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The Aga Khan Museum: Ceramic, Mosaic - Zhengde, 1506-21 CE  Place your mouse over the image
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Ceramic, Mosaic

Object name


Zhengde, 1506-21 CE


Materials and technique

height 7.5 cm; Ø 41.8 cm

Accession number


Muslim merchants from the Middle East and Central Asia settled in China’s Fujian province as early as the eighth century and continued to immigrate to various regions in that country after the Mongol invasions. Blue-and-white porcelain wares with Arabic inscriptions, such as the beautiful dish shown here, may have been made either for the Chinese Muslim community or for export to foreign lands. The present object may have come from one of the thousands of kilns around Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, where several blue-and-white porcelains have been excavated. The centre of the dish includes an inscription in cobalt blue of the Arabic word for purity, taharat, enclosed first within a circular frame, then within two squares and a larger circle. The interstices of the circles and squares contain blue cloud scrolls and another scroll design that is repeated on the rim of the dish. Four small, square panels appear at regular intervals along the rim and enclose Arabic inscriptions that collectively read, “Blessed is he who purifies his hand from wrongdoing.” Six panels arranged in a similar format on the exterior together contain the Arabic inscription: “Ablution upon ablution is light upon light.” The six-character reign mark of the Ming emperor Zhengde (r. 1506-21 CE) has been added to the base of the dish. Ming China (1368-1644 CE) was marked by a period of xenophobia that stood in stark contrast to the great amount of East-West exchange under the Mongol rule of the Yuan emperors (1271-1368 CE). In spite of this, the Ming did allow a certain level of foreign trade, and blue-and-white porcelain wares continued to be coveted by the courts of Iran, Mamluk Egypt and Syria, India, and the Ottoman Empire. This dish may have been produced for an Iranian market, where the taste for Chinese art and khita'i (a Chinese-inspired aesthetic) seems to have been most pronounced, but blue-and-white porcelains and other Chinese ceramics were also exported to other parts of the Islamic world as well, both by land and by sea, particularly to Indonesia. Blue-and-white Safavid and Ottoman Iznik wares attest to a taste for the Far East, as shown in the efforts made by Islamic potters to emulate Chinese porcelain prototypes on a frit body.

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