Samanid, circa 10th century CE
Materials and technique
Ceramic; earthenware, polychrome slip decoration under a transparent glaze
Ø 28 cm
Like their monochrome or bi-coloured counterparts, polychrome slip-covered earthenware ceramics produced in the tenth and eleventh century under the Samanids (819-1005 CE) are unrivalled in quality and design. While still using the simplest of materials, Iranian craftsmen achieved an unprecedented level of refinement in the production of earthenware dishes and in the colour and texture of the slip used to cover their surfaces. Designs ranged from figural to epigraphic to abstract, or any combination of the three. The surface of this bowl is dominated by a large, stylised bird, perhaps a peacock, known since the pre-Islamic period in Iran for its associations with royalty and, later, through a mystical interpretation, with Paradise. The potter has taken artistic license with the bird's tail and extended it to form an elaborate frame for an interlace pattern in white. The composition and decorative technique recalls that of so-called "Sari" wares, often identified by an interior filled mostly by the figure of a large bird (often against a background of smaller birds or 'lollipop' flowers) and by decoration in reds, yellows and browns. Sari wares were named after a town in the northern Iranian province of Mazandaran where some were found and believed to have been produced. Oliver Watson, however, mentions wasters of a similar ceramic type excavated in Gurgan, another northern town near the Caspian Sea, and believes Gurgan was one of the production centres for such wares. Since none of the wares in Sari were found in excavations, an attribution of Sari as a place of production cannot confidently be made. Given the stylistic variations in Sari wares and other ceramic pieces such as the present bowl, one can only speculate that a number of local production centres existed in northeastern Iran and were responsible for the circulation of a variety of wares exhibiting a wide range of quality.
© 2007 The Aga Khan Development Network. This is the only authorised Website of the Aga Khan Development Network.