Dish With A Bird Motif
12th century CE
Materials and technique
Ceramic; fritware, lustre painted over an opaque white glaze
Ø 24.3 cm
Given the central location of Syria along numerous routes of cultural exchange, it is no surprise that excavations of mediaeval kiln sites in this country have yielded ceramic wares produced in a variety of techniques and exhibiting diverse motifs and styles. As a result, the identification and classification of this material is particularly difficult. This lustre painted dish, however, can be grouped stylistically among the so-called “Tell Minis” wares, named after a village site near Ma'arrat al-Nu'man in western Syria and distinguished by its fine frit body and a unique lustre painting style. As Oya Pancaroğlu has noted, there is not enough evidence about the discovery of the “Tell Minis” hoard or the site itself to allow for a confident attribution of this location as a centre of production (Pancaroğlu 2007, p. 63). At the very least, works categorised as “Tell Minis” can be spotted by their inclusion of vegetal ornament composed of three- or five-lobed leaves with pointed tips, often surrounding a large central figural motif, such as the peacock in this dish. This motif can hold auspicious meanings; in the Iranian world, for example, the peacock is associated with royalty and, on a mystical level, with paradise (as suggested by the Sufi poet Farid al-Din 'Attar (d. 1220 CE) in his Mantiq al-tayr, or Conference of the Birds). Similar bowls are found in other collections, such as in the Harvey B. Plotnick Collection, Chicago. One bowl of that collection includes a central peacock, while the other contains the auspicious Seal of Solomon in which the Arabic word for “blessing” (baraka) has been inscribed. This dish has an exterior Arabic inscription identifying the workshop or artist, followed by the word khass, which can be translated as “special” or “prívate,” perhaps meant to indicate royal or special commissions (see ibid., pp. 62-63 [nos. 20 and 21]).
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