Islamic pottery

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Coupe iran.JPG

Cup with hunters, 12th–13th centuries, Iran, musée du Louvre

The era of Islamic pottery started around 622. From 633, Muslim armies moved rapidly towards Persia, Byzantium, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Egypt and later Andalusia. The early history of Islamic pottery remains somewhat obscure and speculative as little evidence has survived. Apart from tiles which escaped destruction due to their use in architectural decoration of buildings and mosques, much early medieval pottery vanished.

It seems clear that Muslims inherited the pottery craft from Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, China and other cultural regions. For example, the origin of glazed pottery has been traced to Egypt where it was first introduced during the fourth millennium BCE. From there it reached most parts of the near east, including Iran and Mesopotamia, in the form of alkaline glazed pottery.[1]

The history of Islamic Ceramics can be divided into three periods:

  1. Early Medieval (622-1200)
  2. Middle Medieval (1200-1400)
  3. Late/Post-medieval (1400-onward)

Early Medieval (622-1200)Editar

Plantilla:Arab culture Sources indicate that Muslim pottery was not firmly established until the 9th century in Iraq (formerly Mesopotamia), Syria and Persia. During this period pieces mainly used white tin-glaze. Information on earlier periods is very limited. This is largely due to the lack of surviving specimens in good condition which also limits the interest in the study of ceramics of these periods. Archaeological excavations carried out in Jordan uncovered only a few examples from the Umayyad period, mostly unglazed vessels from Khirbat Al-Mafjar.[2][3]

Chinese influenceEditar

Main gallery: Chinese influences on Islamic pottery.

During the Abbasid dynasty pottery production gained momentum, largely using tin glazes mostly in the form of opaque white glaze. Some historians, such as Lane, attribute the rise of such industry to Chinese influence. Evidence from Muslim manuscripts, such as Akhbar al-Sin wa al-Hind (circa 851) and Ibn Kurdadhbih’s Book of Roads and Provinces (846-885), suggest that trade with China was firmly established. Lane also referred to the passage in a work written by Muhammad ibn al-Husayn al-Baihaki, (circa 1059) where he stated that the governor of Khurasan, ‘Ali ibn ‘Isa, sent as a present to the Caliph Harun al-Rashid (786-809), “twenty pieces of Chinese Imperial porcelain (Chini faghfuri), the like of which had never been seen at a Caliph’s court before, in addition to 2,000 other pieces of porcelain”.

According to Lane, the influence of Chinese pottery progressed in three main phases. The first contact with China took place in 751 when the Arabs defeated the Chinese at the Battle of Talas. It has been argued that imprisoned Chinese potters and paper makers could have taught the Muslims the art of pottery and paper-making. In 800’s Chinese stoneware and porcelain reached the Abbasids.

The second phase took place in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a period noted for the decline of pottery industry following the fall of the Seljuk dynasty. This period also saw the invasion of the Mongols who brought Chinese pottery traditions.

The third phase was in the fifteenth century, when much of this influence came through imports made from Tang, Song and Ming dynasties at the hand of Zheng He. The influence of ceramics from the Tang Dynasty can be seen on lustrewares, produced by Mesopotamian potters, and on some early white wares excavated at Samarra (in modern-day Iraq). Ceramics from this period were excavated at Nishapur (in modern-day Iran) and Samarkand (in modern-day Uzbekistan).

Islamic innovationsEditar

From between the eighth and eighteenth centuries, the use of glazed ceramics was prevalent in Islamic art, usually assuming the form of elaborate pottery.[4] Tin-opacified glazing, for the production of tin-glazed pottery, was one of the earliest new technologies developed by the Islamic potters. The first Islamic opaque glazes can be found as blue-painted ware in Basra, dating to around the 8th century. Another significant contribution was the development of stonepaste ceramics, originating in 9th century Iraq.[5] It was a vitreous or semivitreous ceramic ware of fine texture, made primarily from non-refactory fire clay.[6] Other centers for innovative ceramic pottery in the Islamic world included Fustat (from 975 to 1075), Damascus (from 1100 to around 1600) and Tabriz (from 1470 to 1550).[7]


Tin-glazed Hispano-Moresque ware with lusterware decoration, from Spain circa 1475.

The Hispano-Moresque style emerged in Andalusia in the 8th century, under the Fatimids. This was a style of Islamic pottery created in Islamic Spain, after the Moors had introduced two ceramic techniques to Europe: glazing with an opaque white tin-glaze, and painting in metallic lusters. Hispano-Moresque ware was distinguished from the pottery of Christendom by the Islamic character of it decoration.[8]

Lusterware was produced in Mesopotamia[9] in the 9th century; the technique soon became popular in Persia and Syria.[10] Lusterware was later produced in Egypt during the Fatimid caliphate in the 10th-12th centuries. While the production of lusterware continued in the Middle East, it spread to Europe—first to Al-Andalus, notably at Malaga, and then to Italy, where it was used to enhance maiolica.

Another innovation was the albarello, a type of maiolica earthenware jar originally designed to hold apothecaries' ointments and dry drugs. The development of this type of pharmacy jar had its roots in the Islamic Middle East. Brought to Italy by Hispano-Moresque traders, the earliest Italian examples were produced in Florence in the 15th century.

Fritware refers to a type of pottery which was first developed in the Near East, where production is dated to the late first millennium AD through the second millennium AD. Frit was a significant ingredient. A recipe for “fritware” dating to c. 1300 AD written by Abu’l Qasim reports that the ratio of quartz to “frit-glass” to white clay is 10:1:1.[11] This type of pottery has also been referred to as “stonepaste” and “faience” among other names.[12] A ninth century corpus of “proto-stonepaste” from Baghdad has “relict glass fragments” in its fabric.[13] The glass is alkali-lime-lead-silica and, when the paste was fired or cooled, wollastonite and diopside crystals formed within the glass fragments.[14] The lack of “inclusions of crushed pottery” suggests these fragments did not come from a glaze.[15] The reason for their addition would have been to release alkali into the matrix on firing, which would “accelerate vitrification at a relatively low firing temperature, and thus increase the hardness and density of the [ceramic] body.” Whether these “relict glass fragments” are actually “frit” in the more ancient sense remains to be seen.It seems clear that Muslims inherited the pottery craft from Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, China and other cultural regions. For example, the origin of glazed pottery has been traced to Egypt where it was first introduced during the fourth millennium BCE. From there it reached most parts of the near east

Middle (1200-1400)Editar

Albarello fleur-de-lys Louvre UCAD4288.jpg

Albarello with fleur-de-lys decoration, early 14th century, Syria, musée du Louvre

Beginning in the early ninth century, Muslim ceramic production gradually developed. This led to the establishment of a reputable industry in the East (Iraq) which later spread to the rest of the Muslim world. In the account of Ibn Naji (circa 1016) the Caliph sent, in addition to tiles, “a man from Baghdad” to Qairawan to produce lustre tiles for the mihrab of the Great Mosque (still well preserved). Georges Marcais suggested that Iraqi potters indeed came to Quairawan. The arrival of this Baghdadi potter must have led to the establishment of a satellite centre for the production of ceramics in Quairawan, but no information has yet been developed to confirm or deny this suggestion.[16]

In the East, evidence shows that a production centre was set up in Samarkand under the Samanid dynasty who ruled this region and parts of Persia between 874 and 999 C.E. The most highly regarded technique of this centre is the use of calligraphy in the decoration of vessels.

The events leading to the collapse of the Fatimid reign in 1171 caused ceramic production to move out to new centres, via processes similar to those described above with respect to Iraq. As a result, Persia became a centre of revival under the Seljuk rule (1038-1327). This is not coincidental as the Seljuks expanded their rule over Persia, Iraq, Syria, and Palestine, as well as Anatolia and Muslim Asia Minor. All of these had been, for some considerable time, centres of old pottery.

The Seljuks brought new and fresh inspiration to the Muslim world, attracting artists, craftsmen and potters from all regions including Egypt. In addition to continuing the production of similar (although more refined) tin and lustre glaze ceramics, the Seljuks (in Persia) were credited for the introduction of a new type sometimes known as "Faience". This is made from a hard white frit paste coated with transparent alkaline glaze.

In a rare manuscript from Kashan compiled by Abulqassim in 1301, there is a complete description of how faience production was carried out. Frit was made of ten parts of powdered quartz, one part of clay and one part of glaze mixture. The addition of greater amounts of clay made wheel throwing of the faience easier, and allowed a better quality of work, because otherwise the material had little plasticity.[17] The glaze itself is “formed of a roughly equal mixture of ground quartz and the ashes of desert plants which contain a very high proportion of alkaline salts. These act as a flux and cause the quartz to vitrify at a manageable temperature. The two alone will produce a transparent glaze”.[18] Lane compared this material with the French pâte tender, which was used by potters as recently as the eighteenth century. This body material and the new glaze offered the potter a greater handling and manipulation ability. This allows the potter to improve the quality and appearance of the vessel, including more refined decorative designs and patterns. The result was a substantial variety of products such as bowls of different size and shapes, jugs, incense burners, lamps, candlesticks, trays, tiles and so on. These advantages also allowed greater control of carved decoration, the use of which the Seljuks refined and extended during the twelfth century.[19]

Carved decoration in ceramics is an old tradition used in ninth century Muslim pottery known as Sgraffiato, which is an engraving technique based on incising the design with a sharp tool through a white slip to reveal the red earthenware body. The vessel is then coated with glaze.

The Seljuks also developed the so-called Silhouette wares which are distinguished by their black background. These are produced by a technique which consists of coating the white fritware body with a thick black slip, out of which the decoration is then carved. Later, a coat of colourless or coloured, usually blue or green, transparent glaze is applied. According to Lane, this technique was used, in a simpler form, in Samarkand between the ninth and tenth centuries. The method then consisted of mixing the colours with a thick opaque clay slip instead.

Late/Post-medieval (1400-onward)Editar

The influence of Blue and white porcelain of the Yuan and Ming dynasties is evident in many ceramics made by Muslim potters. Wares made in the town of Iznik in Anatolia are particularly notable and had major influence on European decorative arts: for example, on Italian Maiolica. Iznik pottery was produced in Ottoman Turkey as early as the 15th century AD.[20] It consists of a body, slip, and glaze, where the body and glaze are “quartz-frit.”[21] The “frits” in both cases “are unusual in that they contain lead oxide as well as soda”; the lead oxide would help reduce the thermal expansion coefficient of the ceramic.[22] Microscopic analysis reveals that the material that has been labeled “frit” is “interstitial glass” which serves to connect the quartz particles.[23] Michael S. Tite argues that this glass was added as frit and that the interstitial glass formed on firing.[24]

Study of Islamic potteryEditar

Arthur Lane produced two books which made substantial contribution to understanding the history and merit of Muslim ceramics. The first book was dedicated to the study of early ceramics from the Abbasid period till the Seljuk times, sketching the various events which played a significant role in the rise and fall of particular styles. In his second work, Lane used the same rhetorical style adopted in the first book, this time devoting his attention to later periods from the Mongols to nineteenth century Iznik and Persian pottery.

Following Lane's works, numerous studies appeared. The most comprehensive works adopting a general view are those by R.L. Hobson, Ernst J. Grube, Richard Ettinghausen, and more recently Alan Caiger-Smith and Gesa Febervari. Additional contributions were made by those specializing in particular temporal or regional history of Muslim pottery such as Georges Marcais in his work on North Africa, Oliver Watson on Persia and J.R. Hallett on Abbasid Pottery.

See alsoEditar


  1. Febervari, Gesa, Ceramics of the Islamic World: In the Tareq Rajab Museum’', (I.B.Tauris Publishers, London/New York, 2000, p.23.
  2. Baramki, D.C., "The pottery from Khirbet El-Mefjer", The Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities in Palestine (QDAP 1942), vol. 10, pp.65-103
  3. Sauer, J.A., "Umayyad pottery from sites in East Jordan2, Jordan, Vol.4, 1975, pp.25-32.
  4. Mason (1995) p.1
  5. Mason (1995) p.5
  6. Standard Terminology Of Ceramic Whiteware and Related Products. ASTM Standard C242.
  7. Mason (1995) p.7
  8. Caiger-Smith, 1973, p.65
  9. Mason and Tite 1994, 87.
  10. Ten thousand years of pottery, Emmanuel Cooper, University of Pennsylvania Press, 4th ed., 2000, ISBN 0812235541, pp. 86–88.
  11. A.K. Bernsted 2003, Early Islamic Pottery: Materials and Techniques, London: Archetype Publications Ltd., 25; R.B. Mason and M.S. Tite 1994, The Beginnings of Islamic Stonepaste Technology, Archaeometry 36.1: 77
  12. Mason and Tite 1994, 77.
  13. Mason and Tite 1994, 79-80.
  14. Mason and Tite 1994, 80.
  15. Mason and Tite 1994, 87.
  16. Marcais G., Les faiences a reflets metalliques de la grande Mosquee de Kairouan, Paris, 1928, pp.10-11
  17. W. J. Allan,The History of So-Called Egyptian Faience in Islamic Persia[1]
  18. Watson, O., Persian Lustre Ware, London 1985, .p.32. Cited in Febervari Gesa (2000), op., cit, .p.96)
  19. Lane, A. (1947) Early Islamic Pottery, Faber and Faber, London
  20. M.S. Tite 1989, Iznik Pottery: An Investigation of the Methods of Production, Archaeometry 31.2: 115.
  21. Tite 1989, 120.
  22. Tite 1989, 129.
  23. Tite 1989, 120, 123.
  24. Tite 1989, 121.
  • Mason, Robert B. (1995). "New Looks at Old Pots: Results of Recent Multidisciplinary Studies of Glazed Ceramics from the Islamic World". Muqarnas: Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture XII. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 9004103147.

Plantilla:Islamic art

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