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Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Islamic Ceramics trail

Explore over one thousand years of development in Islamic ceramics through our extensive collection.

Detail from bowl with seated figures by a stream, Iran, probably Kashan, 1211-1212 (Museum number: EA1956.33)
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New beginnings

Fritware

The development of a new ceramic body, usually referred to as fritware or stonepaste, revolutionized ceramics manufacture in the Islamic lands. It was largely made of quartz, with smaller amounts of glass and fine white clay.

Fritware appeared in its most refined form in Syria and Iran in the 12th century, but potters in Egypt had been experimenting with it since at least the previous century. The arrival in the Middle East of a new fine Chinese porcelain at this time probably influenced its refinement. Islamic potters used it creatively as a background for a variety of incised, moulded and painted decoration.

Jug with epigraphic decoration (EAX.3110) Jug with epigraphic decoration (EAX.3110)   Ewer with chain-like decoration and faceted spout (EA1978.2275) Ewer with chain-like decoration and faceted spout (EA1978.2275)   Fragment of a dish with peacock (EA1978.2177) Fragment of a dish with peacock (EA1978.2177)

Lustre development

First used in 9th-century Iraq, and developed further in Egypt during the 10th and 11th centuries, lustre painting flourished in Iran and Syria in the late-12th and 13th centuries. It was greatly disrupted, however, by the Mongol invasions in the second quarter of the 13th century, as was the ceramics industry as a whole. Lustreware production only resumed fully in the second half of the century.

Bowl with riders in a landscape (EA1956.28) Bowl with riders in a landscape (EA1956.28)   Bowl with seated figures by a stream (EA1956.33) Bowl with seated figures by a stream (EA1956.33)   Bowl with vegetal and epigraphic decoration (EA1978.2175) Bowl with vegetal and epigraphic decoration (EA1978.2175)

Overglaze painting

At this same time, potters in Iran developed a new type of overglaze painted decoration, applying enamels over the transparent glaze. As with lustre, the enamels (usually red and black) and occasionally gilding, were applied to the surface of vessels that had already been glazed, and fixed with a second gentle firing. To date, the city of Kashan in Iran is the only identified centre of manufacture of this enamel-painted ware.

Bowl with paired riders inscribed with good wishes (EA1956.36) Bowl with paired riders inscribed with good wishes (EA1956.36)

Underglaze painting

By the turn of the 13th century, another technique that would dominate all future pottery production in the Islamic lands was fully developed – underglaze painting. Its gradual development is best seen in Iran, where potters initially experimented with the application of a black slip under the glaze (so-called ‘silhouette’ ware) until they obtained full control over thin pigments which would not run during the firing. The earliest dated examples of Iranian manufacture are from the early 13th century. Syria and Egypt were manufacturing fine underglaze painted ware at the same time.

Beaker with epigraphic decoration (EA1956.60) Beaker with epigraphic decoration (EA1956.60)   Bowl with animals against a foliate background (EA1956.29) Bowl with animals against a foliate background (EA1956.29)   Bowl with vegetal and geometric decoration (EA1978.2180) Bowl with vegetal and geometric decoration (EA1978.2180)

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