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[PERSIAN
CERAMICS

found either on plain vases, or on vessels with modelled ornament; or covering delicate floral or arabesque patterns painted in white slip or incised in the paste. Sometimes, even at this early period, there are traces of applied gold-leaf attached, but not fired, to the glaze.

At a very early period, too, we find those beautiful bowls, dishes and vases decorated with geometrical or arabesque patterns in a singularly still underglaze black, and covered with the blue turquoise or green copper glazes. This characteristic and beautiful ware is common to Persia, Syria and Egypt in Saracen times, and it was soon prized in Europe, as is shown by the famous fragment found by the late Mr Drury Fortnum built into the outer walls of S. Cecilia in Pisa, where it was apparently placed in the 12th century.[1]

At a later date a shining black glaze made its appearance, and in the 13th century pale and lapis-lazuli blues, while there is a comparatively modern sage-green glaze found only on pieces bearing patterns modelled in low relief.

Persian Porcelain.—This beautiful and somewhat mysterious ware—often called “Gombroon” ware—apparently made its appearance in the 13th century, though the bulk of the known examples are not earlier than the 17th or 18th century. The ware is quite translucent and is of soft and delicate texture. Unlike Chinese porcelain, it was made from a mixture of pipe-clay and glass, and was glazed with a soft lead glaze; so that a fragment of it would melt to an opaque glass in an ordinary porcelain oven. It is principally met with in the form of dishes, bowls (often mounted on feet) and saucers. The pieces are generally very thin and are either perfectly plain or bear flutings or simple wavy patterns incised in the paste. Most characteristic and beautiful is the decoration by means of delicate perforations either straight or lozenge-shaped. In the finest pieces the perforations are filled with glaze, and then they form a decoration analogous to the well-known “rice-grain” decoration of the Chinese. Occasional pieces are found decorated with colour, either a delicate green, producing an effect like pale bright céladon, or the well-known Persian blue ground; and this is sometimes decorated with lustre patterns. Nowhere can this rare and delicately beautiful ware be so well studied as in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Lustred Ware.—The decoration of pottery with iridescent metallic films is one of the most astonishing and beautiful inventions ever made by the potter. Hitherto we have seen only coloured clays, coloured glazes, or colours fired under the glaze, but we are now brought face to face with a colour effect produced by refiring the finished glazed pieces, at a lower temperature, with pigments painted upon the glaze (fig. 40; see also Plate V. 13th-century Persian lustre). How such a practice originated is probably an idle speculation, but it may have come through repeated attempts to decorate pottery with gold. If gold was painted under the glazes of these ancient vases, it would probably vanish and leave no trace; but gold, alloyed with much silver, applied over the finished glaze and refired, in the attempt to make it adhere, may have given the first films of iridescent colour. We know certainly that before the 13th century the elements of the process had been mastered, and that the potters of the nearer East had learnt that by mixing some compound of silver (doubtless the sulphide) with clay, and painting the mixture on the finished vase, which was refired in such a way that the pieces were only raised to a dull red heat and were then exposed to the vapours of the wood-fuel, glowing lustrous patterns were left on the ware that looked like metal—but metal shot over with all the hues of the rainbow, golden, rosy, purple and green. Numerous fragments of this lustred pottery had been disinterred from the site at Rhagae, and it was therefore assumed that the beautiful process was of Persian origin, particularly as most of the examples then known bore designs of distinctly Persian style. We are now inclined to think that the process really arose in Egypt or in Syria, and was carried eastward to Persia, just as it was afterwards carried westward to Spain. In support of this view there is the written record of the Persian traveller Nasiri Khosrau, who visited Old Cairo in the 11th century (1035–1042). He was apparently familiar with the pottery of his own country, and notes all the novel forms that he found in the bazaars of Old Cairo, which was both a great trading emporium for the traffic of East and West, and a pottery centre of note. He mentions, specially, certain translucent bowls of earthenware decorated with colours resembling a stuff called “bougalemoun,” “the tints changing according to the position which one gives to the vase.” Such a description could only apply to “lustred” pottery, and it would seem as if this process must have been known in Egypt or Syria before it was practised in Persia (see Plate V., 13th-century Syro-Persian). In any case the secret was soon carried to Persia, for we have ample evidence that it was practised at Rhagae in the next century.

EB1911 Ceramics Fig. 40.—Persian Ewer, white ground, with pattern in brown copper lustre.jpg
Fig. 40.—Persian Ewer, white ground, with pattern in brown copper lustre; the upper part has a blue ground. The mounting is gilt bronze, Italian 16th-century work. (British Museum.)

The earliest dated example of Persian lustred ware is a star-shaped tile of the year A.D. 1217 (a.h. 614), decorated with spotted hares, heraldically confronted, in a ground of lustre relieved by dots and curls, and surrounded by an inscribed border. A vase in the Godman collection bears the date A.D. 1231 (a.h. 629), and some of the well-known “star and cross” tiles from Veramin belong to the year A.D. 1262. The early Persian lustre is chiefly known to us through the tiles with which the walls of mosques and public buildings were decorated; the more ephemeral vases, bowls and dishes have survived in smaller numbers and very rarely in perfect condition. Common motives of decoration were animals and birds (sometimes showing Chinese influence), the hare and the deer being favourites; roughly drawn sack-like figures of men and women, mounted or on foot (probably heroes of Persian legend), conventional foliage and arabesques. The designs are usually reserved in a lustred ground, which is relieved by small scrolls, curls and dots etched in the lustre (as though the glazed piece had been covered all over with the lustre mixture and the ornament scratched out of this when it was dry), and showing beneath the ivory-white tin-enamel with which the early wares are generally coated. The lustre itself when viewed directly may look like some golden or deep chocolate-brown colour, but as the piece is turned to catch a side-light this deep colour is seen to bear a thin iridescent film, which glows with golden, green, purple or ruby-red metallic reflets. On the earliest examples the decoration is often entirely in lustre, but later, lustre is often used to eke out a pattern painted with masses of pale cobalt-blue or turquoise under the glaze. Similar tiles with rather more elaborate ornament bear 14th-century dates, and another variety has parts of the decoration, more particularly the large letters of the inscriptions, raised in low relief and heightened with blue. Yet another class, belonging to the 14th century, has a fine dark-blue alkaline glaze,

  1. See Drury Fortnum, Archaeologia, vol. xlii.