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The Aga Khan Museum: Ceramic, Mosaic - Safavid, 17th century CE  Place your mouse over the image
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Ceramic, Mosaic

Object name
Panel With Irises


Safavid, 17th century CE


Materials and technique
Earthenware with white glaze overpainted with coloured glazes and black lines

47.8 x 24 cm

Accession number


The fragment highlights the stems darting off to the right. The bold shades of blue, turquoise, white and yellow create a strong colour contrast with the mustard-coloured background. A touch of green at the base of the irises adds richness to the array. Similarities with the most graphic tradition of European engraving are rapidly obvious. Plates of botanical books were, as already stressed, a likely source of inspiration for designs on ceramic pieces for pleasure pavilions in Iran and for Mughal residences in India. The work that was best received was Hortus floridus (1614 CE) by Crispin de Passe (Makariou 2007, p. 55, n. 61). However, artists of the great modern Islamic empires made their selection recomposing from among this vast repertoire; the same theme was often transformed into an entity which was ornamentalised through repetition, as for instance unreal meadows storming over the brick walls of the Isfahan pavilions. The technique is rigorously similar to that applied to tiles still to be found in Isfahan. The terra cotta is entirely coated with a white opaque glaze; on this background a black line traces the contours; the composition is undetermined but the difference of mortar between the black line and the glaze ensures effective insulation between the layers of coloured glaze. The decoration is subsequently painted with coloured glaze which practically covers the underlying white glaze. The white petals, visible here, are therefore reserves. The black line restores the design element to the piece and allows a more finely rendering of the outpouring of the petals which are just about ready to fall off their petiole. The term ‘naturalism’ has been overused, but sensitivity to nature, however, expressed a preoccupation of the literate elite of the time.

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