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Dish follows a Chinese model so closely that it might have passed for a Chinese original if the body had been translucent like porcelain. Blue and white designs cover the white plate with a foliage design in the centre.
AKM886, Blue-and-white dish based on a Chinese model

© The Aga Khan Museum

Side view of the blue and white dish that follows a Chinese model so closely that it might have passed for a Chinese original if the body had been translucent like porcelain. Blue and white designs cover the white plate with a foliage design in the centre.
AKM886, Blue-and-white dish based on a Chinese model, Side

© The Aga Khan Museum

Side view of the blue and white dish that follows a Chinese model so closely that it might have passed for a Chinese original if the body had been translucent like porcelain. Blue and white designs cover the white plate with a foliage design in the centre.
AKM886, Blue-and-white dish based on a Chinese model, Side

© The Aga Khan Museum

Side view of the blue and white dish that follows a Chinese model so closely that it might have passed for a Chinese original if the body had been translucent like porcelain. Blue and white designs cover the white plate with a foliage design in the centre.
AKM886, Blue-and-white dish based on a Chinese model, Side

© The Aga Khan Museum

Bottom view of the dish, with blue and white designs cover the sides of the bowl, while the base and bottom of the rim are white.
AKM886, Blue-and-white dish based on a Chinese model, Bottom

© The Aga Khan Museum

Click on the image to zoom

On Display
Blue-and-white dish based on a Chinese model
  • Accession Number:AKM588
  • Place:Iran
  • Dimensions:46.6 cm
  • Date:17th century
  • Materials and Technique:fritware, underglaze-painted
  • Chinese pottery had found its way into the Middle East before Islam, but its impact took on new importance shortly after the founding of the Abbasid Empire in 750 and the move of the capital from Syria to Iraq. Chinese shapes appeared in the 9th-century products of the kilns at Basra, Iraq, and potters emulated the white body by increasing the opacity of their glazes by adding tin. The impact of Chinese goods was especially felt during the Mongol period, when the Ilkhanids (1256–1353)—relatives of the Mongol rulers of China (Yuan dynasty 1279–1368)—ruled Iran. However, nothing compares with the overwhelming influence of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain imports on Persian pottery. From around 1600, a new boost to the porcelain trade came from the founding of the Dutch and English East Indies companies. Large quantities of porcelain, on its way to Europe from the Far East in their ships, were off-loaded in the ports of Iran. In response to this influx of Chinese porcelain, Persian potters made great efforts to simulate it.

Further Reading

 

This dish from the Aga Khan Museum Collection follows a Chinese model so closely that it might have passed for a Chinese original if the body had been translucent like porcelain. While the Persian potter had the skill to reproduce the Chinese designs, he did not have the clay—called kaolin—to make true porcelain. Instead, he created a brilliant white body from stonepaste, which is composed of finely ground quartz and a small amount of clay. This technique was invented by the potters of Egypt and Syria as early as the 12th century.

 

The Chinese model for this dish dates from the early Ming period (ca. 1410). The wide-based shape and bracketed rim were customary for Ming export porcelain. The lotus-bouquet of the central design, painted in cobalt blue with black outlining, is tied by a ribbon, the thin stems of the plant undulating as if in water. The Persian painter followed the model very closely, even simulating the “heaped-and-piled” brushwork—the use of dark and light variation in the cobalt pigment. The rim has the common Ming "cresting wave” border. The inner walls, as well as the exterior walls, are painted with a lotus scroll design, just as would have been done on the Chinese original. On the glazed base there is a black square with four small motifs inside it, resembling the Chinese reign marks (nianhao) often painted on the base by Ming potters.

 

The potter who made this dish worked in the city of Kerman, a major urban centre located in southeastern Iran, on one of the routes leading from the Persian Gulf toward the Safavid capital Isfahan. Kerman became a centre for the production of chinoiserie ceramics in the early 17th century. European travellers visiting at the time write of the finest wares originating here and at Mashhad, in northeastern Iran. Archaeological evidence has confirmed that Kerman did produce many types of fine Safavid ceramics. The Ming lotus-bouquet theme was a favourite among Kerman potters, though not all products were as successful a copy as this dish. The use of black lines and the square potter’s mark help us to date this dish ca. 1640, after which the Kerman potters abandoned the use of black outlines and traded the square potter’s mark for a blue tassel-like mark.

 

The fact that the dish uses a model already 200 years old and not a contemporary import raises the question of how this was possible. Potters could probably find early models in the antiquarian collections of the princes and aristocracy of Iran. Several large collections were assembled during the Safavid period, that of Shah Abbas (r. 1588–1629) at the shrine of Shaykh Safi (d. 1334) in Ardabil being the best known. Safi was a revered Sufi shaykh, the ancestor of the Safavids, after whom the dynasty took its name. His shrine with its porcelain collection was displayed in the splendid chini-khaneh (china pavilion) built by the Shah in 1604. Most likely several antique models caught the eye of the potter of this dish because he conflated different border designs, transforming the rocks of the “cresting wave” into a basket-weave pattern.

 

— Lisa Golombek


References
Crowe, Y. Persia and China: Safavid Blue and White Ceramics in the Victoria and Albert Museum 1501–1738. London: La Borie, 2002. ISBN: 978-0953819614
L. Golombek, R.B. Mason, P. Proctor, and E. Reilly. Persian Pottery in the First Global Age: the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Leiden: Brill, 2014. ISBN: 978-9004260856

Note: This online resource is reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. We are committed to improving this information and will revise and update knowledge about this object as it becomes available.

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