Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

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Dish with floral decoration in radial panels

Glossary (2)

fritware, glaze

  • fritware

    Ceramic material composed of ground quartz and small quantities of clay and finely ground frit (frit is obtained by pouring molten glass into water).

  • glaze

    Vitreous coating applied to the surface of a ceramic to make it impermeable or for decorative effect.


    • First floor | Room 31 | Islamic Middle East

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Publications online

  • Islamic ceramics, by James W. Allan

    Islamic Ceramics

    The redevelopment of large areas of the old city of Damascus in the 1960’s brought to life many hundreds of pieces of Chinese porcelain, imported into Syria from the late fourteenth century onwards, and cherished by their owners over the centuries. Among these porcelains are dishes which show very clearly the Chinese origin of both the blue-and-white colour scheme, and some of the plant forms, on contemporary Syrian vessels and tiles.

    Although precise dating of most blue-and-white Syrian objects may be difficult, the blue and white tiles which decorate the mausoleum and mosque of Ghars al-Din al-Khalil al-Tawrizi, vizier of Damascus, who died in 1430, show that the style was at its most popular in the second decade of the fifteenth century. Particular plant and leaf forms on the Tawrizi tiles in fact compare closely with those in the more densely decorated radiating panels on this dish, suggesting that a date of circa 1425 for the dish cannot be far from the truth. Typically Syrian are the form of a dish (a shallower version of the thirteenth century Syrian bowl form illustrated elsewhere), and the pattern on the rim, both of which are found in contemporary sgraffito wares. More unusual on Syrian blue-and-white is the turquoise glaze. Like the geometric layout, however it recalls yet again the way medieval Islamic potters were keen to move away from slavish copies of Chinese imports to designs which incorporated their own culture traditions and artistic taste.

    In Iran the adoption of blue-and-white was destined to have a long and productive future. In the early sixteenth century, however, Syria became a mere province of the vast Ottoman Turkish empire. As a cultural backwater, its ceramics henceforward played second fiddle to the rich polychrome wares of Iznik, unable to emulate them in either design or colour.

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