Chinese style ceramic dish from Iran

Kirman, Iran, about AD 1625–1650

Dishes like this one were made by Iranian potters inspired by Chinese porcelain. They were painted with white slip or cut through to the stone-paste body to produce a white design that contrasts with the monochrome background. Potters who travelled to the shrine of Ardabil in northwest Iran as pilgrims and saw or even used Chinese porcelains may have introduced this style.

Iran’s Safavid dynasty was founded by Shaykh Safi al-Din, a Sufi mystic in the 1300s. When he died his tomb in Ardabil became a shrine, and in 1611 the fifth shah, Shah 'Abbas I (15711629) donated 1,000 pieces of porcelain from the royal Safavid collection to the Ardabil Shrine. Chinese porcelain had been acquired by previous Iranian rulers through trade and as diplomatic gifts and was highly prized in Iran. Iran had exported cobalt, the material that produces the distinctive blue of Chinese blue-and-white porcelains, to China from as early as the 800s, and Iranian potters had tried to copy Chinese ceramics for centuries. However, Iran didn’t have the right clay or firing techniques needed for making porcelains. Shah 'Abbas’s donation of porcelain to his ancestral shrines reflects the prestige Chinese blue-and-white porcelain held in the Iranian court in the 1600s.

Most often the decoration on dishes like this one consists of sprays of foliage or flowers, sometimes combined with geometric patterns based on rosette designs. Although ceramics with black decoration on a green or turquoise ground were produced in the sixteenth century, polychrome wares and close imitations of Chinese blue-and-white ware were far more prevalent before the reign of Shah 'Abbas I.

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Museum number

ME 1920,0207.1

Bequest of Lily Nora Ziegler


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