A. Introduction:
the history of lustreware in Syria


This part of the Ashmolean ceramics collection is believed to have come from Raqqa, in northern Syria, whose potteries were prolific in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries under the rule of the Ayyubids (1182-??). Lustreware is only a small percentage of what has been found at Raqqa or has been claimed to come from Raqqa, but it is interesting because the proliferation of the arts under the Ayyubids.

As we have seen, in the Fatimids section of this Teaching Course, the main production of lustreware and other luxury items moved back to Egypt, and during the eleventh and early twelfth centuries lustreware was produced nowhere else. Egyptian lustre is conventionally dated from 969 to c. 1170, when the destruction of the potter’s quarter in Fustat (1169) and the collapse of the Fatimid dynasty (1171) seems to have stopped production. According to Virginia Porter and Oliver Watson, who studied the ceramics at Tell Minis in Syria, this encouraged potters to move to Syria and pick up production where they left off. Robert Mason points out that Egyptian potters may have actually begun to move to Syria and Iran around a century before lustre production stopped in Egypt, since early Iranian and Syrian lustre (c.1100) shows distinctive Egyptian influence.

Syrian production of lustre-painted stonepaste seems to have begun at Tell Minis, a village near the town of Ma’arrat al-Nu’man in central Syria, beginning either in the mid-twelfth century (according to Porter and Watson) or c.1075 (according to Mason). Sometime c.1175, potters in Raqqa began to produce lustre and other glazed wares in a style different to that of Tell Minis. They seemed to have derived inspiration from the potteries of Rayy and Kashan in Persia (which had also started to produce glazed stonepaste wares at this time) as well as from Egypt. Production at Raqqa is generally understood to have lasted until the sack of the city by the Mongols in 1259. Raqqa lustreware nevertheless left its imprint on Syria, and in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, pottery production picked up again under the Mamluks, almost entirely in Damascus but bearing traces of Raqqan influence.

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