Very few pieces of Iranian lusterware survive from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but this technique was revived in the seventeenth century. During this period, lusterware was produced in a relatively limited range of shapes, including elegant bottles, such as the one here, as well as dishes, bowls, cups, ewers and sand-shakers. This bottle would have been made toward the end of the reign of Shah ‘Abbas II (1642–1666), a period of heightened artistic activity in which new ideas from Europe and India found favor. Thus, the eclectic confluence of the Indian zebu bull, the Persian peacock, and the Chinese deer on one bottle would have been admired as much as the elegant shape and lustrous glaze.
Very few pieces of Iranian lusterware survive from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, although, according to Oliver Watson, the technique never died out completely. For reasons that are not well understood, the know-how required for making lusterware—for mixing the luster glaze, painting it on a once-fired piece, and refiring it in a reducing kiln at the right temperature to fuse the luster glaze to the surface—was revived or rediscovered in the seventeenth century. The few signed pieces of Safavid lusterware do not include dates or other information that would help place the wares geographically. Thus, the analysis of this bottle and other Safavid lusterwares rests on comparisons of their shapes and decoration with those of objects produced in different techniques. Additionally, a few pieces that combine the lusterware technique with underglaze painting provide a bit more information on dating the wares.
This lusterware bottle is decorated on its long neck with an uppermost wide band of dark brown luster, a row of four acacia-like trees, and a band of fringe. Arranged on the walls of its ovoid body are a zebu bull, two cypress trees, stacked pairs of outsized seed pods, a peacock, and a deer, interspersed with floral and foliate sprays. While Arthur Lane has remarked that the compositions "with their fussy crowding of trivialities" approach Kirman pottery "in spirit," the animals and vegetation are also reminiscent of the illumination of Safavid manuscript borders. To date, no thorough study has been conducted to explain the connection between the two media, if one actually exists.
Compared with Safavid blue-and-white ceramics, lusterware was produced in a relatively limited range of shapes. These include elegant bottles, such as the one here, dishes, bowls, small cups, larger stem cups, ewers with bent spouts, tulip vases, squat ewers with lids, and sand-shakers. Some of the sand-shakers may have functioned as spittoons, but most of them would have been used by scribes to blot ink by dusting sand on it. The many surviving examples of these pieces suggest that the clientele of lusterware potters may have included people, such as calligraphers, who worked in libraries with artists and illuminators. If so, the potters would have had access or good cause to mimic the designs of the illuminators on their pottery.
While many Safavid lusterwares are hastily drawn, a few are decorated with carefully composed scenes that are often derived from Chinese sources. Thus, a stylistic development can be posited from the more precisely rendered early pieces to the increasingly sketchy, derivative later pieces. With its wealth of detail and recognizable motifs, this bottle falls near the beginning of the range. A dish in the British Museum, London, contains a scene in blue and white with luster details showing a male figure in a garden with a distinctive bridge based on a Chinese prototype; its exterior walls have lusterware decoration on a cobalt blue ground. Yolande Crowe has dated works with the same figure and bridge motif to the reign of Shah Sulaiman (1666–94). Assuming this bottle falls near the beginning of the introduction of lusterware in the seventeenth century, one can suggest a fifty-to seventy-year span in which the wares were produced. In this scenario the bottle would have been made about 1660–70, at the end of the reign of Shah ‘Abbas II or during the reign of Shah Sulaiman. In both Isfahan and beyond, the reign of Shah ‘Abbas II was a period of heightened artistic activity in which new ideas from Europe and India found favor. These ideas eventually would have filtered to the potters. Thus, the meeting of the Indian zebu bull, the Persian peacock, and the Chinese deer on one bottle would have been admired as much as the elegant shape and lustrous glaze of the piece.
Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Edward C. Moore (American, New York 1827–1891 New York), New York (until d. 1891; bequeathed to MMA)
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 161, pp. 234-235, ill. p. 234 (color).