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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.


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.


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.