Dish (MMA 91.1.92) and Bottle (MMA 14.64.2):
A recent study of the petrography of the large group of seventeenth-century polychrome ceramics to which these pieces belong has confirmed their Kirman provenance. The fortunes of this city in southeastern Iran rose under Shah ‘Abbas I (r. 1587–1629) when he appointed Ganj ‘Ali Khan governor of Kirman Province and moved large numbers of Kurds there. Ganj ‘Ali’s commissioning of a number of major monuments led to the development of a new quarter in the city. To decorate the new buildings and cater to the needs of new patrons, many artisans, including skilled potters, moved to Kirman.
According to Lisa Golombek, ceramics produced in Kirman in the early seventeenth century consisted primarily of stonepaste decorated with cobalt blue under a transparent alkaline glaze in close imitation of Chinese blue-and-white porcelains. By the 1640s, though, a new style of Kirman ceramics had arisen that combined blue-and-white elements loosely based on Chinese floral and vegetal motifs with polychrome plant forms, medallions, escutcheons, and other devices unconnected to Chinese porcelains. The decoration of this dish (MMA 91.1.92) incorporates spiky foliage and orange-red flowers typical of Kirman, partial cartouches containing polychrome vegetation, and fleshy blue tulips and sprays of other flowers. In the cavetto, double vine scrolls, formed by scratching through the underglaze black, appear in seven cartouches. While this technique was not new to Safavid ceramics, in the 1660s and 1670s it is associated with Kirman wares, which are often inscribed with poetic verses. Finally, the repeating-lozenge motif on the rim of the dish resembles that found on pieces dated by Golombek to 1660–1710, the latest period of Kirman wares. Since the quality of this dish is quite high but its decoration features details corresponding to those from the later period of production, it should be dated to the 1670s.
The large size of the dish, while not unusual for Kirman wares, calls attention to the purpose for which it was made. These dishes would have been used for serving foodstuffs such as pilau from which diners would scoop portions with long-handled spoons — quite unlike Chinese food, which was eaten from small bowls. Over the course of the seventeenth century, as banquets and official receptions grew increasingly formal and extravagant, multiple dishes of this sort would have been necessary.
While the long-necked bottle (MMA 14.64.2) incorporates the same combination of polychrome and cobalt blue underglaze for its decoration, certain aspects of its composition suggest that it was produced earlier than the dish. On either side of the pear-shaped body, a single blue crane floats on a white ground while twisting its head back and down, as if it has spotted its prey below it. Small, stylized clouds dot the "sky" around the bird. Separating the cranes are two escutcheon-shaped medallions outlined in blue and containing an ocher interlaced arabesque; above each of these is a lobed elliptical medallion enclosing a small leaf-shaped ornament with ocher vine scrolls. Arabesque designs in low relief, formed by carving away the body under the glaze, surround the neck. Below the slightly everted white rim are two rows of lappets, the lower one directly derived from the plaintain-leaf borders found on Chinese ceramics. The faithful use of Chinese motifs and the lack of crowding in the composition of this bottle support a dating to the 1650s, near the beginning of production of this group of wares in Kirman. Unlike Chinese wares of this shape, which were employed as vases, this bottle would have been used for wine or water served at banquets.
Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Mason, Robert B. J. Shine Like the Sun: Lustre-Painted and Associated Pottery from the Medieval Middle East. Bibliotheca Iranica: Islamic Art and Architecture Series, 12. Costa Mesa, 2004.
2. Golombek 2003, p. 253.
3. Ibid., fig. 16; Canby 1999, fig. 147.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammedan Decorative Arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. pp. 145, 150, ill. fig. 84 (b/w).
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Pottery: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 40, no. 4 (Spring 1983). no. 56, p. 48, ill. pl. 56 (color).
Canby, Sheila R. The Golden Age of Persian Art, 1501-1722. London: British Museum, 1999. ill. fig. 147.
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. 157, pp. 231-232, ill. p. 213 (color).