In the second quarter of the seventeenth century, Chinese blue-and-white porcelain production decreased and Iranian potters stepped up manufacture of Chinese-inspired blue-and-white ceramics. The two lions, the swirling fleshy clouds with their vegetal appearance, and the repeating scroll all allude to blue-and-white Chinese export ware.
The tide of Safavid Persian taste in ceramics was turning at the time this large dish was produced. In 1607–8 Shah ‘Abbas I deposited more than one thousand pieces of Chinese porcelain in his dynastic shrine at Ardabil. Although the ostensible reason for this charitable gift was a pious wish to honor the founder of the Safavid dynasty, Shaikh Safi al-Din, it may actually reflect a waning fashion for Chinese porcelains, at least at the court level. For centuries, Chinese ceramics had enjoyed the highest status in courtly collections of valuable and rare items. The dates of the porcelains donated by Shah ‘Abbas I—from the thirteenth to the early seventeenth century—indicate that they had been collected over a long period of time and were still entering the royal household during his reign. While blue-and-white ceramics had been produced in Iran during the sixteenth century, before the deposit at Ardabil, the volume of production expanded enormously in the first half of the seventeenth century. The intended markets for these wares are debatable; the largest consumers were probably Iranians themselves. The case for a direct connection between the Ardabil collections and the new production of blue-and-white wares in Iran, considered tenuous by some, relies more on visual than textual evidence. Nevertheless, paintings from the first half of the seventeenth century depicting large blue-and-white vessels used by a range of social types, from dervishes to prostitutes, imply that the taste for such wares was society-wide and was satisfied by a more affordable source than Chinese imports. Just as the shah tired of the fashion for Chinese blue-and-white wares, his subjects woke up to and adapted this style for themselves. In the center of this dish are two lions, the one above striding toward the left but looking back and down at the other one, who lies facing right, his left front paw overlapping his right leg and his head turning up and back as if to roar at the animal above. A black outline defines their forms, but they are reserved in white against the cobalt blue ground. Details such as their manes are drawn in black, as are the small dots along their backs and legs. Swirling around them are fleshy clouds that appear more vegetal than celestial. A repeating scroll fills the wider band around the central lobed circle, and a carved flower-and-wave pattern appears in the cavetto under the transparent bluish glaze. On the exterior, a band of reciprocal half-blossoms and S-scrolls has been painted in underglaze blue near the foot. The base bears a distinctive Chinese-style mark. Lisa Golombek, Robert Mason, and Patty Proctor have noted a very similar mark on the base of a saltcellar in the Museum fur Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, dated A.H. 1037/1627–28 A.D. Although the petrofabric of the pieces with this type of mark can be traced to Kirman, the use of black outlines had ceased in Kirman by the mid-1630s, which suggests that this dish was, in fact, produced in Mashhad, where this device remained current. Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011] Footnotes: 1. Canby 2009, pp. 120–21. 2. Golombek, Lisa, Robert B. Mason, and Patty Proctor. "Safavid Potters’ Marks and the Question of Provenance." Iran 39 (2001), pp. 207–36, esp. pp. 211–12, fig. 5. An almost identical mark appears on a dish in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. See Crowe, Yolande. Persia and China: Safavid Blue and White Ceramics in the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1501–1738. [Geneva], 2002, p. 67, no. 37. 3. Golombek, Lisa. "The Safavid Ceramic Industry at Kirman." Iran 41 (2003), pp. 253–70, esp. p. 261.
Frank Gair Macomber, Boston (until 1924; his sale, American ArtAssociation, New York, February 27, 1924, lot 175, to MMA)
Asia Society. "Iranian Ceramics," May 3, 1963–September 12, 1963, no. 84.
Wilkinson, Charles K. Iranian Ceramics. New York: Asia House Gallery, 1963. no. 84, p. 137, ill. pl. 84 (b/w).
Canby, Sheila R. Shah 'Abbas: The Remaking of Iran. London, 2009. pp. 120–21.
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. 155, pp. 229-230, ill. p. 229 (color).
Artist: Muhammad Zaman al-Munajjim al-Asturlabi (active 1643–89)Date: dated A.H. 1065/ A.D. 1654–55Medium: Brass and steel; cast and hammered, pierced and engravedAccession: 63.166a–jOn view in:Gallery 453