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The Aga Khan Museum: Ceramic, Mosaic - Fatimid, 12th century CE  Place your mouse over the image
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Ceramic, Mosaic

Object name

Egypt or Syria

Fatimid, 12th century CE


Materials and technique
Ceramic; fritware, painted in lustre on an opaque white glaze

Height 29 cm

Accession number


This type of jar, with an ovoid belly extending into a short, fairly wide neck and rolled mouth, is a well-known Fatimid style used into the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Nevertheless, this is an exceptional piece because of the quality of the design and the excellent state of preservation. The technique used and the decorative style place it among the ceramics known as “Tell Minis”, named after a village in northern Syria, close to Ma'arrat al- Nu'man, where a collection of some one hundred pieces were reportedly discovered in 1957 CE. Some of these are in the David Collection, Copenhagen, in particular a cup decorated with an intertwined ribbon forming polylobe motifs punctuated by fine re-engraved spirals, very similar to the design on our jar (Makariou 2007, p. 197, n. 29). This production, termed “Tell Minis” by Venetia Porter and Oliver Watson, groups siliceous clay wares finished with a metallic lustre or glazed after incision (Makariou 2007, p. 197, n. 30). The discovery of many similar pieces in different parts of Syria (Damascus, Hama) has corroborated the thesis of a Syrian production, very influenced by Fatimid Egypt, and possibly dating back to the middle of the twelfth century. In fact, three fragments of a cup kept in the Benaki Museum, and a single fragment housed in the Cairo Museum of Islamic Art, discovered in Fustat and subject to a similar technique, present the same type of epigraphy (ibid. notes 31-32). It is a very special type of angular writing, whereby the long downstrokes have a sort of midway hook or elbow, while the split bevels at the ends are preceded by a double horizontal line. In the lower frieze, one in two downstrokes ends with a half-palm leaf pattern. This type of writing style is extremely unusual. Apart from the above-mentioned fragments, this kind of downstroke with a crocheted projection can be seen on two fragments found in Fustat; one decorated with metallic lustre (ibid., n. 33), the other with glazed champlevé, and also on a cup published by Porter and Watson, as well as on the so-called “Fadā” cenotaph in Homs, Syria, possibly dating back to the thirteenth century (ibid., notes 34-36). These examples illustrate well the difficulty of unequivocally attributing this production to any one centre. The inscriptions are a set of vows commonly found on objects. In the medallions, are the words: baraka wa / kāmila wa / kāfiya bara[ka] / kāfiya wa (“blessing, perfect, complete, blessing, complete”). The same words can be found around the base, in a different sequence: baraka kāmila kāfiya kāfiya kāfiya kāfiya kāmila kāfiya wa.

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