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Pottery and Ceramics

The art of pottery, whose history in Iran goes back to the eighth millennium BC, witnessed a new prosperity, diversity and application in the Islamic period.

In the early centuries both glazed and unglazed potteries prevailed and the impact of the Sassanid pottery like that of other branches of art permeated. The new decorative methods as well as creation of diverse motifs and employment of painting and calligraphy in pottery was a great development which gradually started from the early centuries (hegira) of the development of Islam and continued until the decline of this art. Since the early days of the Islamic period, three kinds of decorations were used on the glazed ceramics: incised, embossed, and molded. The peak of spread and beauty of these potteries is seen in the artifacts of such centers as Neishabour, Rey and Jorjan. 

Glazed pottery making has an old history in Iran. Single-color glaze for coating of the pottery had been known since late second and early first millenniums BC and had been in use from the time of Achaemenid to the Sassanid period. Pottery making with under-glaze motifs prevailed from the early Islamic centuries, but since the third and forth centuries (hegira) in addition to the trio-decorations of the unglazed potteries, major changes took place in glazed pottery making. The acquaintance of the Iranian potters with the Chinese clay, and their access to this clay which was brought from China left a great impact on the structures of the potteries. The body of the potteries became thinner and lighter. The application of transparent glaze encouraged the artists to make some potteries with under-glaze designs and motifs which were unprecedented with regard to the diversity of decorations and motifs. The application of plant, flower and animal motifs as well as paintings about the epical, historical and literary stories, the parties and epochs, accompanied with diversity in the colors prospered the pottery; this prosperity was preserved until the fourteenth century. 

Among other famous ceramics of Iran during the Islamic period one may mention the golden potteries. There are differences of opinion among the experts on the origin and the way of spread of this kind of potteries. Iran, Iraq and Egypt are considered the birthplace of golden potteries. Pope maintains that Rey was the birthplace of this kind of pottery. The evolution of this kind of pottery has been classified in three stages between ninth to eighteenth centuries in two kinds of colorful golden and single-color golden ceramics. The peak of prosperity of golden pottery was between eleventh and fifteenth centuries. Inspired by the artifacts of the Sassanid period, the potters of the early stages of this period created some outstanding examples of golden pottery. The center for manufacture of golden potteries during this period was Kashan whose potteries are very rich in their motifs. The oldest dated samples of these potteries carry the date 1179 AD (575 hegira). 

The manufacturing of the golden potteries declined in the fifteenth century, but once again picked up in the sixteenth century. Some outstanding changes in the size and shape of the vessels are seen during this period, which include the emergence of long-neck jars and small and big bowls as well as the prevalence of reddish brown color. According to the travelogue writers, Isfahan, Kashan, Kerman, and Mashad were among the centers of golden pottery making of this period. 

The production of potteries known as enameled, seven-color, and over-glaze painted potteries began from the twelfth century and their oldest dated sample is not older than 1179. The following colors were applied in the decoration of this pottery which is the most beautiful one: blue, azure, green, turquoise, red, brown, black and yellow. The gradual evolution of the motifs and designs of the enameled potteries took place in two stages. During the sixth century hegira, the motifs mainly included the plants and geometrical designs, covering the entire inner part of the vessel. In the second stage, that is, the end of the sixth and beginning of the seventh century, human and animal motifs gradually replaced the plant and geometrical motifs. Some scenes inspired by historical and literary stories, particularly the Shah Nameh epics, as well as paintings about the preying grounds were extensively used in these potteries. 

The manufacturing of these potteries continued up to the end of 13th century, but was abolished thenceforth when a new pattern of Iranian pottery prevailed which had a simpler method than enameled ones and became known as azure vessels. In this pattern, the motifs were drawn in turquoise, white, golden, and ochre colors on a coat of azure glaze and mainly included geometrical and plant motifs in simple or embossed shapes. During the fourteenth century decoration of the ceramics with blue and white colors prevailed which is considered by some analysts an influence of the Chinese pottery. The production of these ceramics continued in the fifteenth century – which coincided with the Timurid era – due to the expansion of trade between Iran and China. During the same period, Chinese designs were widely applied on the Iran-made vessels. This method was not unprecedented in Iran and earlier, that is, in ninth and tenth centuries too this method was used in various periods though less extensively.

* source: Semsar , Mohammad Hasan " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.638- 640

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