C. Lustre Wares:


C.1. Pigment:

this ranges from strong orange to more common pale yellow-green, with a variety of coloured highlights; the colours vary with the thickness of application and differences in firing conditions. There is no use of underglaze or in-glaze painting in blue or turquoise, as in Persian or Raqqa lustre and occasionally Fatimid lustre, though streaks of blue are found on the "Tell Minis" pieces with sgraffito decoration.


C.2. Painting styles:

"Tell Minis" wares are painted directly in lustre pigment; only one example (A44) has the design in reserve on a lustre ground which is common in Egyptian or Persian lustre. Details are often scratched through, with sometimes rapid, sketchy execution; there are lively rhythms and movement in the scrolls and figures, while less complicated designs are based on symmetrical repetition of simple calligraphic and geometric patterns.

At first sight there seems a bewildering variety of styles; but on closer examination the differences are superficial and can be attributed to the level of sophistication or simplification of designs within a single style, and possibly within a single workshop. There are sets of common formulae such as facial features which seem to be by the same hand; wiry stems with punctuating dots form the basis of scrolls which are made more complex by the addition of leaves or fleshy palmettes, which are also found on their own as background fillers, border decoration, or ornaments for the calligraphy. All pieces share similar shapes and material, and have the appearance of being from the same kiln or a closely related group of kilns which produced wares at different levels of sophistication.

top of the page   top of the page


C.3. Motifs:

Scrolling foliage is an important element and the treatment varies from sketchy to a full, detailed rendering. The leaf form or parts of it are found on virtually every piece, while a variant (the tri-lobed leaf) develops into a main design in its own right. The rim is usually decorated with a plain band of lustre, though a half-moon border is also common. Inscriptions or calligraphic motifs are sometimes found on the exterior. Contour panels framing the figures, as in ‘Abbasid and Egyptian lustre, are very rare (only occur on A14).


C.4. Range of designs:

This is fairly limited in comparison with Egyptian or Persian lustre, and can be divided for convenience into 4 basic groups:

i) humans or human-headed animals

ii) animals

iii) calligraphic motifs

iv) geometric and arabesque motifs

The most skillful and accomplished painting is seen in the first 2 groups.

top of the page   top of the page


        C.4.i. Humans:

The face is normally in profile looking to our left; it has a squarish shape with almond eyes, the right one reaching from edge of face to nose; pupils are large dots in the centre of the eyes; eyebrows are turned up on either side of the nose; the nose itself is suggested by hooked lines, as is the mouth; hair may be slicked back with incised curls, or curled into a crown with a long narrow pin at centre, falling in heavy locks on either side of face. There is little sense of volume in the depiction of bodies: clothes are expansive with wide sleeves decorated with incised spirals, tiraz bands on the cuff and upper sleeve, and on the bodies of harpies. Figures wear loose-fitting necklaces, 3 sit cross-legged, of which 2 hold a goblet in each hand (though 1 holds a goblet and fruit/jewel). The drawing shows such uniformity that it is tempting to attribute it to the hand of a single artist. The conventions of features and posture are taken from Fatimid Egypt, and similar conventions continue in C13th Syria and Iran.


        C.4.ii. Animals:

designs range from 2 lions attacking a cow, to the simplest of stylised fish; most frequent is single animal seen prancing with one or both forefeet raised, against a background of "Tell Minis" foliage, which is also a common theme in Fatimid lustre. The animals depicted are mostly hares and lions. The style of drawing is uniform and the best examples have a taut, springing movement.


        C.4.iii. Calligraphic:

this dominates the decoration of many pieces in form of a single word, a frieze, or combined with other elements. The quality of the script varies from careful and legible to illegible, pseudo-inscriptions; all are written in late Kufic, though one piece (A32) uses monumental Naskh. Mostly conventional blessings are written, and two examples (A23 and A24) bear the word sa’d (repeated 5 times on A24), suggesting this is not the name of a potter but is to be understood in the face-value meaning of the word, "happiness" (which has implications for the interpretation of this word occurring on Fatimid lustre). Several examples have words written on the exterior walls, and these have yet to be deciphered.


        C.4.iv. Arabesque:

this covers all pieces that are decorated with a simple geometric arrangement of foliate scrolls or sprays. Several designs are repeated almost exactly on various pieces, such as the arching motif with pseudo-inscriptions; arching motif with scrollwork; radial panels with tri-lobed leaves and scrolling infill; concentric frieze of half-palmette scrollwork. A number of pieces have sketchy motifs with incised details. Two pieces stand out because of their size (A54, A55): they are open bowls which are tours-de-force of potting skill. No open bowls of this size were ever attempted by Fatimid potters.

top of the page   top of the page


Back || Contents || Next