Iranian pottery

Iranian pottery
Pottery vessel, fourth millennium B.C. The Sialk collection of Tehran's National Museum of Iran.
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Iranian pottery or Persian pottery (sometimes known as gombroon) production presents a continuous history from the beginning of Iranian history until the present day.

Ceramic is perhaps the earliest and the most important invention made by man. For historians and archaeologists it is the most significant of the artistic manifestations. For historians and archaeologists pottery of a certain period manifests the contemporary social organisation, economic conditions and cultural stage of that particular region. By studying pottery one may form impressions about the life, the religion of people and their history, about their social relationships, their attitude towards their neighbours, to their own world and even to their interpretation of the universe as it was then known to them. Other media, e.g. metal and textiles can be destroyed, or re-used, but pottery is indestructible, and even small fragments reveal a great deal of information for an expert.

In Iran pottery manufacture has a long and brilliant history. Due to the special geographical position of the country, being at the crossroads of ancient civilizations and on important caravan routes, almost every part of Iran was, at times, involved in pottery making. Yet, recent excavations and archaeological research revealed that there were four major pottery-manufacturing areas in the Iranian plateau. These included the western part of the country, namely the area west of the Zagros mountains (Lurestan), and the area south of the Caspian Sea (Gilan and Mazandaran provinces). These two areas are chronologically as far as is known today, the earliest. The third region is located in the northwestern part of the country, in Azarbaijan province. The fourth area is in the southeast, i.e. the Kerman region and Baluchestan. To these four regions one may also add the Kavir area, where the history of pottery making can be dated back to the 8th millennium BCE.



Prehistoric period

One of the earliest known and excavated prehistoric sites that produced pottery is Ganj Darreh Tappeh in the Kermanshah region, dating back to the 8th millennium BCE Another great discovery was made south of the Caspian Sea in a cave, in the Huto and Kamarband Caves, (Belt caves) near present day Behshahr. Here again the pottery finds date to 8000 BCE. This type of pottery in known to experts as the “Kamarband Neolithic pottery”. This pottery was fired at a low temperature, and its body is very soft. The pottery in Huto cave, from a technical point of view, shows similarities to that of Cheshmeh Ali in Ray, near Tehran.

The second phase of development in pottery-making in Iran is represented by the wares that were discovered at Cheshmeh Ali, Tappeh Sialk near Kashan and at Zagheh in the Qazvin plain. The pottery of these centres is different from that of the earlier periods. Their paste is a mixture of clay, straw and small pieces of various plants, which can be found and collected in the desert. When mixed with water they stick well together and form a very hard paste. All these vessels were made by hand rather than on a wheel. As the potters were unable to control the temperature of the kilns, there was no stable colour for these wares. It varied from grey and dark grey to black, occasionally even appearing with a greenish colour. The type of vessels produced was limited, mainly bowls with concave bases and globular bodies. Their surfaces were painted mostly in red depicting geometrical patterns. The date of these wares is ca. the 6th and 5th millennium BCE.

In the subsequent periods pottery-making became more and more refined. Although the wheel still had not been introduced, the shapes of the vessels became somewhat more varied and more carefully executed. The temperature in the kilns was better controlled and the decoration of the vessels now included animals and stylised floral designs. Numerous examples of these have been unearthed at Sialk. To achieve a finer paste, the potters added fine sand-powder to the mixture that has already been mentioned. Thus they were able to produce vessels with a very thin body.

With the invention and the introduction of the potter's wheel, ca. the 4th millennium BCE, it became possible to produce better quality and symmetrically-shaped vessels; the number of pottery types made was greatly increased as well. The decoration of these objects was drwith much greater care and artistic skill, and the designs used were greatly enriched and carefully selected. By that time this more advanced type of pottery was produced in several parts of Iran. Thus it reveals the close economic and cultural ties that must have existed then amongst prehistoric communities. Ideas, techniques and artistic trends must have travelled great distances and were freely exchanged. A good example to demonstrate this connection is the pottery types that were unearthed at Tappeh Qabrestan in the Qazvin plain, which are comparable to those from Sialk and Tappeh Hessar near Damghan, all of the same period. The location of these three places forms a kind of triangle. One may presume that further archaeological work will produce more evidence for the close ties that existed amongst these communities.

Pottery Vessel (1st Millennium BCE). The Sialk collection of Tehran's National Museum of Iran.

Around the 2nd millennium BCE in most parts of Iran we have evidence of local pottery manufacture. The vessels usually consist of bowls, pitchers, jugs, and jars. Most of these wares are simple, without any surface decorations. The colour of these wares varies from grey to dark grey, red to buff. Some of these have burnished surfaces and are decorated with geometrical patterns (pls. 7-8).

The most beautiful wares of that period, however, are the zoomorphic vessels (humped bulls, camels, rams, etc.) (pls. 29-33) or human figurines, which were mainly discovered in the Gilan region (Marlik, Amlash and Kaluraz). The zoomorphic vessels and figurines must have had two distinct functions: some of them were utility vessels, used in everyday life, while others, probably more important, were used in religious ceremonies or in burials. Quite a wide variety of shapes is known today. Their actual function may be determined by the shape of the vessels and by the gesture of the figurines. The manufacture of these zoomorphic vessels and figurines continued until the middle of the 1st millennium BCE.

Median and Achaemenid Dynastic Periods (728-330 BCE)

Our knowledge of Median pottery is rather limited. Recent excavations, however, particularly at one of the most important Median sites, Tappeh Nush-i Jan near Malayer, produced a great variety of vessels. These are still under study and examination. It is hoped in the near future a great deal can be learnt about the pottery of that important period. At other sites, e.g. Bisotun, in several places in Gilan and in Kordestan provinces have also been recovered. Recent excavations at the site of Ziwiyeh conducted by the Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research produced a good sampling Median pottery. One of the most important innovations in ceramic technology appeared during the Median period, i.e. the introduction of glazed ware, although the earliest evidence for the use of glaze on bricks was the discovery of glazed bricks in the Elamite Temple at Chogha Zanbil, dated to the 13th century BCE.

With the coming of the Achaemenid Dynasty in the 6th century BCE great advances were made in pottery manufacture. The simple ware became more popular and widespread. It was nevertheless in the finer wares that progress is most noticeable. New shapes were introduced, e.g. the rhyton. The surfaces were now decorated with incised and moulded designs. Certain prehistoric traditions have survived and continued. This is perhaps best observed in the application of animal figurines. These are attached to the handles of jars and rhytons. It is widely accepted that these figurines had iconographic significance.

Shapes and decorations of Achaemenid pottery disclose close connections between pottery-making and metalworking. Frequently metal shapes and decorations are produced, and one may add, successfully, in pottery. It is during the Achaemenid dynastic period that glazing was introduced generally into Iranian plateau. Excavations at Persepolis and Susa revealed that the walls of palaces were covered with glazed bricks, which included elaborate decorations, depicting animals and soldiers. The practice of glazing must have been introduced from Mesopotamia.

Parthian Dynastic Period (248 BCE-224

Until quite recently information on the arts of the Parthian period was rather meagre. At the time when the late Professor Arthur Upham Pope and his team were collecting material for the Survey of Persian Art, hardly any Parthian site was known and none was excavated. It was only during the last fifty or sixty years that a few extremely important Parthian sites were investigated by archaeologists. Some of these are beyond the present borders of Iran, e.g. Nisa, the former Parthian capital in Central Asia, or Dura-Europos in Syria. More recently in Iran a number of Parthian sites have been located and are, at present, under excavation. These sites are Kangavar, Shahr-e Qumis, Valiran, Ecbatana and several sites in the Gorgan plain, in Gilan and Sistan.

From these new archaeological discoveries we have learnt a great deal about Parthian art and Parthian pottery. In a recent study it has been pointed out that pottery was not the same throughout the Parthian Empire and the wares of Iran proper were different from those of Syria and Mesopotamia. Even in this area several differences are recognisable. In general, Parthian pottery can be divided into two major groups: unglazed and glazed wares. The unglazed wares can be further subdivided into two categories: namely grey and red wares. The grey pottery consists of bowls, small cups and large jars, all with convex bases and without any surface decoration. Some of them, nevertheless, have a polished body. The red ware, which was perhaps the most popular, also included large jars, bowls and jugs, similar in shape to those of the grey wares. They have everted rims. Under the red ware another type, the so-called "clinky ware" should be mentioned. This ware has a very fine thin body, red outside and dark grey inside. When tapped it gives a clinking sound, hence its name.

It also should be noted that zoomorphic vessels, in the shape of rhytons, were still very popular in Parthian times. These were made both in grey and in red, occasionally even in buff earthenware.

One of the greatest achievements in pottery-making during this period was the introduction of alkaline-glazed vessels. The body of these glazed wares was a fine white paste on which the alkaline glaze could be easily applied. Two of the most common types of vessels in this group were the "pilgrim flask", and large bowls. The latter usually rest on three or four short legs. These types of vessels may have been produced under Far Eastern influence, since their forms recall contemporary Chinese bronzes.

In addition to glazing, most of these Parthian glazed vessels reveal some kind of surface decoration, mostly simple incised lines or strokes. Another, rather important, group of Parthian glazed pottery were the large coffins that became widely used at that period due to a change in religious beliefs concerning burial.

Sasanian Dynastic Period (224-651 CE)

In general it could be stated that Sasanian pottery is, strictly speaking, a continuation of Parthian traditions, with two exceptions; The grey ware was practically discontinued, as were the glazed coffins, since Zoroastrian burial customs were re-introduced.

Sasanian pottery thus can be subdivided into two major groups: unglazed and glazed wares. The unglazed wares were mainly of heavily potted red wares. These include large jars, jugs, and various types of bowls. They have thick, everted rims and their surfaces now reveal intricate incised or stamped decorations, including wavy lines, geometrical patterns, rosettes, or occasionally, even Pahlavi inscriptions. The number of these Sasanian red wares is constantly increasing. They have been discovered at a number of sites, such as Bishapur; Siraf, Kangavar, the Gorgan plain, Tureng Tepe, Takht-e Soleyman, at Ghubayra near Kerman and Takht-i Abunasar in Fars Province.

Glazed pottery, although the alkaline glaze was still used, has in fact considerably advanced technologically. Instead of the Parthian dark green or brownish-yellow glaze, the most important colour now becomes turquoise green, or turquoise blue. This is to be found on a number of pilgrim flasks, bowls and particularly on large storage jars. These storage jars, which had been unearthed at Siraf and also at Ghubayra in late 1970s, in addition to glazing, were also decorated with appliqué patterns, most frequently with cable patterns, which run around the upper part or on the shoulder of the vessels.

Terracotta figurines were also produced in Sasanian times, of which a great variety are known today. Some of these are partially glazed.

The Post-Sassanian and Islamic Period)

With the advent of Islam during the first half of the 7th century CE, pottery manufacture gradually started to change all over the Islamic world. At the beginning Iranian potters continued their pre-Islamic traditions, and in Iran some of these early wares are known as "Sassano-Islamic". It has been suggested that due to contact with the Far East, particularly with China, on one hand and to the restrictions of orthodox Islam on the other, considerable changes gradually took place in pottery-making, and several new types of wares were produced. Potters of the Near East made several experiments, partly imitating imported Chinese ceramics, partly using their own skill and imagination in inventing new types.

In general the history of Iranian-Islamic pottery can be divided into three main periods Post-Sassanian or Early Islamic Period (9th - 10th centuries CE) Middle Islamic Period (11th - 15th centuries CE) Later Islamic Period (16th - 19th centuries CE)

In these three periods, which lasted for more than a thousand years, numerous pottery centres were established, which produced innumerable types of wares. Recent excavations in famous Islamic cities, e.g. Samarra, Siraf, Nishapur, Jorjan (old Gorgan), Fustat, etc., together with the discovery of pottery kilns at several sites, provide us with considerable information on pottery manufacture in the Islamic world. It is worthwhile to emphasize that in pottery manufacture Iran and the Iranian world was always ahead of the rest of the Islamic world, and it was always Iranian potters who experimented most widely with new types and new ideas.

Early Islamic Period

The most important information on early Islamic pottery was, for a long time, provided by the German excavations at the short-lived early Abbasid capital of Samarra. Recently, several other Islamic sites have been investigated and these have considerably altered, and at the same time enriched our knowledge of the subject. In our investigation we are restricting our interest to Iran and accordingly, we shall deal only with the pottery of two early Persian dynasties, namely that of the Buyids and the Samanids.

Buyid Dynasty (932-1055 CE)

The most common type of pottery was the so-called "guebri", better known as champlevé, ware. The decoration of this pottery comes very close to Sassanian metalwork and pottery. This ware, it appears, was produced at Zanjan, Garrus, Amol and Sari. It was actually a kind of Sgraffito technique (the term champlevé is actually a metalwork technique and should not be applied for pottery), where the surface of the vessels, which always had a red earthenware body, was covered with thick white slip and the decorations were carved away. The vessels then were coated with transparent green or yellow lead glaze. The decorations of these wares include floral, geometrical or epigraphic designs, and frequently human and animals figures as well. The types of vessels made include bowls, dishes, and jugs; even a few plaques are known.

Samanid Dynasty (819-999 CE)

The Samanids were probably one of the most important Persian dynasties in the eastern part of the Islamic world during the early Islamic period. Their realm included large centres like Samarkand (Afrasiab), Bukhara, Marv, Nishapur and Kerman. The most important contribution of Samanid artists to Islamic pottery-making was the invention and perfection of the slip painted ware". There are several types of this ware known today, and in general can be divided into the following main groups black on white, polychrome on white, decoration on coloured ground slip imitation of monochrome lustre.

These slip-painted wares constitute a great advance in pottery decoration. Normally the pigment runs in the kiln under the lead glaze, as it was practiced in Mesopotamia in early Abbasid times on splashed wares. By the introduction of a ground slip and slip pigments, potters could control the designs while in the kiln, and thus were able to produce a great variety of surface decorations.

Perhaps the most appealing, and also earliest wares was one that depicted epigraphic designs in manganese-purple on white or cream-colored ground slip covered by clear glaze. The earlier the piece, the finer the epigraphic decoration is. These are also legible, mostly including benedictory phrases. As time went on the epigraphic design became more and more decorative and less and less legible. The introduction of polychrome over white or creamy ground can also be considered as the second step in the development of slip-painted pottery. These polychrome painted wares were now decorated not only with epigraphic designs, but also with flowers, arabesques or even ewers or other vessels.

The decorative scheme is reversed when the decoration is painted in white or light colours over a manganese-purple or tomato-red ground. Quite a number of these vessels are known today. They were excavated at several sites in Central Asia, Afghanistan, at Nishapur, Jorjan and even at Ghubayra in Kerman province.

Quite a different type, but an important group is the polychrome buff ware, decorated with human and animal figures, or rarely only with geometrical forms. The late Arthur Lane called this type of pottery "peasant ware" of Nishapur. This type of pottery was only produced in Nishapur, and was never imitated anywhere else in the world. The decoration may give some indication of Samanid painting, of which we have only a few examples, namely the excavated wall frescoes of Nishapur. A sub-group of this polychrome buff ware was until recently known as "Sari ware". This is decorated with walking birds, large flowers, and occasionally with Kufic epigraphic characters. The term "Sari" cannot be really accepted, since there is no evidence of manufacture of such pottery in the city of Sari, but recently such wares and kilns have been excavated at Jorjan.

There is another group of slip-painted pottery, painted in olive-green on white or creamy ground; clearly an imitation of contemporary monochrome lustre-painted pottery. The question whether lustre-painted pottery, either in monochrome or in polychrome, was produced under the Samanids, is still not clear and has not been solved. A large number of such wares, both polychrome and monochrome lustre, were excavated at Nishapur, and thousands of such fragments are now coming to light in Jorjan; although as yet we still have no archaeological evidence for their local manufacture.

The second important type of Samanid pottery is that of the sgraffito wares. One type of sgraffito, the "guebri", or "champleve" ware, has already been mentioned under Buyid pottery, so this will be excluded here. The other three types, which played an important role in Iran under the Samanids, were the so-called simple sgraffito, also known as "Amol ware", the splashed and sgraffito ware, and the so-called "Aghkand ware".

The simple, or "Amol" sgraffito pottery is decorated with incised lines, right down to the body through the thin slip that covers it, then coated with transparent yellow or green glaze. The decoration may include simple crosshatchings, scrollwork, epigraphic designs, birds or fantastic animals. Occasionally these incised lines may be outlined in green. The vessels are mostly bowls, with projecting flat bases and straight flaring sides. The body is always red. Until 30 years ago neither dated, nor signed pieces had been discovered. In 1976 a small fragment was discovered in the Gurgan plain, with the signature of an artist: Rahman ibn Musa al-Fakhkhar.

The second type of sgraffito, the so-called splashed sgraffito ware is actually a direct continuation of the Mesopotamian early Abbasid splashed wares. Its invention was most likely due to the ingenuity of Persian artists, who were not satisfied by simply producing splashes of brown, yellow and green under a clear glaze. They further enhanced the decoration of their vessels by incised decorations that at first were simple scrolls, but later included elaborate designs, such as eagles with spread wings or animals. This type has been excavated at Jorjan, Nishapur, Kangavar, Takht-i Sulayman, Susa and other sites in Iran.

The third type of sgraffito. the "Aghkand" ware, is actually similar to a metalwork technique, incised lines are introduced to certain designs in order to stop the overflow of the pigment to neighbouring areas. Large birds, animals and flowers decorate these vessels, which are mainly large bowls or dishes. It has been claimed that this type of pottery was actually made in Aghkand.

Middle Islamic Period (11th - 15th century CE)

Seljuq Dynasty (1037–1194)

At the beginning of the 11th century CE a new dynasty, the Seljuqs came to Iran and unified the country under their rule. This period under Seljuq rule in Iran lasted for hardly more than one and a half centuries, yet it witnessed great progress in literature, philosophy, in architecture and in all fields of the Iranian arts. The Seljuqs became great patrons of the arts and their patronage made it possible for Iranian artists to revive their pre-Islamic traditions and develop new techniques in metalwork and in pottery.

The most important achievement in pottery production was the introduction of a new composite white frit material. This new white body made the application of alkaline glaze easier; the actual body of the vessels was considerably thinner, almost translucent. Thus potters had nearly achieved the fineness of imported Chinese Song porcelain, which potters of the Near East greatly admired.

Cities like Ray, Kashan, Jorjan, and Nishapur became the main centres of Iranian pottery production. Under Seljuq patronage the following types of wares were produced in Iranian potters:

  • white wares,
  • monochrome glazed wares,
  • carved or laqabi wares,
  • lustre-painted wares,
  • underglaze-painted wares, and
  • overglaze-painted, so-called minai and lajvardina wares.

Unglazed ware is another important type, and has also gone through considerable changes and refinement. Note that while the Seljuqs were actually replaced by the Khwarizmshahian Dynasty towards the second half of the 12th century, artistically the same trend continued in the Greater Iran right up to the Mongol invasion.

White Wares

White wares were, perhaps, the most attractive of the period. As already mentioned, they were produced in imitation of Chinese white Song porcelain. The fine thin white body was covered with clear glaze, which occasionally has a light greenish tinge.

According to their decoration, these white wares can be divided into the following groups:

  • Plain white wares without any surface decoration, their beauty being in their shapes and in their fine paste and glaze
  • Those with moulded or incised decoration of either simple lines, scrollwork or elaborate floral designs, or occasionally even Naskhi or Kufic inscriptions
  • Vessels with openwork decoration, pierced on the body to form little windows filled by the clear glaze to the vessel even more translucent
  • Wares with cobalt blue splashes

Most of the vessels known today are bowls, jugs, or occasionally cups. Some of them reveal a combination of the various decorative techniques mentioned above, e.g., moulded or incised decoration, openwork and cobalt blue splashes applied on the same vessel. It appears that white wares were made in Kashan, Jorjan, and perhaps even in Ray near Tehran.

Monochrome Glazed Wares'

This type of ware was perhaps the most common all over Iran, and was later copied everywhere in the Islamic world. The colour of the glaze ranges from blue, through green, turquoise, brown to yellow, and purple. Almost every type of vessel was covered with these glazes, including bowls, jugs, tankards, pitchers, utility objects and zoomorphic vessels.

The decoration of these wares, just like those of the white ware, varies greatly. Most of them are simple, covered only with the coloured glaze, others may be decorated with incised, moulded, stamped or even carved decoration.

The decorations include scrollwork and epigraphic inscriptions, these mostly applied on jars, jugs and vases, running round the shoulder of the vessels; others, which are more elaborate, may include human and animal figures. One of the most frequent animate themes in this period of Iranian pottery is the representation of dancing figures. These vessels were most likely made in moulds. Such moulds were discovered in the excavations of Nishapur and at Jorjan. There are a few fine pieces known, on which the carved decoration is outlined in thin red or gold lines. The monochrome glazed wares were made in Nishapur, Kashan, Jorjan and most likely at Ray.

Carved or Laqabi Wares
Cup with hunters, 12th–13th century Carved Ware, Iran, musée du Louvre

This type of pottery is actually a re-interpretation of the Aghkand ware in white frit ware, in which the decoration of the surface was carved and the raised or incised lines used for stopping the overflow of the various colours. Most of these vessels, which are large plates or jugs, are decorated with a large bird, animal or a human figure in the centre, surrounded by a cobalt blue cable pattern over white ground.

The origin of this ware is much debated. Most scholars believe that it originated in Egypt and thence spread to Syria, and then to Iranian world. French scholars have discovered kilns and kiln-wasters in Raqqa in Syria. In Iran it was believed that the ware was produced only in Kashan or Ray, but so far no archaeological evidence has been discovered. If this ware was ever produced in Iran, it must have been only for a short period during the 12th century CE

Lustre-painted Wares

The origin of lustreware with iridescent painted glazes has been the subject of bitter discussion amongst scholars. Mesopotamia, Egypt and Iran have all been suggested as the original centres. The problem still has not been solved, and art historians should deal with this in any length. It, however, is a fact that lustrepainting was applied on glass by Coptic workers as early as the 7th or 8th century CE In Samarra the German excavators have found large numbers of lustre-painted pottery and even tiles in situ, thus indicating a 9th century CE date for lustre-painting on pottery. After the rise of the Fatimids and their foundation of Cairo in 969 CE, the centre of lustre production is definitely concentrated in Egypt. During Fatimid and Tulunid rules outstanding lustre-painted pottery was produced in Egypt, some of which depicted not only human figures but also scenes from everyday life. Around the end of the 12th century CE, it seems that the potters left. Egypt and were looking for patronage elsewhere. Some of them went to Syria, or Anatolia, where they gained the support of the Seljuqs of Rum in Konya. Others, however, went to Iran and set up their centre or centres somewhere in the country.

According to Pope and Lane, who wrote in detail about the lustre production in Iran, there were three main lustre producing centres in the country: Ray, Kashan and Sāveh near Tehran. Unfortunately there were no proper scholarly excavations at Kashan and Saveh, thus we have no archaeological evidence to support this surmise. The lustre production at Kashan, however, is well substantiated by the signature of several Iranian artists from Kashan and by Abu'l-Qasim's treatise, who claimed that lustre and several other types of pottery were produced in that city. The problem is different with Ray. In the mid 1930s archaeological excavations were carried out at Ray, but these did not produce the evidence that was expected. Late 1970s excavations however by Iranian archaeologists again failed to trace any evidence of local lustre production. Accordingly the theory that Ray or Saveh were lustre producing centres has to be approached with great caution.

There is a broken jar in the British Museum, which is, as far as is known today the earliest dated lustre object. It gives the date of 575 A.H. /1179 CE It was believed to be a Ray product. The inscription nevertheless does not state the place where it was made, but simply gives the date. in 1980, a dated vessel in a private collection came to light that is much earlier than the British Museum jar. The date on this bowl is 504 A.H./1114 CE This piece, if genuine, could considerably alter views on lustre production in Iran. It is painted in the Kashan style. This vessel is still under investigation and detailed scrutiny.

As for the lustre styles of Ray, Kashan and Saveh, Pope and Lane claimed that in Ray lustre compositions were never crowded. There was usually one large animal or human figure in the centre, or if several figures were represented, they were carefully separated from each other by geometrical bands or scrollwork. Pope distinguished' two periods in lustre production at Ray: the "miniature style" and the "monumental style". As for Kashan, it was generally accepted by a number of scholars that compositions were always densely crowded; human figures were depicted with round faces, with oriental features including large almond-shaped eyes; their garments were richly decorated. In the foreground on most vessels there is a pond with fishes; above, there is a stylized sky and the entire central field is surrounded by tassel-like marks. The leaves have veins and dots; the typical Kashan pigeon is present on most pieces, while on the outside of the vessels there is a kind of "heart-shaped" leaf.

It was also on typical Kashan wares that cobalt blue, or occasionally even turquoise glaze was added to the lustre decoration. Apart from vessels, Kashan potters also produced large numbers of tiles and mihrabs, some of which were made up of several lustre tiles. Quite a number of these lustre mihrabs and tiles are dated and signed. The Kashani family of Abu Taher a documented potter, contributed outstanding artists to Kashan for three generations.

In regard to the possibility of lustre production at Saveh, it was the late Professor Arthur Upham Pope who put forward such a theory. He also claimed that he collected kiln-wasters there. Unfortunately, as has already been pointed out, there were no excavations at Saveh and accordingly this surmise cannot be either supported or disproved.

Another important place, not yet mentioned in the Survey of Persian Art, is Jorjan, where during the 2nd World War important discoveries were made. Iranian archaeologists have unearthed some 20 or 25 large unglazed jars in which complete pottery vessels packed in sand were placed, probably before the Mongol invasion of Iran in 1220 CE. Subsequently the late Dr. Mehdi Bahraini, who was then Director of the National Museum of Iran in Tehran, carried out his own investigations and wrote a book, Gurgan Faiences. His book was received with great scepticism by several Iranian and Western scholars. Unfortunately he died before his book was published. In 1970s the Iranian Centre for Archaelological Research has carried out excavations at Jorjan under the direction of Mohammad Yousef Kiani. During these archaeological investigations six pottery kilns and one glass kiln were unearthed. At first there was evidence of local production of slip-painted, sgraffito and monochrome glazed pottery. It was only during the last year that evidence for lustre production came to light. Several kiln-wasters and several ceramic sticks used in kilns and tripods with traces of lustre on them were found in the potters' quarter. Thus it seems that Bahraini's theory of lustre production in Jorjan has now been satisfactorily proved.

When analysing the possible individual style of Jorjan, at first glance one may come to the conclusion that the ware is painted entirely in the Kashan manner. It is perhaps even logical to suppose that there must have been a close contact between the two centres, and one can even suggest that perhaps the potters of Jorjan had studied at Kashan, and later moved up to Jorjan, or vice versa. On several vessels, on the lower side of jugs and bottles, or inside bowls, there is an unusual "chain-scrolh" motif, a pattern never reported on "typical Kashan" vessels, but present on most lustre vessels discovered in Jorjan during World War II, or on those excavated in the 1970s. This pattern may be one of the attributes of Jorjan lustre.

Early lustre painting

In Jorjan, several hundreds of early polychrome and lustre-painted sherds came to light during the 1970s excavations. The above mentioned lustre bowl with its early date may completely alter our approach and interpretation of the history of lustre painting. If this early dated vessel is genuine, as it appears to be, lustre-painted pottery was produced in Iran well before the fall of the Fatimids in Egypt. Since there are numerous fragments of early polychrome and lustre sherds at Jorjan and other places (e.g., at Susa) it may be possible that lustre-painting was produced in Iran from early Islamic times onwards without a break until its golden age with the advent of the Seljuqs.

Underglaze-painted wares

Painting decoration under a clear glaze was first attempted by Islamic potters in Syria, probably during the late 9th or in the 10th century CE. Underglaze-painted decoration became really possible during the Saljuq period when the new white frit ware was introduced, which clear alkaline glaze could be easily applied to. Pigments do not run in the kiln under alkaline glaze, thus elaborate decorations became possible. This medium and technique was far more suitable for underglaze decoration than the glazes previously used in the same manner on the earlier lead glazed wares.

The colours used in underglaze-painting were limited to three: cobalt blue, turquoise and black. These colours were applied either all together, or sometimes only two; then the vessel was coated with a clear glaze. Another type of underglaze-painted ware included the use of glaze of blue or turquoise colour in place of the transparent glaze. In this instance the decoration was usually painted in one colour only, namely in black. There are, however, a few examples known on which the decoration appears in black and cobalt blue under a greenish glaze.

The decoration of most of these underglaze-painted vessels utilizes floral designs and epigraphic patterns. Others show human figures or animals. Those with human figures and animals reveal a close relationship with contemporary lustre-painted pottery. The details of the figures are identical to those on lustre wares; their garments are likewise ornate. On a few examples the pond ornament is present in the foreground. That would imply that perhaps the artists of these lustre and underglaze-painted vessels were the same and both types of wares were produced by the same ateliers. But where were these workshops and when were these vessels mostly made?

Scholars in the past generally accepted Ray and Kashan as the main centres for this type of pottery. Indeed, there can be no question about Kashan as a centre. As for Ray, the same remarks apply as for lustre-painting; there is still not sufficient evidence to claim that this type of pottery was made there. Evidence was likewise missing in Nishapur. It was again at Jorjan that the recent excavations brought to light kiln-wasters, and tripods indicating that underglaze-painting was practiced there, in the same kilns where lustre wares were made. The underglaze-painted finds, complete and sherds, are so numerous in Jorjan that local manufacture cannot be doubted any longer, particularly on account of the evidence of wasters.

For the possible dates of these underglaze-painted wares, there are a number of dated examples; the earliest known dated example is a jug, with the date 1166, and the latest dates from the period after the Mongol invasion, to the year of 1278.

Overglaze-painted (minai and lajvardina) Wares

Probably one of the most beautiful types of Iranian pottery that was produced during the Seljuq period is that of overglaze-painting. In Persian the names of mināi (enamel), or haft-rangi, (seven colours) are used. The term lājvardina applies to a somewhat later technique and will be described further below.

It seemed logical for Iranian potters of this period to attempt, after their numerous successful techniques, the most difficult decoration, namely painting in polychrome over the glaze. The colours used were indeed seven, as the Persian term, haft-rangi indicates: cobalt blue, green or turquoise, red, brown or black, gold, yellow and white. The seven colours do not necessarily appear all together on every overglazepainted vessel. It is claimed, in fact, that two colours out of these seven, namely cobalt blue and turquoise, are not painted over, but under the glaze.

The decoration of this overglaze-painted ware, particularly of the earlier pieces is very delicately painted in miniature style, and indeed recalls contemporary Persian and Mesopotamian manuscript illumination. Unfortunately, not many illuminated manuscripts have survived from the Seljuq period, but one in the Topkapi Saray Library in Istanbul, the manuscript of Varqa va Golshah, is definitely a Persian Seljuq work—most likely executed in Khurasan. The similarity between the miniatures of this particular manuscript and the decorations of the minai vessels is so striking that several scholars put forward the idea that the same artists produced the miniatures and the pottery vessels. It is here, on minai vessels, that we see the only Islamic and Iranian pottery that displays elaborate hunting, royal, or love secenes, most of which recall stories from Ferdowsi's Shahnameh. The story of Bahram-e Gur and Āzādeh hunting is repeated on several minai vessels. A large plate in the Freer Gallery in Washington represents the siege of a fortress. It has been explained that this scene is neither from the Shahnameh, nor from any other Persian epic, but recalls an actual event, a real siege that must have taken place at some time during the Sasanian dynasty remembered later, perhaps as a souvenir for someone depicted on this minai plate.

When we examine the development of minai wares in detail, we may come to the conclusion that in its first stage the decorations over the glaze were somewhat limited and included only floral designs and geometrical patterns. The Jorjan excavations produced numbers of such sherds but no figural decorations. Figural decorations must represent the second stage in the development of minai. We have a few such dated examples, the earliest one being a bowl, dated 1182 CE, and the latest known piece 1242 CE Abu'l-Qāsem, who was a member of the famous Kashan lustre potter family, in his treatise on pottery techniques (already referred to previously) claimed that by his time in 1300 CE, minai had died out and was not practised any longer. By then the lajvardina technique was used.

The change from "minai" to "lajvardina", however was not a straight jump, but was rather a slow transitional process. From the surviving complete vessels and sherds it appears that at a later date, most likely after the Mongol invasion, the minai technique was simplified. The vessels were covered with a coloured, usually light blue or turquoise glaze and the decoration, which by then was very much simplified and restricted to scrollwork and geometrical designs, was painted in red, black, occasionally in white and with the larger part of the decoration executed in gold leaf stuck to the glazed surface. Some of the decorative details were in low relief. Jars, jugs, bowls, or some unusual objects like the cosmetic or chemical container were made in this transitional technique.

Towards the end of the 13th century the background of these overglaze-painted vessels becomes darker; they were completely covered with lajvard (hence the name) or cobalt blue glaze, then were painted in the same way and with the same colours as mentioned above for the transitional pieces.

Ray, Kashan, Saveh and even Natanz were suggested as the possible centres of minai and lajvardina wares. The Ray excavations in the thirties failed to produce any minai piece, and the excavator, the late Dr. Schmidt remarked that they must have been imported there. The recent archaeological work at Ray failed to produce a single minai piece. Saveh and Natanz, in the absence of any achaeological evidence, must be treated with the same caution as for the lustre-painted wares. There is, however, no doubt about Kashan being one of the most important centres of the technique, as stated by Abu'l-Qasem.

The Jorjan excavations produced a large number of minai sherds, all from the potters' area. It is true that up to this date, not a single waster was discovered, but the presence of so many minai sherds around the kilns may indicate local production.

As for the production of lajvardina, Abu'l-Qasem clearly mentions that this was made at Kashan during his life-time, i.e., towards the end to the 13th and beginning of the 14th century. Richard Ettinghausen once put forward the suggestion that perhaps they were made in the Soltan-Abad (in present day Arak) area. The German excavations at Takht-e Soleiman, in the northwestern part of the country have also produced lajvardina wares, mainly tiles, which must have decorated the palace of the Il-Khanid Abaqa Khan. The excavators also discovered kilns and kiln-wasters. Accordingly the technique must have been practised at least in two different places, namely in Kashan and in Takht-i Sulayman, but that was already in post-Mongol times under the II-Khanid rulers.

Unglazed Wares

Unglazed wares are one of the most common and popular pottery types, made almost everywhere and throughout several millennia. In Iraian pottery they constitute a great part of the evidence in the history and evolution of ceramics. To date or identify the provenance of unglazed wares is an extremely difficult, mostly impossible task. Yet, it was during the Seljuq period that more and finer unglazed wares were produced all over in Iran than ever before or even after.

The paste of these vessels can be white, buff, yellow or red. The actual colour of the body depends partly on the chemical composition of the clay, and partly on firing. The wares may be divided into two large groups: simple or undecorated vessels, and decorated ones. The decorations may be incised, stamped, moulded, carved or pierced. Frequently several of these decorative techniques were applied on the same vessels.

There are large storage jars, decorated and undecorated, bowls, jugs, and bottles, particularly convenient for holding water, since evaporation of water from the unglazed surface helps to cool the liquid inside. Pilgrim flasks, cups, etc. were also made in these unglazed wares.

Kilns for producing such wares were discovered in several sites in the country, but it was in Nishapur and Jorjan that moulds came to light. It is nevertheless most likely that almost every region had its pottery centre where unglazed wares were made for local production.

Il-Khanid Period (1258-1334 CE)

The Mongol invasions of 1220 and 1221 CE devastated large parts of Iran and in particular destroyed cities like Ray, Nishapur and Jorjan (old Gorgan), which previously were the most important centres of Iranian pottery. Kashan, although likewise destroyed by the Mongols, seemed to have quickly recovered and pottery production continued.

The Mongol governors, the Il-Khans, who ruled Iran on behalf of the Great Khan in Mongolia, soon separated themselves from the rest of the Empire and set up an independent dynasty. Their new capital was first at Maragheh and later at Tabriz in northwest Iran. They embraced Islam and assumed Iranian customs, culture and language. However, recovery from the great devastation was rather slow. It was not until the end of the 13th century that new building projects were started. Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, the Persian prime minister of the Mongol Il-Khans at the beginning of the 14th century, and also a scholar, was responsible among other cultural activities for the compilation of the famous Jami' al-Tawarikh (Universal History) manuscript, which was richly illustrated with miniature paintings and written in Persian and Arabic.

As far as known today, it was mainly Kashan that continued manufacturing lustre, underglaze and overglaze-painted wares, as has already been mentioned. Towards the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th century CE, however, new pottery centres emerged. One of these was in the northwest, probably at Takht-i Sulayman, where the Mongol Abaqa Khan (1265-1281 CE) built a palace for himself that, as already mentioned, was decorated with luster and lajvardina tiles. Takht-i Sulayman, however, must have been connected with another major pottery producing area, namely the Soltanabad district (modern Arak), which included not only the town itself, but at least another twenty or thirty villages. Further south, Kerman became another centre and soon Mashhad pottery appears as well. Apart from these main centres there were several other, less significant, pottery producing areas, most of which haven't been located.

The pottery of the Il-Khanid period can be divided into the following groups

  • The wares of Kashan
  • Soltanabad and Takht-i Sulayman pottery
  • The wares of Kerman
  • Jorjan wares
  • Provincial wares.
The Wares of Kashan

Iranian lustre and underglaze-painted wares continued in Kashan after the Mongol invasion with the same shapes, decoration and techniques identical to those used before. In the early phase there is hardly any noticeable change. There was an increase in the production of tiles, particularly for rebuilding or new architectural projects under Il-Khanid patronage. These tiles were intended to decorate palaces and religious buildings such as mosques, madrasahs and shrines. A great number of these tiles and mihrabs bear the signature of the artists and the date of completion. The inscriptions on the tiles are partly in Arabic and partly in Persian; the later ones may be quotations from the Shahnameh or from other Persian epics.

By the early 14th century CE some change is noticeable in the decoration of these Kashan vessels and tiles. Namely, certain ancient Persian Simorgh (Phoenixes), as well as Far Eastern decorative elements such as dragons, etc. are introduced. On this new type of tile part of the decoration may appear in low relief and occasionally painted in cobalt blue, turquoise or both.

Wares of the Soltanbad (Arak) District

The Sultanabad district of Arak must have been a significant Iranian pottery producing area well before the advent of the Mongols. In early Islamic times, nevertheless, we don't know much about the pottery from this area. It is only towards the end of the 13th and early 14th century that ceramics of this region become important. In the past scholars have even attributed some lustre vessels to this district. We can say, however, that these were more likely the products of Kashan than of this area. Soltanabad wares may be divided into the following three groups: the first one is very similar to the underglazepainted wares of Kashan, except that here the design is mainly composed of radiating wedge-shaped designs with floral or epigraphic patterns. These are painted in cobalt blue and black under a clear glaze. The second type differs from this, since here the design is mainly in black on a greyish ground, some of the decorative patterns appearing in white low relief, and then covered with a clear glaze. Usually there is a bird or an animal inside in the centre depicted over floral background; round the rim there is an inscription, which is usually illegible, serving only a decorative purpose. By then the shape of the vessels also changes. The most popular vessel is the bowl on a splayed foot-ring with hemispherical body and everted and incurved flat rim. This type of bowl was also produced in a monochrome-glazed version, occasionally decorated with vertical ribs on the outside.

The third type of these wares is much thinner and whiter. The decorations are painted mostly in three colours: cobalt, black and turquoise, but black is primarily used for outlining the decorative patterns. This was essential since by then potters somehow once again were unable to control the colours, which ran in the kiln.

Another new shape introduced at that time was the albarello. This shape may have come from the west, probably from Syria. Some scholars believed that there was a connection between certain Soltanabad wares and Syrian pottery of the time. Certainly some affinity is recognisable, not only in the shape of vessels, like the albarello, but also in the decorative motifs.

These Sultanabad wares may have also been produced elsewhere in the country, primarily in the northwestern part of Iran. Here one should once more refer to Takht-i Sulayman, where similar vessels have been excavated. The presence of kilns and wasters indicate their local production.

The Wares of Kerman

Recent archaeological work in the Kerman region, namely at Ghubayra and in Sirjan, brought to light new types of wares that seem to be of local provenance. These included underglaze-painted wares. Their decoration may imitate those of Kashan, or later the wares of Soltanabad, but their quality and potting is remarkably different. These Kerman wares are heavily potted; the glaze is of an inferior quality, which easily peels off from the body. There were no kilns or wasters discovered at Ghubayra, but they were found at Sirjan. Accordingly, Sirjan, a considerable town at that time, was already, or had just become a pottery producing centre.

Another type of local ware, definitely the product of either the town of Kerman or another place in the province, was lustre-painted tiles. This type is so different in paste, quality of the glaze and pigment from the tiles of Kashan that it can be easily recognised. The decoration may imitate the tiles of Kashan, yet is inferior and the colour of the pigment is much darker brown. During the 1970s Ghubayra excavations by Professor David Bivar, another type of lustre-painted tile was discovered: painted on cobalt blue glaze with lustre decoration, which on the dark glaze appears silverish in colour. While such vessels were made elsewhere in Iran, no such tiles have been located so far anywhere else.

Jordan Wares

The 1970s excavations by the Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research at Jorjan have shown that the town was, as stated by several scholars before, destroyed by the Mongols invasion of Iran. Still, it now seems almost certain that pottery production continued there after a short interval. The post-Mongol pottery included underglaze and lustre-painted wares. Their quality had not deteriorated, but there were some changes in the decorative scheme, which became somewhat simplified and perhaps less figurative.

Some wasters recently discovered at Jorjan were of the underglaze-painted wares, their shapes similar to those of Soltanabad bowls, i.e. with everted and incurved rims, and with inscriptions outside round the rim.

There is also an indication that some kind of blue and white ware was produced in the Jorjan area. These pieces may in fact represent the first examples of Persian blue and white wares. Simply, it is a category within the underglaze-painted type in which the black and turquoise colours have been eliminated. These early blue and white examples may date from the 14th century, prior to the invasion of Timur in 1393 CE when he destroyed Jorjan, bringing the end of urban life there.

Provincial Wares

Apart from the wares and pottery centres mentioned above, a great number of wares have provenances that cannot be easily localized. Two possible provincial centres were identified as Varamin and the Ray area. The pottery from these two areas has a buff body, covered with white or creamy ground slip and painted in polychrome under a yellowish transparent glaze. The decoration of these vessels may be simply floral, scrollwork, or sometimes depicting flying birds. These birds recall Far Eastern prototypes. The attribution to the Varamin and Ray vicinity was due partly to finds collected and partly to historical events; the area became important under the Il-Khanids at the beginning of the 14th century.

There is also a great number of heavily potted, blue and black painted wares, decorated with crosshatching. These vessels, mostly large bowls and dishes, have everted flat rims and are always heavily potted. Up to this day it is impossible to determine the provenance of these "crosshatched" wares.

Timurid Pottery (1370-1502 CE)

In 1393 CE there was another devastating invasion in Iran. This time it was Timur, who came with a large army, conquered the entire country and destroyed many cities, such as Jorjan, Esfahan, Shiraz and Kerman. Timur carried most of the artists away with him to his capital at Samarkand. Thus Samarkand became the centre of the Persian arts, particularly of architecture and architectural decoration. The golden age of Timurid art, however, did not start until the reign of Shah Rukh (1404-1447 CE). Shah Rukh, himself a calligrapher, became a patron of the Persian arts. Persian miniature painting flourished. Beautiful religious buildings were erected all over the Timurid realm. Architectural decoration became important, leading to beautiful and elaborate faience mosaic decoration. Examples include the shrine complex, the Shah-e Zendeh in Samarkand, the Gur-e Amir, Timur's mausoleum, the Madrasah of Gauhar Shah in Herat and Mashhad, and the famous Majid-e Kabud (the Blue Mosque) in Tabriz.

Persian pottery production of the period hasn't been fully investigated, yet it appears that the same type of pottery was produced all over, as before under the Mongols. At least one more important ware appeared, Kubachi ware. This ware was simply painted in black under blue or turquoise glaze, and consisted only of large dishes with sloping rims. The decoration is mainly floral designs or geometrical forms. However, two examples have inscriptions in Nastaliq that include the date of the vessels. Both give 15th century CE dates, thus they were definitely Timurid. The name Kubachi in fact is unsatisfactory, since that is the name of a small village in Daghestan in the Caucasus. But it was there in Kubachi, where this type of pottery was first discovered on the walls of peasant houses. It is now known that the people of Kubachi never made the pottery, but they produced fine metalwork and arms that they may have exchanged for this pottery. It is now widely accepted that Kubachi ware in fact was produced in the northwestern part of Iran, in Tabriz.

Blue and white ware has already been mentioned above, under Jorjan. Some kind of blue and white ware was already produced in pre-Timurid times either in Jorjan or somewhere else in the Jorjan plain. The new type of blue and white, however, is different from the former in shape, colour and decoration. This new type of blue and white was certainly produced under direct influence of imported Chinese blue and white porcelain. The shapes echo Chinese porcelain vessels, mainly small "rice" bowls. The decoration also recalls Chinese prototypes, depicting lotuses, meanders and flying phoenixes. It had been suggested that this 15th century blue and white was made in Kerman. This theory has now been substantiated by archaeological evidence from Ghubayra and from other sites in Kerman Province. Such blue and white bowls were excavated in East Africa at Kilwa, which must have been imported from Iran.

Later Islamic Period (16TH-19TH Centuries CE)

Lane included the late Il-Khanid and Timurid periods in this later Iranian pottery. Dr. Geza Fehervari also included these two periods under the later period in his study based on the Barlow Collection. The late Il-Khanid Persian-pottery was more or less a continuation of Seljuq types, although admittedly some changes took place around the end of the 13th century, as has been pointed out. These changes are attributable to Mongol influence. During the Timurid period, a transition between earlier and later types, there was a decline in pottery making. This was contrasted by the great advance and brilliance of Irnaian technique achieved in architectural decoration.

Safavid Wares (1502-1722 CE)

The Safavaid dynastic period was a renaissance in the history of Iranian pottery, when not only long forgotten Persian techniques were re-introduced, but also when new Persian wares were invented. Thus perhaps it is more logical to consider the rise of the Safavid dynasty as the beginning of a new epoch in the long history of Perso-Islamic pottery. The pottery of this time featured many geometric shapes, such as diamonds, triangles and stars.

The Safavids came to power at the beginning of the 16th century CE, and for the first time after more than one thousand years a national and native dynasty, came to power in Iran. The dynasty was founded by Shah Ismail (1502-1524 CE) who united the country under his rule. The Safavid period was a golden age for Iran, particularly for the arts. Monumental and richly decorated mosques, madrasahs and palaces were built: Iranian metalwork flourished again; carpet weaving gained new impetus and miniature painting reached its apogee during this time. Shah Ismail's successors, Shah Tahmasp I (1524-1576 CE), Shah Abbas the Great (1587-1628 CE) became active patrons of the Persian arts. First the capital was at Tabriz, and later, due to the Ottoman threat, was transferred to Qazvin; at the end of the 16th century it was moved to Isfahan by Shah Abbas.

Irnaian Pottery manufacture gained new impetus. Old techniques were revived and produced, due to the different age and requirements, in a new guise. The body of these Safavid wares is now so fine, thin and translucent, that it comes very close to the imported Chinese porcelain. It is a kind of faience but much more refined than that of the Persian potteries of Seljuq period.

Safavid pottery can be divided into the following types

  • Kubachi wares
  • Lustre wares
  • White or "Gombroon" wares
  • Late blue and white wares and
  • Monochrome and polychrome wares of Kerman
Kubachi Wares

This type of ware has already been mentioned briefly under Timurid wares. The most recent research produced evidence that this ware can be subdivided into three groups; the first group is discussed above. The second group is the blue and white. As in the earlier group there are only large dishes known, very similar in shape to those of group no. 1. The blue of this ware is rather inky and is apt to run under the glaze. While there was definitely some Chinese influence here, the decorations depicted on these wares are rather distant from Chinese prototypes. As for their possible dates, the 16th century has been suggested.

The third, and perhaps the most important group, of these Kubachi wares is the polychromepainted. The designs appear in blue, brownish-red, yellow and green under clear glaze. Portraits of ladies and gentlemen are painted on these dishes against floral or simple scroll backgrounds. Others depict landscapes or just flowers. Apart from large dishes, small bowls, dishes and jugs are also known in these types.

Lustre Wares

As has been mentioned lustre-painted ware was still produced in Kashan and Jorjan and, tiles in Kerman during the 14th and even in the 15th century CE. During the 15th century, however, there was a decline in lustre production in Iran, nevertheless, never stopped completely but continued until it was revived again on a wide scale in Safavid times.

Safavid lustre ware has a very hard and compact white body and was decorated in golden, brownish or reddish colours. The decorations are mainly floral designs and scrollwork; birds or small animals are also rarely depicted. These were painted on a white ground, or sometimes over cobalt blue glaze.

The shape of the vessels changed considerably; bottles, vases, cups, and plates are the most important types. Great numbers of these are preserved in western public and private collections. The centre of Safavid lustre production, due to lack of archaeological evidence for local production, has still not been established for certain. Kashan, Shiraz, Isfahan and Kerman were all suggested, but until recently no fragments or vessels had been discovered in archaeological context at any of these places. Safavid lustre wares can be dated to the late 16th to the early 18th century CE.

White (Gobroon) Wares

The term Gombroon derives from the old name of modern Bander Abbas, which in Safavid times was an important port on the Persian Gulf. It was from there that the Dutch and the British East India Company exported this special type of pottery, together with other Safavid wares to Europe.

The Gombroon ware has a hard faience body, which is considerably thinner than that of contemporary lustre ware. It is occasionally even translucent. The decoration may consist of incised patterns under clear glaze, or is painted in cobalt blue and black colours. Finer pieces are pierced, and just as in the white wares of the Seljuq dynasty, the little holes are filled by the glaze, which has a greenish tinge. Others have no decoration; their beauty is in their fine and elegant shapes and in the almost porcelainous body.

Bowls, mostly on half splayed foot-rings ewers, jugs and cups were made. This type of pottery was introduced sometime during the 17th century and continued right up to the end of the 19th. There are two dated examples known. Both are bowls in the British Museum, one dated to 1233 A.H. (1817 CE), and the other to 1234 A.H. (1818 CE), both with the signature of Mohammad Ali.

Late Blue and White

Reference has already been made to the introduction of blue and white wares in previous chapters. It was nevertheless during the Safavid dynastic period that this ware gained greater importance in Iranian pottery manufacture. European travellers of the time refer to the production of this type of pottery, which was, as has been mentioned above, exported to Europe.

The earliest blue and white ware was most likely manufactured in Jorjan or somewhere else in that area, as mentioned earlier. Kerman was another important centre as early as the 15th century. During the Safavid period blue and white production increased there and such wares were exported not only to Europe but also to East Africa. European literary sources mention three major centres for blue and white wares: Kerman, Mashhad and Yazd.

The wares of Kerman may be recognized by the paste of the vessels, which is softer and porous, and by their decoration, very distinct from the works of the other two centres. Kerman blue and white may imitate the decoration of Chinese wares, but the interpretation of the Chinese decorative motifs, landscapes and figures is clearly Persian. The floral motifs in or around the landscapes is also entirely Persian. The blue is softer and the decoration was never outlined in black, as it happens in Mashhad or in Yazd towards the end of the Safavid period.

The decoration of the blue and white ware of Mashhad consists of much closer imitations of the Chinese prototypes. The body is harder, the blue is darker and the decoration is a faithful copy of the Chinese blue and white porcelain. The large plates and dishes, which have survived in large numbers in private and public collections in the western hemisphere, always depict a Chinese landscape in the centre of the vessel, while on the border are Buddhist symbols, Chinese flowers or rocks are shown. On a few specimens the decoration is reserved in white on a blue background and moulded in low relief. Towards the late 17th and early 18th century, when potters were again unable to control the flow of pigment in the kiln, the decorations were outlined in black.

The late Arthur Lane was the first to emphasize the importance of Yazd as a blue and white producing centre. He referred to tassel-marks on the base of the vessels, which are characteristic of Yazd. Recently, more vessels have come to light that can be attributed to this town. The colour of Yazd wares is strikingly different from those of Kerman and Mashhad. It is rather on the darker side, a kind of greyish-blue or almost black. The glaze usually has a greenish tinge that never occurs on Kerman and Mashhad wares.

There are a number of dated blue and white wares, and it is now clear that they were produced in all three centres throughout the Safavid period and even later.

Monochrome Wares

A large number of Persian brown, yellow, green and blue glazed vessels are known to have been made during the Safavid dynasty. While their exact provenance has not yet been established, scholars have indicated that they can be connected with southern Iran, or more precisely, with the town of Kerman. These wares may be simple, lacking any surface decoration; others are moulded, depicting human figures, flowers, animals or birds. Jars, vases and flasks are known to have been made. Their suggested date is the 17th and early 18th century.

Polychrome Wares

A group of pottery vessels were painted in brownish-red, blue and green under the glaze, likewise attributed to Kerman. Such fragments actually have been collected in 1970s on the slopes of the Qala'-e Dukhtar in Kerman and were excavated at Ghubayra under supervision of emeritus Professor of Iranian studies, David Bivar of SOAS.

Complete vessels preserved in private and public collections are mainly large plates and qaliāns, and are decorated with flowers and human figures. There are two dated examples, one bearing the date corresponding to 1673 CE and another 1677 CE Accordingly, these polychrome wares can be attributed to the 17th and early 18th centuries.

Modern Period: Wares of the Zand and Qajar Periods (1756-1925 bc)

Post-Safavid pottery so far has not been seriously studied, and the available information is scarce and not very reliable. Yet we may presume that after the Afghan invasion of mainland-Iran when the Safavid dynasty was swept away, for a while there was chaos in the country, but pottery production must have continued along the same lines as previously. The change, or rather the decline, was gradual. It is true that even as late as the middle of the 19th century fine blue and white or white "Gombroon" wares were produced, but in general the quality of pottery deteriorated. With the removal of the capital from Isfahan, first to Shiraz under the Zands, and then to Tehran under the Qajars, the artists themselves moved.

Traces of Zand architectural decoration are visible in the "Majidiyeh Noe" and in other buildings in Shiraz. New colours were introduced, including pale pink. Later, tile production continued in Tehran. These tiles depict human figures in low relief against a dark blue back ground.

Isfahan produced a kind of blue and white ware and an underglaze polychrome-painted ware throughout the 19th century, but the quality of these never reached that of Safavid pottery. A new type of pottery painted in blue and black with pierced decoration, again the clear glaze filling the small windows, was made in Nayin during the 19th century.

Toward the end of the century there was a general decline in Iranian pottery manufacture, due mainly to the mass imported and cheaply produced industrial porcelain from Europe and the Far East. This meant the end of artistic pottery production in Iran and it was not revived until early 1970s.


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