Egypt or Syria
Mamluk, 15th century CE
Materials and technique
Ceramic; fritware, underglaze painted in cobalt blue, black, and aubergine
19.4 x 17 cm
Under the Mamluks (1250-1517 CE), the major centres of ceramic production were Damascus, in Syria, and Cairo, in Egypt. Perhaps because they were produced under a single authority, the wares from these regions are still difficult to distinguish from each other, although underglaze painting seems to have been practiced more widely in Syria (Fehervari 2000, p. 246). However, it appears that some new styles and techniques were introduced to both these areas between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. One of the most noticeable changes in the aesthetics of Mamluk ceramic production was the addition of a Chinese-inspired aesthetic apparent in blue-and-white colour schemes and celadon glazes meant to imitate Chinese porcelains and celadon wares, as well as the use of Chinese motifs such as lotuses or peonies. The taste for the Far East may have arrived directly through contacts between the Mamluks and China and/or through an Iranian “filter” overland; the khita'i (“Cathayan”) idiom was prevalent in Iran, particularly from the Il-Khanid Mongol period (1256-1353 CE) forward. The present tile depicts a central stylised lotus-like flower with five cobalt-blue floral sprays radiating towards an aubergine scalloped frame bordered by a black line. Hexagonal tiles of comparable dimensions with similar and varied motifs appear in other collections, including the Tareq Rajab Museum in Kuwait (Fehervari 2000, pp. 250-51 [no. 311, CER1728TSR]) and the David Collection in Copenhagen (von Folsach 2001, p. 165 [no. 203]). However, the tiles in these collections display a colour palette of cobalt blue, black, and turquoise in contrast to the cobalt blue, black, and aubergine of the present tile. Fehervari has attributed these tiles to the fifteenth century but reiterates John Carswell’s conclusion that a place of production for these works remains uncertain (Fehervari 2000, p. 251; and Carswell 1972, p. 75).
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