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Because they are so durable, ceramics are one of the most abundantly preserved indicators of changes in taste and influence. Ceramics from the early Islamic era demonstrate the results of an eastward shift in the center of power that occurred in 750, with the rise of the Abbasid dynasty. The capital of the caliphate transferred from Damascus to Baghdad, where easy connections to the Persian Gulf stimulated contacts with cultures farther east. These three bowls demonstrate the impact of Chinese luxury wares that arrived in the Abbasid capital in the late eighth century. Inspired by the prestigious white-bodied imports from China, potters in the port town of Basra covered their own earthenware with a tin glaze that fired opaque white. They soon began to transform their white-ground vessels with the addition of colors.

To create the green-splashed effect, copper ran in the glaze during firing, a technique that appears in both Abbasid and Tang dynasty (618–907) wares. Ceramics decorated with cobalt blue on white were first produced by eighth-century potters in China, but the development of floral patterns in the blue-on-white idiom seems to have originated with Islamic potters. One of the most significant innovations attributed to Basra potters was the application of luster painting to ceramics. In this technique, the artist painted metal oxides onto an already glazed and fired surface. After a second firing in a low-oxygen atmosphere kiln, the design was deposited on the glaze as an iridescent stain.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.104
Title
Dish with Green Splashed Decoration
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
9th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iraq
Period
Abbasid period
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/147861
Location
Level 2, Room 2550, Art from Islamic Lands, The Middle East and North Africa
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Buff-colored earthenware with patches of green (copper) running in clear lead glaze
Technique
Glazed
Dimensions
4.1 x 21.2 cm (1 5/8 x 8 3/8 in.)
Provenance
[Galerie für Griechische, Römische und Byzantinische Kunst, Frankfurt, 1972], sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (1972-2002), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Accession Year
2002
Object Number
2002.50.104
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
This green-splashed dish,represents the glazed luxury wares being produced in Abbasid Iraq by the late eighth to early ninth century. The rounded walls and slightly everted rim of this dish recall those of Tang white wares. Whether the production of color-splashed ceramics in the Islamic world was an independent development or was also inspired by wares imported from China is still unresolved. A copper oxide was applied in patches on the exterior and interior rim of this dish before it was fired upright. The green patches flowed freely in the clear glaze, pooling at the center into a shape serendipitously resembling a lotus blossom. Ceramics with colorants running in a clear glaze were broadly popular and widely produced in the early Islamic era; wasters have been found from Afrasiyab, in Uzbekistan, to Fustat, in Egypt.Because this visual effect could be achieved through various techniques, assigning place and time of production to these wares is often difficult.On the basis of its well-formed foot, its finely potted profile with recurved rim, and its lack of secondary incised decoration, it is attributed to Iraq.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
3

Dish with green splashed decoration
Iraq, Abbasid period, 9th century[1]
Buff-colored earthenware with patches of green (copper) running in clear lead glaze
4.1 × 21.2 cm (1 5/8 × 8 3/8 in.)
2002.50.104

Published: McWilliams 2002a, 13, fig. 4.

Although the collection contains important pre-Islamic antecedents in the Ziwiye wares (cats. 1 and 2), Norma Jean Calderwood’s initial focus was on the glazed ceramics of the Islamic era. This green-splashed dish, the earliest Islamic ceramic vessel in the collection,[2] represents the glazed luxury wares being produced in Abbasid Iraq by the late eighth to early ninth century. The rounded walls and slightly everted rim of this dish recall those of Tang white wares. Whether the production of color-splashed ceramics in the Islamic world was an independent development or was also inspired by wares imported from China is still unresolved.[3] A copper oxide was applied in patches on the exterior and interior rim of this dish before it was fired upright. The green patches flowed freely in the clear glaze, pooling at the center into a shape serendipitously resembling a lotus blossom.

Ceramics with colorants running in a clear glaze were broadly popular and widely produced in the early Islamic era; wasters have been found from Afrasiyab, in Uzbekistan, to Fustat, in Egypt.[4] Because this visual effect could be achieved through various techniques, assigning place and time of production to these wares is often difficult.[5] Calderwood acquired this dish as an example of eastern Iranian splash ware, but on the basis of its well-formed foot, its finely potted profile with recurved rim, and its lack of secondary incised decoration, it is here attributed to Iraq.

Mary McWilliams

[1] The bowl is of “ancient origin,” according to the results of thermoluminescence analysis carried out at the Research Laboratory of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1973.
[2] Calderwood acquired a small dish, cat. 50, as an example of the green-glazed wares of the late Umayyad period, but it was more likely created in early modern Vietnam or China, according to Robert D. Mowry.
[3] Watson 2004, 47, 171, 199.
[4] Wilkinson 1973, 54.
[5] See Grube 1994, 33.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, "With Quite Different Eyes: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art", Apollo, ed. David Ekserdjian (November 2002), vol. CLVI no. 490, pp. 12-16, p.13, fig. 4

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), pp. 171-172, cat. 3, ill.

Exhibition History

Overlapping Realms: Arts of the Islamic World and India, 900-1900, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 12/02/2006 - 03/23/2008

In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2013 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 2550 Islamic, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu