the Roman Empire and the disappearance of the technique of metal inlay in the West, it has been become flourished and survived in Asia and this was probably a result of increased contact with Graeco and Romano-Egyptian traders from the sea coast to the Far East, also through transfer valuable goods over long distances, trade, exchange, gift-giving, and the payment of tribute.

Some publications mentioned that the inlaid works which are known as Keft work now in India were derived and introduced from the Coptic word ΚϵϥƬ, Qift (Arabic: قفط) was a starting point of the Indian trade route from the Nile.

However, India in the last years was an illustrious center for inlaid metalwork, particularly Kashmir which presented and popularized the technique of inlaid work to the Islamic world.

Of particular interest for this technique, is that the inlaid metalwork industry has become a dynamic live entity that was transmitted across generations, where the continuity of this industry is still available today and practiced by craftsmen now, and known now as Keft work.

The existence of an inlay work industry is an important link in the chain of the development of the metalwork industry between Ancient Egypt and the modern age.

The inlaying metal-work process was carried out by sketching paint on the piece of metal to be inlaid, then the line decorations is incised using the chisel, this was done in order to create grooves with a narrow gap, and in those grooves was laid one of the precious metal strips or wires into the metal of another color, which was then hammered into the gaps so as to the strip would fill up the side extensions under the gap and the inlay bar and the metal base together emerged a constant connection.

The families working in this profession have passed down the secrets of the craft from parents to the new generations who is still practicing it until the day. 

One of the best-known inlaying Families is EL Hussein, they are sheiks of the craft of al-Takfeet.