B. Second Ceramic Revolution:


B.1. New developments:

The Saljuq period sees the development of the two most significant events in ceramic history: the development of stonepaste, instead of earthenware for use as the ceramic body, which as well as being a better medium for decoration is a more convincing imitation of Chinese porcelain; and the development of underglaze painting, which allows the potter a more painterly style of decoration. These developments transform the type of pottery wares we have seen dominate the Iranian ceramic traditions of, for example, Khurasan [see that section]. This kind of revolutionary change in the technology of Islamic ceramics is matched only by the C9th advances made by potters in Iraq in imitation of Chinese porcelains [see Abbasid Ceramics: Changes in International Trade].

A great number of different ceramic styles have been attributed to the Saljuq period, though for many there is no certain way of dating them to this period. They are linked because of the fact that all use stonepaste as the ceramic body, and this is only thought to develop in Iran in the mid to late C12th, thus coinciding with the heyday of Saljuq patronage in Persia. The earliest vessel known to be from Iran which has a stonepaste body is in the Khalili collection (cat.no.148): this is a monochrome painted bottle with relief moulded decoration in figural medallions; it is dated 1139-40, and the stonepaste body seems technically well developed. This vessel is a bit of an anomaly, however, as most of the dated stonepaste wares that we know to be from Iran (because they are signed with nisbas such as "al-kashani") date from the 1170s onwards; but the Khalili vessel does imply that stonepaste technology was already well developed in Iran by about the 1130s.

The dating evidence for Iranian stonepaste wares derive from a few objects: the earliest known lustre vessel is a fragmentary jar in the British Museum which is dated 1179. According to the theories of the movement of potters with their technologies from Egypt to Iran (see below), the early date of this vessel should be reflected in its decoration by distinctive characteristics influenced from Egypt. Instead, the iconography of this jar is an excellent example of a well- developed "miniature" style of decoration (see below). The earliest vessels to name Kashan as the place of manufacture are two mina’i bowls which are signed with the nisba "al-kashani", and dated to Muharram 1186 and 1187 respectively. In fact, the first bowl is signed by Abu Zaid who is an important figure in the development of the Kashan style.

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B.2. Diaspora theories:

The late C12th dates on these vessels show that stonepaste technology and the techniques of lustre and mina’i overglaze painting were fully developed by then, and remarkably the potters have already developed the forms and iconography that they stick to until the early C14th (see below). The dating coincides very conveniently with the fall of the Fatimid caliphate in Egypt, which also happens to be the one place other than Iran where lustre pottery has flourished. This has naturally given rise to the suggestion that the lustre potters who were working in Fustat left for some reason at the time of the fall of the Fatimid Caliphate and came to Iran, bringing their lustre technology with them.

We have already seen that lustre is not a technique that you can just stumble upon, and that it seems to have been the monopoly of a few passed on from potter to potter in great secrecy. It thus seems to make sense that the technology was transmitted directly from the Egyptian to the Iranian potters.

There are in fact reasons why this may have happened, although there is no direct proof other than the circumstantial. As mentioned in the history of the Fatimid section, the Nile failed its annual flood for several years in a row in the 1160s, and this meant poor harvests, famine and disease for the population of Egypt, which led to rioting in the streets: the Fatimid Palaces were broken into and ransacked, the rich contents of the Treasury were dispersed among the people, and the potters’ quarter of Fustat was burned and looted in 1168. This period of turbulence may have encouraged a small group of potters who worked in lustre – an expensive technique which required a high status market to survive – to seek out more stable conditions in which to work.

Mason suggests that they went first to Syria, settling in the north-west and giving rise to the Syrian lustre technique known as "Raqqa", after the city where so many of these pots have been found. This is perhaps where the distinctive Egyptian style starts to be eroded by local influences, so that the first Iranian lustre vessels show only echoes of the characteristically Egyptian motifs, for example in the big central figures surrounded by large Kufic inscriptions. However, by the time that lustre is current in Iran, all the motifs and styles that are diagnostic if the Kashan style throughout the C13th are already present, so it seems unlikely that the Egyptian style evolved so quickly into the Iran style, even with the postulated medium of Syria.

Another assumption is that lustre is somehow linked with stonepaste, and if the Egyptians introduced lustre into Iran then it is likely they also brought stonepaste. However there is no need to connect the technologies: Mason has suggested that the Iraqis developed a proto-stonepaste before the technology ever moved to Egypt in the C10th, and so there is no reason why the Persian potters could not have developed a stonepaste body independently of the Egyptians, and given rise to an autochthonous ceramic tradition using a stonepaste body. This suggestion (of Morgan’s) seems to be borne out by the Khalili vessel dated to 1139-40. It may also have been an independent development sparked off by the new influx of Chinese (Yueh) wares into this part of the Islamic world in the C11th, especially a type of proto-celadon: the Ashmolean bowl 1956.20 shows on its base how identical it is to a Chinese bowl of the same period.

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B.3. Survey of main types of Saljuq wares:

There are about six main types of fine wares which are attributed through the use of a stonepaste body to the Saljuq period. These are:

a)   whitewares
b)   monochrome glazed wares (most frequently in turquoise or cobalt blue)
c)   "silhouette" wares
d)   underglaze painted wares
e)   overglaze painted wares (mina’i and lajvardina)
f)   lustre painted wares (which will be fully discussed in section D)
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        a. whitewares:

Of these types, the whitewares have very thin walls and are very finely potted, seemingly in direct imitation of fine Chinese porcelains, and there are no dates on any of them. They have beautiful moulded, incised or pierced decorations that are very finely executed.


        b. monochrome glazed wares:

The monochrome glazed wares are the most popular ware to be produced in this period, and there is a huge distribution area for this type perhaps suggesting several different production centres. Kiln-wasters and moulds of this type were discovered by Wilkinson in Nishapur, and in Jurjan by Bahrami. One fragmentary jar has a date of 1148 which fits well into the suggested model of a separate Iranian development of stonepaste ceramics. The range of colours on these vessels is very wide, including green, brown, manganese-purple and yellow, though turquoise and cobalt blue are the most frequently-occurring colours, perhaps because they were considered by the Persian to be lucky in averting the evil eye.

The decoration tends to be carved, incised or moulded, as on the whitewares. They are perhaps inspired by a local tradition of metalwork, as some of the jug shapes and the scheme of moulded decoration harks back to metalwork. 1956.180 is a really fine example of this type of ware, in the Ashmolean. A real tour de force of this type of pottery occurs in the vessels with openwork shells, such as the beautiful examples in the Met and Khalili collections, and 1956.179 in the Ashmolean. The technical ambition of the Saljuq potters is also shown by their production of sculptured figurines and vessels with figural spouts (such as 1978.1675) for the first time.


        c. "silhouette" wares:

"Silhouette" wares are so-called because of the heavy black slip used to coat these vessels, through which the decoration is incised leaving a "silhouette" against the background, which is white if a clear glaze is used, or turquoise if the glaze is stained with copper. There is no dated evidence for this type.


        d. underglaze painted wares:

Watson thinks that the technique of underglaze developed out of the "silhouette" style of decoration: from the complex technique of incising through the black slip, potters moved to a black pigment fixed perhaps with ground quartz which was applied as an impasto on the surface so that it did not run under the glaze during firing. Gradually this impasto gets thinner and thinner until the potters realise they can paint onto the body and it will hold. Such a breakthrough leads to endless new possibilities for decoration, which are all fully exploited by Islamic potters down to the C17th, and which enables all the European ceramic industries to develop.


        e. overglaze painted wares:

Overglaze painted wares (ie. mina’i and lajvardina) were perhaps the most obviously costly of the whole group of Saljuq innovations, which is perhaps why mina’i tilework was used to adorn the Saljuq palace at Konya (according to Grube). Mina’i means "enamel", but "heft reng" ("seven colours") is also used to describe these vessels, which are decorated usually with green, blue, brown, black, dull-red, gold and white. These are painted over a pre-fired vessel which has an opaque-white or sometimes transparent turquoise or cobalt-blue glaze (such as 1956.39), and then the whole thing is re-fired in a reducing kiln.

The technique of lajvardina derives its name from the Persian word for lapis lazuli ("lajvard"): this refers to the cobalt-blue that covered these vessels over which the decoration was painted in black, red and white, with some use of gold leaf. Abu’l-Qasim, in his manuscript of 1301, says that this type of ware was made in Kashan in the C13th but has now become rare. It obviously belongs to a time when the was no shortage of capital or a captivated audience for the output of the Kashani kilns. Some very rare but ambitious examples of mina’i combine the technique with lustre, meaning that 3 or 4 additional firings would have gone into their production, doubling the total expense of manufacture which the potter would try to reclaim with profit from his market.

There are fine examples of mina’i and lajvardina in the Ashmolean collections:

eg. (mina’i) X 3012, 1956.32, 1956.34, 1956.36, 1956.39, 1956.40, 1956.45, 1956.145, 1978.2220, 1978.2254 and 1978.2340

eg. (lajvardina) X 3200, X3208, 1956.74 and 1956.123.

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