Sunday, 26 April 2015

Ceramic project 39 - Blue and White cup from Turkey 
Jug, Iznik, Turkey, 1550's. Stonepaste. The Met Museum accession number 08.102.6

I sourced the inspiration for ceramic 39 while searching for blue and white Iznik items for my essays on BoW. Though I haven't completed the essay yet, it appears that the bi-blue Iznik items utilized Chinese designs more than the line of poly-chrome items produced at the same time. Poly-chrome items from this time did use blue glaze with turquoise accents such as this bottle or included reds and greens as well. It is difficult to tell if there are two types of blue on the extant item, or just two applications of glaze on the darker areas. While the design isn't strongly Chinese, other similar objects have been found emphasise the imitation of Chinese porcelain designs in the Iznik earthenware such as this plate.

I suspect the smeary mess at the top of the jug is due to unequal temperatures in the kiln causing the glaze to run at the top. As my items are fired in an electric kiln, I don't have that problem but I've done my best to replicate the effect.

Ceramic project 39 utilising Chinese influenced design elements from an Iznik jug.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Blue on White Ceramics, Iran pt 1- Extant objects 50-89

This is the post contains extant references 50 - 89 which I utilised in my blue-on-white ceramics in Iran pt 1 (the first 45 can be found here, and yes, I skipped numbers 46-49). I've downloaded each of the images and provide the reference details so those who don't want to have an explosion of tabs while reading my little essay can enjoy the making the visual comparison of all the items together. If you wish to see all the images I don't mention but helped me form my conclusions please visit my pinterest collection. 
If you know of an extant item that contradicts my research or that belongs in my pinterest collection, please throw a link in the comments below!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Blue on White Ceramics, Iran pt 1- Extant objects 1-45

This is the post contains the first 45 extant references I utilised in my blue-on-white ceramics in Iran pt 1. I've downloaded each of the images and provide the reference details so those who don't want to have an explosion of tabs while reading my little essay can enjoy the making the visual comparison of all the items together. If you wish to see all the images I don't mention but helped me make my conclusions please visit my pinterest collection. 
If you know of an extant item that contradicts my research or that belongs in my pinterest collection, please throw a link in the comments below!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Blue and White ceramics - Iran part 1

Blue on White ceramics: the reciprocal influence of Chinese porcelain on European and Middle Eastern ceramics - Iran - Part 1

Other essays on the history of BoW in IraqEgyptlate Iran, JapanChina, Turkey, Spain, The Netherlands, Italy and England.


Early carved/incised and molded items

I have bundled carved/incised and molded items together because the application of the glaze (dipping) is similar. These are not strictly speaking BoW items, however the timing of pure cobalt glaze use is interesting. The earliest cobalt Iranian examples come from the 12-13th century (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) (I have also located one from Syria dated to the 11-12th century (10)). Decorative carving/incising predates this, however these items often weren't covered in coloured glaze. Instead, an earthenware item would be dipped in a white slip (clay) which would then be carved to reveal the red/black of the original item before a clear lead based glaze was applied over the top to seal the item (11).

12th century
In the 12th century, Iranian potters seem to have started dipping carved items in a thin layer of coloured glaze filling the deep cuts and outlining the design (1-9). The dipping process (as opposed to submerging or painting) is evident by the unglazed section of the foot, often featuring drips of coloured glaze (12). It is possible they adopted this method from Egyptian potters who were using opaque green and turquoise glazes in this manner since the Ancient Egyptian dynasties. Incised or moulded items were both produced in Fustat, Egypt (13) as discussed in my previous post on Egyptian BoW.

The Iranian potters also combined slip carving with coloured glazes. By applying a black or white slip and then carving down to the coloured body of the item, potters could then apply a single coloured glaze producing a dual-colour item with only one firing required (14). There seem to be many turquoise examples of incised items (15, 16, 17, 18, 19) but only a few cobalt. Perhaps this is because the cobalt is typically darker and doesn't contrast well with the darker clay body. Colours such as brown (20) and turquoise, seem to be utilised more frequently than cobalt for both molded (21, 22) and incised (23, 24, 25) items. Note the similar shape between the brown molded bottle (20), and a Kashan striped bottle (26).

In addition to the dual-chrome incised items, potters had developed a style involving painting multiple coloured glazes onto a carved item creating polychrome designs (27, 28, 29). I have yet to find an example of this in cobalt. I believe this is because cobalt works best on a white background, and the Iranian potters weren't using white opaque underglaze yet.

13th century
Later in the 13th century molded-ware seems to become the dominate form of dipped cobalt items possibly due to ease of mass production. Items are molded out of stonepaste or earthenware (30) before being glazed. This style seems to use a thicker application of glazes so the raised sections, which are thinner and therefore lighter, outlined the design (31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38). At the same time, plain dipped cobalt ware was also being produced (39, 40, 41, 42) across Iran.

Molded items could also be overglazed with lustre (43) after the initial firing or have gold applied to the raised sections (44, 45). This is a relatively easy approach as the raised sections, especially on flat items like tiles, are easy to gently grind away providing a superior application surface for gilding. In addition, the sloped sides of the raised sections provided a graded effect in the glaze and essentially highlight the shape. Gilding is typically utilised for tiles as the gold is rubbed off with continued use so would not be appropriate for everyday vessels.

Interestingly, a majority of the Iranian monochrome carved and molded items I found were turquoise not cobalt blue. It could be argued that cobalt blue ceramics should occur frequently in Iran as the source of the pigment is proximal making the glaze comparatively cheap (or at least cheaper than their distant counterparts could source it). Though blue did feature often, it was one colour in the glazier's pallet and the predominance of turquoise suggests it was easier to mass produce or socially more desirable (perhaps the Egyptians love for turquoise plays a part here?).

Given this essay is focused on BoW ware, it behooves me to mention the BoW radial striped items originating from Kashan (the location of the cobalt resource).

Item 12 - Bowl, Iran, 12th - 13th century. Metropolitian Museum of Art accession no 12.72.3

Kashan BoW Striped Items

To date, I've collated a number of blue and white radial striped items specifically listed as originating from Kashan. Created in the 12th-13th century, this unique striped look was clearly massed produced and applied to multiple forms. Bowls (50, 51, 52, 53, 54), bottles/jugs (26, 55, 56, 57), vases (58, 59, 60), chicken headed ewers (61, 62) and cups (63, 64) are all represented. This style cannot be examined in isolation (as much as I like to make sweeping generalizations about BoW earthenware) as there are a number of transitional items that show the BoW radial stripes combined with other forms. For example, ewer 65 is molded, cast and pierced before being coated in tin-glaze and cobalt underglaze stripes (as is 66). In this case, the striped design element has been utilised on a molded piece rather than a built or thrown pots. This transitional piece bridges the gap between the production of the radial striped works and items such as this late 12th/early 13th century bowl (67) which has been completely covered in cobalt glaze. It suggests that either, stylistically, the style evolved quickly or the potters maintained several design 'lines'. Further evidence for this are two transitional bowls (68, 69) which are identified as 13th century. Both bowls feature a combination of the radial blue lines, with an inscribed black border and a central roundel with fish. A third bowl (70) with radial cobalt lines sports a central black geometric decoration. Produced alongside the radial BoW designs were blue and black floral designs such as these bowls (71, 72) and these cups (73, 74, 75). The cups feature a similar inscribed black band as the transitional bowls as well as the floral and geometric design elements this Persian style is known for. Additionally, the shape of both cups are extremely similar to the BoW cups (13 & 14), particularly the unique design of the handles.

Blue-black items dating from the 13th-16th centuries have been recovered from both Egypt (76) and Syria (77) suggesting this style was widespread. It's possible that this style was spread either by the movement of Iranian potters after the Mongolian conquests or later by the Mongols themselves throughout their empire.

Alongside the BoW ware and the Persian BBW items is a line of turquoise/black (78) and lustreware (79). This jug (80) is another bridging piece, with the turquoise/black glaze with radial stripes and a black band of inscription.

Rooster-headed Ewer 
Item 61 - Chicken headed ewer, Kashan, Iran. 13th century. The Metropolitian Museum of Art accession no 19.68.2

Kashan was also the production center for tiles (such as those utilised in my tile projects). Tiles produced in the 12th - early 13th century were typically lustreware (81) but later evolved to a lustreware/cobalt or turquoise combination (82) in the 13th century and later in the 14th century solid turquoise tiles (83) were featured. As cobalt and turquoise are both stable at high temperatures, items can be underglazed, fired, then have a lustre applied over the top (84, 85).

In the 14th century plate decorations evolved too, with lustreware being used in combination with blue and turquoise glazes (86), which in turn led to the evolution of Sultanabad-ware (87), more of which can been seen in my Sultanabad roundup or on my Saltanabad pinterest collection. There is some suggestion that the methods of lustreware was brought to Iran via the migration of potters from Egypt who originally gained the information from the potters of Basra, Iraq.

I have yet to find any BoW items labeled as being produced in Kashan after the 13th century. (There does seem to be a recent revival of the BoW striped pattern (88) which may be tapping into the antique market so care must be taken when identifying Kashan BoW striped ceramics.) The mid-end of the 13th century saw significant upheaval in Iran and Iraq due to the Mongolian conquest. Thousands of civilians were slaughtered or died of famine. This, undoubtedly, disrupted trade routes and severely affected the arts.

It's possible that the workshops producing the blue and white radial patterns were shut down at this time or supplies of cobalt were limited as the focus of the labour force would have turned to recovery and food production. It's also possible that the demand for finely painted polychrome or molded items led to the craftsmen turning away from the simpler radial designs and BoW items. During this time, the Il-khanid period, Kashan was producing lovely luster and cobalt/turquoise tiles well into the 14th century which were utilised on many public monuments (89).

Around the end of the 14th century a majority of the tile production in Kashan had wrapped up. This was due to the rise of the Timurid Dynasty which, at it's peak, controlled Iran, Afghanistan, much of Central Asia as well as parts of Pakistan, Syria and India. The capitol was based in Samarkland, Uzbekistan, resulting in a political and financial focus significantly further away from the Kashan potters. The Tamurid dynasty experienced a greater Asian influence than previously seen in Iran. This was in part due to the location of their capitol and partly due to greater trade along the silk road routes. This influence is reflected in the BoW items produced at the time.

Lustreware tiles from the 13th century. Tile Panel, Kashan, Iran. 1262. Victorian and Albert Museum, item numbers: 1837&A, C, E, F-1876, 1487-1876, 1489-1876, 1838&C, E-1876, 1077-1892, 1099&A-1892, 1100&A-1892

Monday, 20 April 2015

Ceramic 40 - Spanish BoW cup

Plate/ Plato Mid 16th Century, Toledo, Spain 
Plate, Spain,  1550's. La Fontana Foundations. Item FC.1994.03.66

My second and third ceramic experiments ever were blue on white plates for their majesties of Lochac, Gabriel and Constanzia. Ever since then I've had a soft spot for Spanish BoW items. I created this first cup before writing the research paper on the Spanish BoW items. Mostly I wanted to demonstrate the BoW style of Spain in the mid 16th century so I could compare it to the items produced in Iran and Turkey at similar times. Since glazing this cup, I've found almost 100 more BoW items from the 15th and 16th centuries in Spain. I plan on writing an in depth analysis of each of the Spanish centers of production, but for now I can safely state that the BoW items were somewhat cruder than the lustreware items produced at the same time. Even on lustreware items that featured cobalt decoration, the cobalt sections are larger and cruder. I believe this is due to the preparation/application of the glaze. Either the glaze itself is courser requiring thicker application, or more likely, it requires multiple applications to create a solid colour resulting in thicker features. I have this problem myself with the modern glazes I used for this cup. Three applications are required to create a solid blue line. As I was imitating the quick, single brushstroke application of the extant item I only made one pass. I have to say, I don't like the pressure of only one pass and no chance for touch-ups! Some of the lines came out a little two pale but given the style I couldn't go over them.

Ceramic 40 - Spanish style Blue on White cup!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Blue on White Ceramics, Egypt- Extant objects

These are the images of extant items referenced in my previous post on Egyptian Blue on White ceramics. It's lengthy so this post is hidden behind a jump cut.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Blue on White Ceramics, Iraq - Extant objects

I've attached images of all the items referenced in my post of Blue and White ceramics for those that don't have Pinterest and just in case the links to the museum pieces change in the future. It's behind a cut because these extant item lists are going to get quite lengthy.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Ceramic project 38 - Iranian blue on white cups

As part of my ongoing research into cobalt blue on white ceramic objects I've created a number of cups to demonstrate the influence of the Chinese items on the middle east and european potters. These first cups replicate design elements from BoW items originating in Iran.

The first extant item was produced in the Timurid era (1370 - 1526) and features Asian design elements. It is created from stonepaste (aka fritware) which is a technique originating in Iraq which adds frit or quartz to the clay to harden it. A tin-glaze is then applied creating a white background before cobalt decorations are painted on. The extant plate features a lotus design in the base with line of inscription on the slope near the rim. The lotus is associated with the Chinese, indicating a strong influence over the design motifs associated with BoW items.
Plate, Iran. Timurid period 1450-1500. Freer Slacker Collection item - S1997.67

The second extant item is a bottle was produced during the Safavid dynasty (1526-1722). Painted with a winged dragon this items bridges the Chinese Mingware and the Persian Black and Blue ware. Though most people would assume this dragon is Chinese it is strongly influenced by the Persian culture. Most Ming era chinese dragons  feature spikes along the spine and at ankle joints such as in this early vase or this later vase and this amazing jar. It seems that the Iranians adapted the Chinese dragons to the more flowing style of the Persian dragons. This pottery jug produced in Iran seems to show the transition of the design into the more sinuous beastie on the bottle below.

Bottle, Iran. Safavid period, 1587-1642. Victoria and Albert museum. Item 1076-1876

My interpretation of the Iranian extant objects which in turn interpret Chinese designs.

Blue and White ceramics - Egypt

Blue on White ceramics: the reciprocal influence of Chinese porcelain on European and Middle Eastern ceramics - Egypt

Other essays on the history of BoW in Iraqearly Iranlate Iran, JapanChina, Turkey, Spain, The Netherlands, Italy and England.

This brief investigation of blue on white ceramics is focused on Egypt as my previous investigation suggested that the potters of Basra moved to Cairo around the 10th century and the rise of the Mamluks.

Pre 10th century
The Ancient Egyptians produced some beautiful items with blue overglaze such as these bowls (1, 2, 3). Over a long period of time, the Egyptians were producing items such as the iconic scarab in solid blue or turquoise overglaze (4). This range of blueish-turquoise items is sometimes call Egyptian blue (copper-calcium-silicate) but others appear to have been coated in a cobalt glaze the source of which is suggested to be evaporite deposits. Interestingly, the combination of blue and white doesn't seem to be culturally attractive and there are very few extant examples from this time (5).

In the 5th - 7th centuries Egypt was controlled by the mostly Christian, Copts. Coptic earthenware featuring blue motifs seems to have consisted of red clay objects that were fired (or dried) and then decoratively painted. Many jars were painted with lines of text however there are some examples of figures or patterns. The British Museum collection contains a number of whole (6) and fragmented items (7) from this period. This decoration method appears to be traditional in the region as similar ones can be found dating to the 18th Egyptian Dynasty (8) (1543 - 1292 BCE).

The 7th century saw the Byzantinians fighting a loosing battle for control of Egypt against the Rashidian Caliphate. The islamic influence of the Rashidians and later the Umayyadian Caliphate resulted in the conversion of much of the population. I have yet to find any items with blue glaze from this period but the Rashidians are important to note as they established the capital at Fustat (now part of Cairo), near what was Coptic Cairo. After the Umayyadian Caliphate (the largest Empire in the world at the time), the Abbasid Caliphate came to power.

10th-13th centuries
The 10th century saw the Baghdad based Abbasidian Caliphate suffering from internal political strife. Sections of the empire were breaking away, and trade relationships were fluctuating. Fustat (Old Cairo), under the Fatamid dynasty, was rising as a political power at this time, resulting in the shift of production from more marginalized regions of the empire, i.e. Basra, to Cairo (Attwood). I have found no extant BoW items that support this theory as there is no evidence of the simple designs employed by the artists of Basra in items recovered from Egypt. The Egyptians do seem to have adopted the lustreware first developed in Iraq around this time. It's possible the lack of local cobalt, the local penchant for turquoise and the desire for the more decorative lustreware squashed the transfer of the BoW designs.

In the 10th century common ceramic objects in Egypt are still being dipped in overglaze before being fired (9) as part of the ongoing traditional decorative theme. The blues are becoming more varied by the 12th century with the introduction of a more purplish tint to the glaze (10). This may indicate an iron contamination in the cobalt source. This shift away from the more traditional lapis or turquoise colourings may be a result of the Islamic influence or a reduction in quality/quantity of pigment sources. The blue-purple strainer is an interesting item because typically these lovely objects are natural clay (11) and rarely glazed. I have found a couple of extant items that were glazed in turquoise as well (12, 13) indicating the love of this colour is deeply rooted in the Egyptian potters traditions. It seems that even though more complex and decorative methods are available, the production of common household goods such as filters and lamps (14) continued to involve simple glazing techniques. Lamps are of particular interest because they need to be glazed to prevent the terracotta from absorbing the oils. Lamps are also a common household object that would require mass production. Colours range from yellows (15), to greens and turquoise (16) and the rare blue (17). (side note: I love the pied colour of this one - 18).

Support for Attwood's suggestion on the move of Basra potters to Cairo is derived from lustre-ware items (19) recovered from Fustat. Stylistically these items are very similar to objects produced across the Abbysaid Empire (20) and even imported from Spain (21). This makes identification to a hobbiest like myself particularly challenging and I initially assumed the stylistic diversity at Fustat was solely due to their geographic location and the importation of high-level ceramics. However sherds such as 22 are marked with 'sa' which may be a potters mark, a workshop or a Fustatian tradition, either way, the item has been identified as Egyptian in origin. Essays on Islamic ceramics on the Ashmolean Museum propose that the Basra potters migrated to Egypt bringing the skills of lustreware. These potter families them migrated to Syria and later spread to Spain after the fall of the Fatamid dynasty in the 12th century.

10 - Bluish-purple strainer from Fostat, Egypt. 12th century, glazed fritware. Victoria and Albert Museum, item number c.914-1919

13th - 14th century
By the 13th century, the Mamluks had risen to power in Egypt ousting the Abbysaidians. On a side note: the Egyptian Mamluks seem to have made the greatest imprint on history, but the Delhi Sultinate was also controlled by the Mamluks which is often overlooked by hobbies scholars discussing this period in the middle east. Through the 13th and 14th centuries, Egypt was an important trading hub connecting the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, India and the East Indies.
Where the potters of Basra produced stylistically individual designs which are reasonably easy to identify. If anything, the potters of Fustat can be most easily identified through the use of solid Egyptian blue and turquoise glazes. This method of identification unfortunately, doesn't work for styles that require the use of different glazes. Items recovered from Fustat have a broad range of stylistic influence with sgraffito (23), incised and dipped (24) and polychrome underglaze (25) items all being produced from the 10th - 14th centuries. The position of Fustat as the hub of trade networks allowed local potters to adopt patterns and techniques from across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. A good example of this is the black and blue (BBW) items produced in Fustat during the 14th century (26). Some blue and black fragments have been recovered from Fustat (27, 28) and the style is quite similar to items produced in Syria at the time (29, 30)

Blue on White in Egypt
The production of BBW items in Fustat indicates the potters are conversant with the method of applying a white underglaze, then decorative elements and a clear overglaze. Sherds of Chinese porcelain (31) have been recovered from Fustat confirming the transport of such items to Egypt. There is no doubt these items influenced local designs. Sherds have been recovered that sport chrysanthemum like flowers (32), ducks (33) and other Chinese motifs (34). A number of sherds have been recovered from Fustat with patterns are reminiscent of Asian and iznik designs (35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40). While I would like to wax lyrical regarding BoW trends in this region, I simply do not have sufficient extant objects to do so.

As well as the importation and imitation of Chinese BoW items, the Mamluks were producing BoW tiles (41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46) very similar to the turquoise and blue hexagonal tiles being created in Syria with an almost Iznik flavour (47).

45 - Hexagonal Tile, 15th Century, Egypt. The Met Museum Accession Number 67.69.6

Additional resources:
A section on the Abbasiddian potters from a web based teaching course on islamic ceramics hosted by the Ashmolean Museum. 

A PDF article on the Abbasid perception of Chinese Ceramics.
Hallet, J. 2010 Pearl Cups like the Moon, The Abbasid perception of Chinese Ceramics. Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds.. eds Krahl, R. Guy, J. Wilson, J.K. Raby, J. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, pp 75-81

A great scientific paper PDF on the reciprocal influence of Tang China and Abbasid Iraq ceramics.
Wood, N., and Tite, M., (2009), ‘Blue and White – the Early Years : Tang China and Abbasid Iraq compared.’ Transfer : The Influence of China on World Ceramics. (Colloquies on Art & Archaeology in Asia No. 24. Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art. ed. Stacey Person, ed. London University, pp 21-45

A short article on Basra's Potters and their developments
Attwood, R. 2005 Basra's Inventive Potters. Archeology Reviews. Vol 58, 2.

A PhD thesis I'd really like to get my hands on, scientific analysis of the origins of cobalt.


My collection of BoW images mapped to location of creation. Note: only 80 items initially load, you need to scroll to the end of the collection before they'll all show up on the map. Zoom into your area of interest to see clusters around centers of production.