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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Cup with Running Ibexes

Object Name:
second half 12th century
Attributed to Iran, probably Rayy
Stonepaste; incised decoration through black slip ground under turquoise glaze ("silhouette ware")
H. 5 in. (12.7 cm) Diam. 5 5/8 in. (14.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1967
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 453
To create "silhouette ware," an object of white clay is covered with a special black slip made with the mineral chromite. The slip is carefully removed or incised to create an image. After an initial firing, the vessel is dipped into a transparent turquoise glaze and fired again. In addition to creating a striking color contrast, this overglaze saturates the chromite slip, transforming it from a matte gray brown into an intense black.
"Silhouette ware" is a technique that developed shortly after the introduction of stonepaste in Iran about the twelfth century; this small cup is among the finest examples of its type. Bulbous in profile, it has a rounded handle and a body glazed in transparent turquoise with a row of black ibexes running across the belly. The treatment and rendition of the ibexes across the body, the rays radiating from the foot, and the black stripes on the rim stand in relief, exhibiting affinities to metal vessels, which may have inspired the potter.
Silhouette ware technically involved the application of black-colored underglaze and stonepaste to the body of the vessel, which was then carved to reveal a design rendered in relief. A transparent turquoise glaze was subsequently applied to the vessel, creating the black-against-turquoise silhouette effect seen in this cup. In some examples a transparent rather than a turquoise glaze was applied, resulting in a black design on a creamy white background.[1] This technique may have been a modification of a technique of ceramic decoration used in Nishapur and Samarqand in the ninth and tenth centuries, in which colored slip was painted over a white engobe ground.[2] The transition to the relief technique may have been related to a new type of body imported to Iran from western Islamic lands in the early twelfth century, called stonepaste or frit. Composed of glass, clay, and quartz, this material allowed for a thin white body, as well as for greater experimentation with color and design than was possible in earlier Iranian pottery. No dated examples of silhouette ware survive, but according to scholars, it may have come into use in Iran about the year 1200.[3]
Although this technique was used on vessels of different shapes and sizes, such as bowls, jars, ewers, beakers, and cups, the most common seems to have been the cup. These wares featured a wide array of motifs ranging from humans, animals, and mythological creatures to calligraphic and abstract vegetal friezes, in keeping with the proliferation of animal and human figural imagery in a variety of media, including painted manuscripts and metalwork, during the Seljuq period. While the reasons for this tendency are not fully understood, it has been proposed that the representation of animals such as gazelles or ibexes may have held apotropaic qualities, offering protection and luck to the vessels’ owners.[4]
Maryam Ekhtiar and Rashmi Viswanathan in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Grube 1994, nos. 198–99.
2. Watson 2004, p. 188.
3. I bid., pp. 333–45. See also Fehervari, Geza. Ceramics of the Islamic World in the Tareq Rajab Museum. London and New York, 2000, pp. 107–8.
4. Ettinghausen 1970.
[ Mousa Settareh Shenasi, New York, until 1967; sold to MMA]
Ettinghausen, Richard. "The Flowering of Seljuq Art." Metropolitan Museum Journal vol. 3 (1970).

Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Pottery: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 40, no. 4 (Spring 1983). no. 16, pp. 16-17, ill. pl. 16 (color).

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 34, ill. fig. 21 (color).

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.

Watson, Oliver. "Kuweit National Museum - The Al-Sabah Collection." In Ceramics from Islamic Lands. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004.

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. 71, pp. 113-114, ill. p. 113 (color).

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