Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Star-Shaped Tile

Object Name:
Star-shaped tile
first half 15th century
Made in Spain, probably Malaga
Earthenware; luster-painted on opaque white glaze
W. 9-3/4 in. (24.8 cm)
Credit Line:
H.O. Havemeyer Collection, Gift of Horace Havemeyer, 1941
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 457
Eight-pointed star tiles from Nasrid Spain are rare, but this example bears motifs specific to lusterware produced in Málaga, such as the botanical decoration radiating from a central flower or plant motif. The grapevine pattern with naturalistic leaves and bunches of fruit is a reference to the classical heritage of Islamic art.
The arrival of the luster-painting technique in Islamic Spain is now thought to have come from Egyptian craftsmen who moved to the Malagan coast after the fall of the Fatimid Empire in 1171. The relocation of such craftsmen contributed to the dissemination of designs from North Africa and the western Islamic world into Andalusian arts.
Malaga, on the southern coast of Spain, was one of the principal manufacturing centers of lusterware in the Nasrid kingdom.[1] The two eight-pointed star-shaped tiles, nos. 41.165.40 and 41.165.41, featuring copper-toned luster-painted designs were probably produced there. Tile 41.165.40 bears a pattern of serrated leaves and flowers and an Arabic inscription on its lower border, while this tile is covered in fruit-bearing scrolling vines that radiate out from a central floral medallion.
Though the use of luster tiling was not unusual in the decoration of Nasrid architecture, few eight-pointed star-shaped luster tiles survive. The scrolling-vine-and-branch and the radiating floral motifs seen here belong to the artistic vocabulary of the period. It has been suggested that tiles of this type once covered the walls of Granadine palaces such as the Alixares and the Alhambra.[2] Two other examples resembling our tiles in technique and ornamentation are a contemporary Malagan tile in the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris,[3] and the famed "Fortuny" plaque in the Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan, Madrid.[4] The Paris tile, dated to the early fifteenth century, bears a grapevine with naturalistic leaves and bunches of fruit framed within an eight-pointed star; the foliage outside the frame is typical of that seen on Malagan lusterware. The large plaque that once belonged to the artist Fortuny is among the luster-painted grave markers that have been instrumental in dating tiles of this period. Its long inscription includes a dedication to the Nasrid sultan of Granada Yusuf III (r. 1408–17). Another luster-painted grave marker, from Huelva, with similar vegetal decoration is dated A.H. Du’l Qa‘da 811/A.D. March 1409.[5]
The charming lightness and freedom of execution of the scrolling vines and naturalistic plant forms on the two MET tiles recall contemporary Gothic manuscript illumination in Spain. These vegetal designs may, however, present an even closer affinity with the fourteenth-century tilework of the Hall of the Ambassadors in the Seville Alcazar, which was produced by Christian craftsmen from the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula working for King Pedro I of Castile and Leon (r. 1350–69). Such itinerant craftsmen may have actually been responsible for the Gothic designs seen in numerous pieces of lusterware from the late fourteenth and the fifteenth century.[6]
Although previously the subject of much discussion, the impetus for the arrival of the luster-painting technique in Islamic Spain is now thought to have most likely come from the Egyptian Fatimid craftsmen who moved to the Malagan coast after the fall of the Fatimid Empire in 1171.[7] By the time the Nasrids came to power in 1232, a rich repertoire of designs from North Africa and the Western Islamic world had permeated Andalusian arts.
The inscription on the lower border of tile 41.165.40 is especially unusual. Though sections of the writing are no longer decipherable, what remains is an Arabic text enumerating the skills required by the ceramic artist to glaze and decorate luster tiles. Such references, which are virtually unknown in Andalusian art, offer insight into the technique of luster tile making in Nasrid Spain.
Maryam Ekhtiar and Rashmi Viswanathan (authors) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Scholars have also suggested that Granada may have been a major center of luster ceramic production, but little documentary or literary evidence supporting this theory has come to light. See Frothingham, Alice Wilson. Lustreware of Spain. Hispanic Notes and Monographs. New York, 1951. pp. 21–27.
2. Ibid., p. 66.
3. See Degeorge and Porter 2002, p. 64.
4. See Dodds 1992, pp. 360–61, no. 113.
5. Ibid., p. 72.
6. Ibid., p.73.
7. Frothingham suggested that the luster technique arrived in Spain as the result of Persian craftsmen’s having fled the Mongol invasions of the early thirteenth century. Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom, however, argued that differences in the composition of Andalusian and Iranian wares preclude such a theory. See Frothingham 1951, pp. 21–27; Rosser- Owen 2010, pp. 66–70; and Blair and Bloom 1994, pp. 129–31.
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, New York (until 1941; gifted to MMA)
Paris. Musée du Louvre. "Louvre Long Term Loan," April 28, 2004–April 27, 2006, no catalogue.

Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Pottery: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 40, no. 4 (Spring 1983). no. 43, p. 38, ill. pl. 43 (color).

Dodds, Jerrilynn D., Dr., Oleg Grabar, Antonio Vallejo Triano, Daniel S. Walker, Renata Holod, Cynthia Robinson, Juan Zozaya, Manuel Casamar Pérez, Christian Ewert, Guillermo Rossello Bordoy, Cristina Partearroyo, Sabiha Al Khemir, Dario Cabanelas Rodriguez, James Dickie, Jesus Bermudez Lopez, D. Fairchild Ruggles, and Juan Vernet. Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain, edited by Dr. Jerrilynn D. Dodds. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. pp. 360–61, no. 113, "Fortuny" plaque in the Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan, Madrid resembles our tile.

Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan M. Bloom. The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250–1800. Yale University Press Pelican History of art. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.

Degeorge, Gerard, and Yves Porter. The Art of the Islamic Tile. Paris, 2002. p. 64.

Rosser-Owen, Mariam. Islamic Arts from Spain. London, 2010. pp. 66–70.

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. 43B, pp. 5, 74-75, ill. p. 75 (color).

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