Height: 24.800 cm
ME OA 1902.5-21.1
Room 34: The Islamic world
Pouring vessel, by the craftsman Mahmu Miʿmar-i Yazdi
Probably from Mashhad, Iran
AD 1616/17 (AH 1025)
An imitation of Chinese porcelain
This small stonepaste ewer is decorated with underglaze-painting in varying tones of cobalt blue over a white slip (liquid clay). It has no lid, and can be filled through a hole provided at the top of the handle.
An inscription on the lid gives the date and reads: 'The work of Mahmud Micmar-i Yazdi'. Under the foot is a second inscription, 'Decorated by the craftsman Zari'.
The round body contains four scenes depicting either a lone bird or a deer in a landscape, with a border of lotus leaves above and below.
The decorative motifs and colours used follow the design of contemporary imports of porcelain from China. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, Chinese craftsmen were mass-producing blue and white porcelain for export to Iran and Western Europe via Dutch traders, in designs which had long gone out of fashion in the home market in China. Potters in Iran, particularly in the cities of Mashhad and Kirman, imitated them. They even went so far as to copy Chinese marks onto their products. Without the raw material of kaolin clay from China and the technology to make kilns capable of reaching the necessary high temperatures, there was no chance of reproducing actual porcelain. Nevertheless, Dutch traders did attempt to pass off Iranian 'porcelain' for the real article, and were caught out. In 1660, a Dutch embassy offered a gift of bogus Chinese porcelain to the Safavid court of Isfahan. The Iranians noticed that the gift was in fact a product of their own country, and rejected it. Whether the Dutch were themselves fooled, or had hoped to dupe the Iranians, is unclear.
J.M. Rogers, Islamic art and design 1500-17 (London, The British Museum Press, 1983)
A. Lane, Later Islamic pottery: Persia, (London, Faber and Faber, 1957)
S. Canby, The golden age of Persian art, (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)