This covered jar exhibits a rare glaze type referred to as lajvardina, from the Persian word lajvard, or lapis lazuli (a deep blue colored stone containing gold inclusions). Its design comprises small squares of gold leaf, carefully arranged into intricate patterns with delicate red and white overpainting. Production of this type of glazed ware is limited to the Ilkhanid period in Iran. And the luxurious nature of this example suggests it was destined for wealthy patrons.
Jars exhibiting this distinctive shape—an elongated cylinder with a concave waist—are often referred to as albarelli (singular, albarello). The application of this Italian term is likely due to the popularity of such vessels in Italy beginning in the fifteenth century, where they were used to store pharmaceuticals, medicinal plants, and other natural remedies. Their functional shape allowed for easy handling and arrangement on shelves.
Origins of the form lie outside of Europe, however, as ceramics of this shape are known from earlier periods in Syria, Egypt, and other parts of the Islamic world. This well-preserved and sumptuous example—with its repeating quatrefoil medallion pattern in gold, white, and red on a deep blue ground—was produced in Iran during the reign of the Ilkhanid dynasty. It exhibits a rare glaze type referred to as lajvardina, from the Persian word for lapis lazuli (lajvard).
The elegant, curving profile of this jar is complemented by its vivid blue glaze and glittering gold-leaf patterning. The design is composed of tiny squares of gold leaf arranged in diamond-shaped patterns over the surface. Each square is carefully outlined in red glaze and enclosed within a white medallion. A time-consuming and costly technique, the application of gold leaf to ceramics is described in an early fourteenth-century treatise written by the Persian author Abu al-Qasim ‘Abdallah al-Kashani. A member of an illustrious multigenerational family of potters from Kashan, he relates that such ceramics were subject to two firings — the first to establish the dark blue background glaze, the second to set the overpainted red and white enamels as well as the gold leaf.
While overpainting can also be seen in earlier Persian ceramics known as mina’i (enameled wares), the combination of intense blue underglaze with predominantly gold overpainting is characteristic of the Ilkhanid era. It was a relatively short-lived phenomenon, and lajvardina ceramics are known to survive in only limited numbers. These surviving vessels, along with lajvardina tiles found in the excavations of the Ilkhanid royal palace known as Takht-i Sulaiman, attest to the luxurious and precious nature of this class of ceramics—perhaps considered fit for royalty alone.
Denise-Marie Teece in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Wallis, Henry. Italian Ceramic Art: The Albarello; A Study in Early Renaissance Maiolica. London, 1904. See his "Introduction" for more on the form.
2. See the entry for this piece in Carboni and Komaroff 2002, p. 271, no. 131, image on p. 200, fig. 241. Description of the lajvardina glaze technique on pp. 201–2.
3. Allan, J[ames] W. "Abu’l-Qasim’s Treatise on Ceramics." Iran 11 (1973), pp. 111–20, esp. pp. 114–15. See also the Persian edition mentioned by Allan (ibid., p. 120): ‘Arayis al-Jawahir wa Nafayis al-Atayib (Tehran, 1345). Two manuscript copies of the treatise are known, one dated A.H. 700/1301 A.D.
4. See Allan 1973 (reference in footnote 2); Masuya, Tomoko. "Ilkhanid Courtly Life." In Carboni and Komaroff 2002, pp. 92ff.
5. Other examples in the Metropolitan Museum include acc. nos. 91.1.1529; 20.120.73; 34.151; 40.181.16; 66.95.8; 1975.30; 1976.245; and 1991.224.1.
6. See Masuya 2002, pp. 96ff.(reference in footnote 4); and Carboni and Komaroff 2002, pp. 201–2
Henry G. Leberthon, Hempstead, NY (by 1931–d. 1939; bequeathed to Mrs. Chauncey); Louise Ruxton Chauncey, New York (1939–57; gifted to MMA)
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Islamic Works of Art, Carpets and Textiles. London: Sotheby's, London, October 10-11, 1990. no. 120, p. 40.
Rossabi, Morris, Charles Melville, James C.Y. Watt, Tomoko Masuya, Sheila S. Blair, Robert Hillenbrand, Linda Komaroff, Stefano Carboni, Sarah Bertelan, and John Hirx. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353, edited by Stefano Carboni, and Linda Komaroff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. no. 131, pp. 200-201, 271, ill. fig. 241 (color).
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. 79, p. 122, ill. p. 122 (color).