Syria or Egypt
Mamluk, 15th century CE
Materials and technique
Siliceous ceramic, decoration painted under transparent glaze
20 x 20 cm
The blue and white decoration of this tile is characteristic of the ceramic productions at the end of the Mamluk period which drew their inspiration from Chinese porcelain. Some pieces are faithful reproductions of Chinese models but others, like this one, present more original and highly charming compositions. The decoration is symmetrical without being rigid. The central two-level edifice, surmounted by a bulbous dome and the two small pavilions (or gates) flanking it, stand against a landscape of sinuous bushes ending in broad leaves. The variations in proportion, the leaning horizontals and wavy lines suggest that this drawing was done freehand, spontaneously, lending a sort of naive but extremely lively touch to the composition. Could it be a religious building, mosque or mausoleum - the Gothic arch shapes of the two small structures recall the form of certain tombstones - or a palace, a pleasure pavilion in the middle of a garden? It conjures up images of luxuriant orchards of the Ghuta in Damascus and architectural landscapes of the mosaics of the Great Mosque of the Umayyads. Two tiles in the Islamic Art Museum, Cairo, of unknown origin, present the same tripartite architecture with soaring domes surrounded by vegetation. One of them seems to have been cut to be embedded into a set of hexagonal tiles. The other one is also quadrangular and of very similar dimensions. There are other common elements, such as the diagonal band strangely covering the facade of the central edifice, the dome framed by two triangular leaves, and the grilled windows reminiscent of the mashrabiyyah. Another decorative architectural tile can be found embedded in the stonework of the minaret of the al Qali mosque, in Damascus, dated circa 1470 CE. Placed very high and difficult to observe, it seems to represent a mosque (a building with a dome topped with a crescent and flanked by a minaret). One rediscovers the theme of this tile on a unique blue and white-decorated bottle, linked to Iznik production at the end of the fifteenth century, which boasts a design of pavilions set against a landscape. However, the two pieces differ in the architectural and plant-decoration details. Finally, a connection can be established with a small group of gilded enamel glasses decorated architecturally. A bottle from this small group can be dated back to the Ayyubid period, but the entire set of objects is more closely related to the production from the second half of the thirteenth century or beginning of the fourteenth century.
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