Bowl with a Horseman Spearing a Serpent

Date: late 1300s or early 1400s

Geography: Made in probably Málaga, Spain

Culture: Spanish

Medium: Tin-glazed earthenware

Dimensions: Overall: 3 5/8 x diam. 17 5/16 in. (9.2 x diam. 44 cm)
depth of dish: 3 in. (7.6 cm)

Classification: Ceramics

Credit Line: Gift of George Blumenthal, 1941

Accession Number: 41.100.173


The earliest example of medieval lusterware in the Museum's collection, this basin was probably either used as a serving dish or intended for display. The brilliant coloring and expert craftsmanship of Spanish lusterware made it renowned throughout Europe. As early as the tenth century, the Moors in Spain had mastered the technique of lusterware, and by the turn of the fifteenth, when this basin was made, artists were still following those same glazing methods. The choice of decoration was sometimes indebted to Moorish motifs but could also be drawn from Western imagery, as with this representation of a horseman spearing a serpent, probably inspired by the Christian legend of Saint George and the dragon. The shields bearing coats of arms that decorate the basin's rim have not been identified.

The first step in the technique of Spanish lusterware was to glaze a fired piece of clay with an undercoat and then paint the design in deep blue. Details could be obtained by sgraffito—a method of scratching the surface to reveal the white undercoat. Luster, a mixture of silver and copper oxides to which red ocher, silt, and vinegar were added, was applied only after a second firing. It was this last step, mixing and applying the luster and then firing the lustered object, that distinguished Hispano-Moresque wares from other contemporary ceramic production.