Islamic Pottery - Middle (1200–1400)

Middle (1200–1400)

By this period the distinctive Islamic tradition of decorated wall tiles had emerged, and continued to develop together with vessel pottery in a way unique to Islamic art. In the account of Ibn Naji (circa 1016) the Caliph sent, in addition to tiles, “a man from Baghdad” to Qairawan to produce lustre tiles for the mihrab of the Great Mosque (still well preserved). Georges Marcais suggested that Iraqi potters indeed came to Quairawan. The arrival of this Baghdadi potter must have led to the establishment of a satellite centre for the production of ceramics in Quairawan, but no information has yet been developed to confirm or deny this suggestion.

The events leading to the collapse of the Fatimid reign in 1171 caused ceramic production to move out to new centres, via processes similar to those described above with respect to Iraq. As a result, Persia became a centre of revival under the Seljuk rule (1038–1327). This is not coincidental as the Seljuks expanded their rule over Persia, Iraq, Syria, and Palestine, as well as Anatolia and Muslim Asia Minor. All of these had been, for some considerable time, centres of old pottery.

The Seljuks brought new and fresh inspiration to the Muslim world, attracting artists, craftsmen and potters from all regions including Egypt. In addition to continuing the production of similar (although more refined) tin and lustre glaze ceramics, the Seljuks (in Persia) were credited for the introduction of a new type sometimes known as "Faience". This is made from a hard white frit paste coated with transparent alkaline glaze.

Hispano-Moresque ware emerged in Al-Andaluz in the 13th century, probably after potters escaped the instability after the fall of the Fatimids. It introduced lustreware manufacture to Europe and from the start was widely exported to the elites of Christian kingdoms. The first centre was Malaga, producing wares in traditional Islamic styles, but from the 13th century Muslim potters migrated to the reconquered Christian city of Valencia, outlying suburbs of which such as Manises and Paterna became the most important centres, manufacturing mainly for Christian markets in styles increasingly influenced by European decoration, though retaining a distinct character. The potters were mostly still Muslim or Morisco.

In a rare manuscript from Kashan compiled by Abulqassim in 1301, there is a complete description of how faience production was carried out. Frit was made of ten parts of powdered quartz, one part of clay and one part of glaze mixture. The addition of greater amounts of clay made wheel throwing of the faience easier, and allowed a better quality of work, because otherwise the material had little plasticity. The glaze itself is “formed of a roughly equal mixture of ground quartz and the ashes of desert plants which contain a very high proportion of alkaline salts. These act as a flux and cause the quartz to vitrify at a manageable temperature. The two alone will produce a transparent glaze”. Lane compared this material with the French pâte tender, which was used by potters as recently as the eighteenth century. This body material and the new glaze offered the potter a greater handling and manipulation ability. This allows the potter to improve the quality and appearance of the vessel, including more refined decorative designs and patterns. The result was a substantial variety of products such as bowls of different size and shapes, jugs, incense burners, lamps, candlesticks, trays, tiles and so on. These advantages also allowed greater control of carved decoration, the use of which the Seljuks refined and extended during the twelfth century.

Carved decoration in ceramics, sgraffito, is an old tradition used in ninth century Islamic pottery; it is an engraving technique based on incising the design with a sharp tool through a white slip to reveal the red earthenware body. The vessel is then coated with glaze.

The Seljuks also developed the so-called silhouette wares which are distinguished by their black background. These are produced by a technique which consists of coating the white fritware body with a thick black slip, out of which the decoration is then carved. Later, a coat of colourless or coloured, usually blue or green, transparent glaze is applied. According to Lane, this technique was used, in a simpler form, in Samarkand between the ninth and tenth centuries. The method then consisted of mixing the colours with a thick opaque clay slip instead.

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