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Category: west asia

Trailer for Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul

27 October, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, literature/performance/film/music, west asia | By: xensen

Here’s a trailer for the exhibition Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul, on view at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco from Oct 24, 2008 through Jan 25, 2009.

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Conical fritware bowl from thirteenth-century Iran

5 May, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, medieval, west asia | By: xensen

iranian fritware conical bowl

This is a spread from the book I am working on on Persian ceramics from the collection of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (I’m still waiting for final text). The object is a fritware conical bowl painted with “panel style” decoration in underglaze blue and black manganese (The Avery Brundage Collection, B60P1893).

Firt is a ground glasslike substance (I think potash and quartz were the main ingredients) that, added to clay, reduces its firing temperature, which is helpful for applying overglazes. It was used in West Asian pottery to produce a fine white base that imitated the quality of Chinese porcelain.

The bowl dates from the first half of the thirteenth century, and, according to the curators, may be from Kashan in Iran. Poetic verses in white on the black areas express longing for the absence of a beloved.

Photos by Kaz Tsuruta.

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Lotfollah mosque, Isfahan, outside view

1 May, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, premodern-modern, west asia | By: xensen

lotfolla mosque, outside view

I showed yesterday the interior view of this mosque’s dome. So maybe it’s worth having a look from the outside. The outside, like the inside of the dome, is original, dating from 1602-1619 (the entrance tiles are a modern addition). Like yesterday’s photo, this one is from seier+seier+seier’ s photostream.

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Lotfollah mosque

30 April, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, premodern-modern, west asia | By: xensen

lotfolla mosque, isfahan, iran

This spectacular photo from seier+seier+seier’ s photostream shows the dome of the Lotfollah mosque in Isfahan. I have been working on a book on Persian ceramics lately; just today I was placing Isfahan on a map that will appear in the book. Isfahan, now in Iran (about 340 km south of Tehran), was a major city during the Safavid Seljuk period and for a time the capital of Safavid Seljuk Persia.

This will be a cool book — I’ll post some images from it soon — featuring tiles, vessels, bowls, and small statuary. But nothing in it is as grand as this majestic dome, which dates from the early seventeenth century.

Compare this dome’s burst of color and pattern with a sunflower image I posted recently on another of my blogs (buriedmirror.com, devoted to Mesoamerica).

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Earliest known oil paintings

29 January, 2008 (05:00) | ancient, paintings, west asia | By: xensen

oils paintings in bamiyan caves, afghanistanAccording to a group of Japanese, European, and U.S. scientists restoring damaged murals in caves in the Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley (famous for the stone Buddhas that were destroyed by the Taliban) the cave paintings reveal a sophisticated technique of oil painting.

More than a third of paint samples analyzed by the Getty Conservation Institute, using gas chromatography methods, reveal the presence of oils.

The development of viable techniques of oil painting has been attributed to the European Renaissance, but Buddhist images painted in the central Afghan region, dated to around 650 AD, are in fact the earliest examples of oil used in art history, according to Yoko Taniguchi, an expert at Japan’s National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

Following is an excerpt from the Sri Lanka Daily News:

“It was very impressive to discover that such advanced methods were used in murals in central Asia,” Taniguchi said.

“My European colleagues were shocked because they always believed oil paintings were invented in Europe. They couldn’t believe such techniques could exist in some Buddhist cave deep in the countryside,” she added.

Painters of the Buddhist murals used organic substances — including natural resin, plant gum, dry oil and animal protein — as a binder, which even today is an important element in paint.

A binder keeps pigment particles together in a cohesive film and allows the paint to resist decay.

The researchers are trying to restore the murals amid international efforts to salvage what is left of Bamiyan.

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Isfandiyar struggles with the simurgh

20 December, 2007 (05:00) | literature/performance/film/music, medieval, west asia | By: xensen

Isfandiyar struggles with the simurgh

Isfandiyar is one of the heroes of the great Persian epic the Shahnama, or “Book of Kings” by Firdawsi. The image above is from a 1330 edition. The legendary bird the Simurgh figures prominently in the story.

The Simurgh is always represented as female. Although not depicted so in this image, she was often shown with the head of a dog, and sometimes with the claws of a lion. She was very large — large enough to carry off an elephant. The Simurgh was sometimes said to live at the top of the tree of life and to have seen the creation and destruction of the world three times. She represented the union between the earth and the sky, and was charged with purifying the waters of the earth.

When the albino prince Zal was abandoned by his parents, the Simurgh nurtured him. Later Zal returned to human society and married a woman named Rudaba. In due course she became pregnant, but her labor was difficult. Zal summoned the Simurgh, who performed a cesarean section with her claws. The baby who was born was Rostam, the national hero of Persia.

Later in the story, Rostam and Isfandiyar engaged in combat. Rostam had the worst of the encounter, because Isfandiyar had immersed himself in a magical water that made one invulnerable. Again summoned, the Simurgh healed Rostam and advised him that Isfandiyar had kept his eyes shut while immersed in the magic water, and Rostam was able to defeat him by shooting an arrow through his eye.

In an alternate episode from the story, however, Isfandiyar kills the Simurgh (or perhaps a different Simurgh) as part of one of a series of heroic labors. This is the scene depicted here.

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Two ewers

23 November, 2007 (07:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, medieval, west asia | By: xensen

two ewers

These two bird-headed ewers are both in the collections of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. I found them by searching the museum’s on-line collection database. Both ewers are currently on display in the museum’s loggia, but they will be taken down in a few weeks to make way for a display of Chinese ceramics.

On the left is a glazed earthenware object from China’s Tang dynasty (618-906). The glazed earthenware object on the right was produced in present-day Iran several centuries later (1200-1250). A lively trade along the Silk Road resulted in artistic influences being carried in both directions between East Asia and West Asia.

The museum will publish a catalogue of its Persian ceramics in June 2008.

Photos by Kaz Tsuruta.

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