D. Discussion and Conclusion


These examples would argue for the existence of a single site in Syria which was producing ceramics in various techniques, from a fine frit body carefully turned with a distinctive cutting of the foot. The pieces may be left plain under a colourless or coloured glaze, or may be decorated by incising, carving, splashing or painting with lustre. The surviving objects are related by materials, shapes, decorative styles and motifs, and are easily identifiable as a single group. They stand in sharp contrast to other Syrian wares, especially those from Raqqa. The most sophisticated are the lustre wares which, however, range from perfunctory to elaborate; this does not suggest different production centres as much as different levels of cost invested in the finished product.

"Tell Minis" opens a new chapter in Syrian ceramics: they are the first to be made with a frit body, and the first to be decorated with lustre. Neither technique is a natural development from previous wares, especially since these were mostly lead-glazed splash-decorated wares with or without incised decoration. For the antecedents of "Tell Minis", we have to turn to Fatimid Egypt: this is the source for frit and lustre, as well as the shapes and motifs.

The frit body developed in Egypt during the Fatimid period and at some point reached the point of perfection we see in "Tell Minis" wares. "Tell Minis" potters must have learnt it from someone already practising the lustre craft in Egypt; or perhaps the "Tell Minis" potters were themselves Egyptians who moved to Syria? This would be the first wave of a wider migration that introduced the frit body to Persia at about same time.

When should the "Tell Minis" pieces be dated? Their fine frit body places them at some point in the C12th, if we follow the tentative chronology for the development of Fatimid pottery. A C12th date would also suit the painting style of "Tell Minis" wares. The only firm dating evidence for the C12th comes from Persia, where many pieces have been found dating to the last quarter of the C12th. Raqqa wares on occasion copy Persian pieces that are likely to date from c.1175, but there is no such influence in "Tell Minis", directly from Persia or via Raqqa. This suggests "Tell Minis" ware was made around the mid-C12th, and that their production had ceased by the time the Raqqa kilns were in full swing.

What is the relationship of "Tell Minis" to Raqqa? This is problematic since there is no evidence, stylistic or otherwise, that "Tell Minis" wares are early products of the Raqqa kilns; in fact, there seems to be no connection other than both use a frit body and decorate with lustre. There is no stylistic continuation, and Raqqa ware looks directly to Egypt or Persia for inspiration. There is some similarity in the Raqqa underglaze-painted wares to the "Tell Minis" handling of the brush, but there is no production of underglaze at "Tell Minis".

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The "Tell Minis" potters arrive in Syria from Egypt in the first half of the C12th, bringing with them the frit body and lustre technique, neither of which were previously known in Syria. They produce wares for a number of decades, thus establishing the "Tell Minis" identity, and then stop manufacture. During this time, other potteries have started which use a coarser frit body; these sites carry on making a debased form of "Tell Minis" ware, for example, lustre on a manganese-coloured glaze, or a carved laqabi-type ware. The kilns producing Raqqa ware eventually establish their dominance in the last quarter of the C12th: these develop lustre wares afresh, with a strong Persian influence in design and vessel shape, but with no discernible stylistic influences from "Tell Minis". They also develop an underglaze-painting tradition, and sometimes draw in a manner resembling some of the "Tell Minis" lustre. They also produce laqabi wares, derived from a small class of "Tell Minis" wares. Thus, the only legacies of "Tell Minis" that are discernible by the end of the century are the laqabi technique, the style of drawing on underglaze, and some vessel shapes. It is possible that there was a period of overlap between the decline of the "Tell Minis" kilns and the start of the Raqqa kilns, but its duration is impossible to guess.



Porter, Venetia & Watson, Oliver: " 'Tell Minis' Wares", in: Syria and Iran: Three Studies in Medieval Ceramics. Oxford Studies in Islamic Art volume IV, Part 2 (Oxford, 1987).

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