E. Evidence for Workshops/Ateliers:


There is excellent evidence for the presence of workshops/ateliers in the Kashan pottery industry, and even for the people who ran it and how they were related to each other. This type of evidence is not equalled in any other aspect of Islamic art history, except perhaps the ceramic revolution of C9th Iraq, where we again see a comparable level of artisanal pride which causes the potters to sign and date their works. In the Kashan industry, it is clear that a couple of families are controlling production, and that the innovations and highly excellent technical skills are due to two individuals alone, with no debt to outside influences, and whose demise, rather than the conditions of political unrest, cause the fluctuations in production output.

These individuals, as we have already mentioned above, are Abu Zaid and Muhammad ibn Abu Tahir. Abu Zaid’s productive life is dated at least from 1186 – 1219, and may well have started before and gone on after those dates. He alone can probably be credited with the development of the Kashan style, and not only that but he was also a skillful artist in both the "Miniature" style and the mina’i technique. He, with his colleague Muhammad ibn Abu Tahir, stimulated the tile industry from the early C13th onwards, in which Kashan really made its name.

There has been some recent (sadly unpublished) research by Ghouchani into some mosque inscriptions, which may indicate that members of the same Abu Tahir family were patronising the construction of mosques in the C14th: a mosque in Barzuk (where??!) contains an inscription saying that the mosque was commissioned by one Abu Zaid ibn Abu Tahir ibn Abu Zaid, and dated 1306. This person is otherwise unknown, but the coincidence of the names given in the nisba (? Is this a nisba?) must mean that by the early C14th the two leading families had conflated through marriage into one megalithic pottery family.

We have seen how lustre painting is not something whose technique can be devised from the finished product. In the section on Diaspora Theories, we saw how the coincidence of lustre production stopping in Iraq and commencing in Egypt was too clear cut to suggest anything other than the potters moving and taking the technique with them, from one place to the other. Thus it is a technique which lends itself to being monopolised by a few people – whether they be a family or a workshop, or both – who have realised the tremendous artistic potential and economic rewards that the technique can bring them. It is not, then, unlikely that the same was true of C13th and C14th Iran, which happens to have preserved the very best documentary evidence that this was the case, and that production really did rest in the hands of a very few people.

That this monopoly was economically rewarding is also seen to be the case with the evidence o the Kashan potters. We have commented frequently above how the tiles and vessels contain numerous inscriptions, sometimes Quranic, but most of the time poetic, and this shows the overwhelming degree of literacy on the part of the potters. In some cases the potter says not only that he painted an inscription but that he also composed it. The composition and even reading of Persian poetry was a very high-status pastime, and this merely shows the elite status of the pottery. When we consider that Abu’l-Qasim, the author of the 1301 treatise on ceramic production and himself a member of the Abu Tahir family, was Oljaytü’s court historian it is clear that these potters have now reached the upper echelons of Mongol court society. That they were also the patrons of buildings in this period is thus not surprising.

The titles accorded to some of the potters in inscriptions may also reflect on their social status: for example, that inscription on the star tiles in the shrine of Imamzada Ja’far in Qom: "…in the place Kashan in the workshop of Sayyid of Sayyids, Sayyid Rukn al-Din Muhammad son of the late Sayyid Zain al-Din Ali, the potter; the work of the most noble, the most excellent master, Master Jamal, the painter (al-naqqash)." Does this potter really mean that the heads of his workshop are descendants of the Prophet? And the elaborate hyperbole of this reference to potters and painters in the same workshop indicates the status enjoyed by these individuals, but also that the tasks of forming and decorating were neatly divided among specialists.

The active periods of production in Kashan seem to come between phases of Chinese influence, for example the dates 1170 and 1220, when Kashan really takes off as a major ceramic producing centre, are sandwiched between influxes of Chinese porcelains and celadons. This perhaps provides the revolutionary impetus needed by Islamic potters to take off in new direction, but actually looking at the Kashan pottery, there is a remarkable lack of Chinese influence when the main families are active. The next major period of Chinese influence comes in the 1270s, and this does start to be reflected in the ceramics when we first see in Takht-i Sulaiman the presence of traditional Chinese motifs. This period is the start of a new generation of lustre, when the sons and grandsons of Abu Zaid and Abu Tahir are producing their first commissions, and naturally they reflect the aesthetic demands of their new overlords.

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