This bowl represents another innovation that coincided with the Syrian adoption of stonepaste: the application of pigment oxides directly on ceramic bodies before coating with transparent glaze. Often painted in radial designs, the colors included chromium black, copper turquoise, cobalt blue, and iron oxide red. Recent analysis suggests the main production center for this ware was Damascus.
It has been difficult to pin down the attribution of the ceramic type to which this handsome polychrome bowl belongs. Found at sites throughout Syria, such bowls were formerly classed with ceramics attributed to Rusafa. Later, they came to be grouped with Raqqa ware. One theory—that they were made not only at multiple centers in Syria but also in Egypt—is based on shards found at Fustat "in quantities and of a quality that show it [Egypt] was an important producer." Another, based on recent petrographic analysis and supported by a study of archaeological evidence, suggests Damascus as the main center of production for this ware.
To create the design on this bowl, the ceramist painted directly on the white stonepaste body with three pigments—chromium black, cobalt blue, and bole red—over which he applied a transparent alkali glaze. The interior design consists of a band of pseudo-inscription around the rim, surrounding a framework of radial panels with alternating designs of bold, crisply drawn palmettes, split palmettes, crescents, "big-eye" motifs, and trefoils against either white or stippled grounds. The outer walls are painted with loosely drawn arc motifs, another diagnostic indicator for this pottery group.
Similarities in technique, form, and design clearly suggest a relationship between this group of Syrian underglaze-painted pottery and comparable material from Iran. This ware may have appeared in Syria and Egypt as an attempt at imitating the colorful Iranian mina’i ware, a development linked with the east-to-west transfer of the conical bowl form around 1200. Another chronology for medieval Syrian ceramics, however, dates the appearance in Syria of polychrome underglaze-painted ware as early as about 1125, preceding mina’i production by about fifty years. The technical, formal, and stylistic ceramic relationships between Syria and Iran in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries appear to be more complex than previously thought and warrant further consideration.
Ellen Kenney in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Watson 2004, p. 296; Grube 1994, p. 255. I am grateful to Rosalind Wade-Haddon for her assistance and bibliographic suggestions.
2. Mason 2004, pp. 106, 108.
3. Watson 2004, p. 294. See also Porter, V. 1981, pp. 30–33.
4. Mason 2004, pp. 108–9 (where he also points out the technical dissimilarity between mina’i and "true under-glaze painting"), and p. 178.
5. Perpetual Glory: Medieval Islamic Ceramics from the Harvey B. Plotnick Collection. Exhibition, The Art Institute of Chicago. Catalogue by Oya Pancaroğlu with Manijeh Bayani. Chicago, 2007, pp. 96, 101, and 107, no. 65. The relationship between the ceramics of Iran and Syria in earlier phases is discussed in Allan, James [W.], and Caroline Roberts, eds. Syria and Iran: Three Studies in Medieval Ceramics. Oxford Studies in Islamic Art, 4. Oxford, 1987.
Marking: -Sticker on foot: 153 -In red, on foot: S.L. 1862.18 -Sticker on exterior of foot: HOH
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, New York (by 1931–41; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Ceramic Art of the Near East," 1931, no. 172.
Dimand, Maurice S. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 12 to June 28, 1931." In Loan Exhibition of Ceramic Art of the Near East. New York, 1931. no. 172, pp. 39-40.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 192.
Drake Boehm, Barbara, and Melanie Holcomb, ed. Jerusalem, 1000–1400: Every People under Heaven. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 13b, pp. 39-41, ill. fig. 13b.
Grube, Ernst J., and Manijeh Bayani. Cobalt and Lustre: the First Centuries of Islamic Pottery. The Nasser D. Khalili collection of Islamic Art, Vol. 9. London: Nour Foundation, 1994. pp. 248-93.
Watson, Oliver. "Kuweit National Museum - The Al-Sabah Collection." In Ceramics from Islamic Lands. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004. pp. 255, 294.
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. 97, pp. 5, 138, 149-150, ill. p. 149 (color).
Date: dated A.H. 1119/A.D. 1707Medium: Wood (poplar) with gesso relief, gold and tin leaf, glazes and paint; wood (cypress, poplar, and mulberry), mother-of-pearl, marble and other stones, stucco with glass, plaster ceramic tiles, iron, brassAccession: 1970.170On view in:Gallery 461