Bowl, Stonepaste; polychrome painted under transparent glaze


late 12th–early 13th century
Made in Syria, probably Damascus
Stonepaste; polychrome painted under transparent glaze
Diam. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm)
H. 4 1/8 in. (10.5 cm)
Credit Line:
H.O. Havemeyer Collection, Gift of Horace Havemeyer, 1941
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 454
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."[1] 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.[2]
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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]
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.

Selection of Ceramics: MMA 41.165.2 and 1980.471.2; V&A 746-1897 and 18-1864; Keir Collection on long term loan by Ranros Universal S.A to the Dallas Museum of Art.

The wide variety of ceramic finds in Jerusalem suggests that its residents enjoyed access to the lively trade routes crisscrossing the region. The vast majority of surviving ceramics are remnants of vessels, simply glazed if at all, which were used for cooking, eating, lighting, and storage. These works are useful records of daily life but aesthetically unremarkable. The many extant shards of brightly colored pots, however, attest to an appreciation for the sophisticated glazing practiced by potters in the region as well as for the distinctive wares produced in more distant lands.[1]

Documents from the Cairo Geniza make clear that the ceramic trade and industry in the region was highly developed, with vessels of various shapes and functions produced by their own specialist makers. Though pottery rarely appears in trousseau lists, it figures prominently in the inventories of pharmacists, doctors, and merchants. Ceramics were also an integral feature of private households, and families might place an order for whole sets of painted platters, bowls, and cups, with specifications given as to color and design.[2]

Some of the finest pottery did not travel far to reach Jerusalem and neighboring cities, and the extensive assortment of ceramics from Egypt that were found in the coastal city of Caesarea, some sixty miles northwest of Jerusalem, offers a cross section of Fatimid glazing techniques.[3] These include monochrome vessels dipped in vivid blue, green, or ochre glazes, often with incised decoration (cat. 11 in this volume) as well as splash-and-striped wares, similar to the charming vase from the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A 746-1897), appealing for their improvisatory design. (Shards of splash-and-striped ware were also found in various parts of the Old City in Jerusalem.)[4] In addition, the Caesarean hoard yielded numerous examples of the iridescent lusterware for which Fatimid potters were famous and in which lively designs were painted with metallic oxides onto an opaque white surface (cat. 33 in this volume).[5]

Among the finds in a garden of the Armenian patriarchate in Jerusalem are fragments of several bowls, similar in shape, design, and palette to one in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (MMA 41.165.2).[6] All are typical of the stonepaste wares associated with Syrian kilns of the twelfth to thirteenth century, and analysis of the clay suggests they may have been produced in Damascus.[7] Pigments of black, blue, and red are applied on ceramic bodies before coating with a transparent glaze. Often painted with a radial design inside, they all display a simple border of a repeating caliper shape on the exterior.

The high quality of ceramics from Egypt and Syria did not eliminate the demand for imports from other, sometimes more distant producers. When Europeans occupied the Kingdom of Jerusalem, they looked perhaps unsurprisingly to Italy and Sicily for painted vessels with motifs keyed to their tastes (cat. 14 in this volume). These wares seemed to have been particular favorites of the Italian merchants who settled in cities on the Mediterranean coast. Enormously popular in the Crusader era were pots with incised design (sgraffito) known as Port Saint Symeon ware, after the Antioch port where a large quantity of this type was found (fig. 19 in this volume).[8] Archaeological excavations indicate that they were made in Saint Symeon and other sites throughout the eastern Mediterranean, likely for clients of all sectarian stripes. The wide-ranging imagery includes mounted warriors, courtly cupbearers, astrological symbols, and heraldic motifs.[9]

Then as now, China was synonymous with fine ceramics: the records of local merchants refer to porcelain or imitations of porcelain as "sini."[10] Celadon produced in the area around Longquan was an important Chinese export (MMA 1980.471.2). Though shards bearing the characteristic green-gray glaze are rare, they have been found in Alexandria, Antioch, Acre, Safed, and perhaps Jerusalem and seem to have traveled to the Holy Land via Egypt.[11] Chinese pottery had an impact on local taste with blue-and-white Ming ware serving as models for some of the elegant Mamluk ceramics created in Cairo and Damascus (V&A 18-1864).[12]

Little evidence of significant ceramic production is found in Palestine itself, though Jerusalem potentially offers a notable exception. Mamluk potters working on the Haram al-Sharif during the fourteenth century may have been responsible for the distinctive green-glazed stem-fitted cups inscribed with benedictions (cat. Keir Collection loan).[13] As products of the Holy City, these vessels and the wishes they offered for the prosperity and honor of the person who drinks from them may have had special resonance.

Melanie Holcomb in [Drake and Holcomb 2016]


1. For an overview of ceramic finds in the region during this period see Avissar, Miriam, and Edna J. Stern. Pottery of the Crusader, Ayyubid, and Mamluk Periods in Israel. IAA Reports, 26, Jerusalem 2005; Stern, Edna J. "Ceramic Ware from the Crusader Period in the Holy Land" in Jerusalem 1999, pp. 258–65; Milwright, Marcus. "The Pottery of Ayyubid Jerusalem." In Hillenbrand, Robert and Sylvia Auld, eds. Ayyubid Jerusalem: The Holy City in Context, 1187–1250. London, 2009, pp. 408–17.

2. Goitein S[helomoh] D[ov]. A Mediterranian Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. Berkely and Los Angeles, 1967–93, vol. 1, pp. 110–11; vol. 4, pp. 106, 145–48.

3. Generally speaking, port cities seem to have had access to a wider variety of imported ceramics than those inland, including Jerusalem.

4. Avissar, Miriam. "Early Islamic through Mamluk Pottery." In Jewish Quarter Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem Conducted by Nahman Avigad, 1969–1982. vol. 2, The Finds from Areas A, W and X-2, edited by Hillel Geva, 2003, p. 433; see also Williams, Gregory. " 'Fayyumi Ware'. Variations, Imitations, and Importation of an Early Glazed Ceramic Type". Master's thesis. American University in Cairo, 2013, pp. 83–84.

5. Brosh, N[a'ama]. "Ceramic Remains. A: Pottery of the 8th–13th Centuries C.E. (Strata 1–3)" In Excavationa at Caesarea Maritima: 1975, 1976, 1979–Final Report, edited by Lee I. Levine and Ehud Netzer, pp. 66–89. Qedem: Monographs of the Institute of Archeology, 21, Jerusalem, 1986.

6. Tushingham, A[tlotte] D[ouglas], et al. Excavations in Jerusalem, 1961–1967: Report of the Joint Expedition, The Britisch School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, The Royal Ontario Museum, L' Ecole Bliblique et Archéologique Francaise, Jérusalem. Vol. I, Toronto, 1985, figs. 34.3, 40.8, 40.17, 44.4.

7. 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. Casta Mesa, Calif., 2004, pp. 98–99.

8. Avissar, Miriam, and Edna J. Stern. Pottery of the Crusader, Ayyubid, and Mamluk Periods in Israel. IAA Reports, 26, Jerusalem 2005, pp. 52–56; Blackman, M. James, and Scott Redford. "Neutron Activation Analysis of Medieval Ceramics from Kinet, Turkey, Especially Port Saint Symeon Ware." Ancient Near Eastern Studies 42 (2005), pp. 83–186.

9. Redfort, S. "On Saquis and Ceramics: Systems of Representations in the Northeast Mediterranean." In Weiss, Daniel H., and Lisa Mahony, eds. France and the Holy Land: Frankish Culture at the End of the Crusade. Patallax, Baltimore and London, 2004, pp. 282–312.

10. Goitein S[helomoh] D[ov]. A Mediterranian Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. Berkely and Los Angeles, 1967–93, vol. 4, pp. 145–46.

11. Avissar and Stern 2005 (note 8), pp. 78–79.

12. On the Chinese export market and the impact of Chinese ceramics on Mamluk production, see Gayraud, Roland-Pierre. "Ceramics in the Mamluk Empire: An Overview." In The Arts of the Mamluks in Egypt and Syria–Evolution and Impact. Edited by Doris Behrens-Abouseif, pp. 88–91. Mamluk Studies. Göttingen, 2012; and Haddon, Rosalind A. Wade. " Mongol Influences on Mamluk Ceramics in the Fourteenth Century" in In The Arts of the Mamluks in Egypt and Syria–Evolution and Impact. Edited by Doris Behrens-Abouseif, pp. 100–101. Mamluk Studies. Göttingen, 2012.

13. Ben-Dov, Meir. In the Shadow of the Temple: The Discovery of Ancient Jerusalem. Jerusalem and New York, 1985, p. 364; Avissar and Stern 2005 (note 8), pp. 22–24; Haddon 2012 (note 12), p. 109.
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.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven," September 26, 2016–January 8, 2017, 13b.

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.

Porter, Venetia. Medieval Syrian Pottery: (Raqqa Ware). Oxford, 1981. pp. 30-33.

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).