National Museum of Damascus
Hegira 5th–6th century / AD 11th–12th century
Earthenware with tin-glazed metallic lustre.
Height 6 cm, width 15 cm
Atabeg or Ayyubid
Probably Syria; Jazira or Raqqa region.
This little bowl is an example of fine Syrian lustre-ware pottery of the Atabeg period. It has a conical body with a carinated base and a columnar foot. The inner part of the vessel is decorated with a drawing of a bird that resembles a spotted dove. A stylised branch carefully fills the space surrounding the bird. The rim of the bowl is lavishly decorated with a repeating pattern of curling leaves with lobed edges. Meanwhile, the outside of the bowl is inscribed with an Arabic text in naskhi script that may be translated as follows: “Money, happiness, peace, honour, prosperity, and sovereignty.” All the decoration is executed in a honey-yellow metallic lustre on a pale ivory-coloured base. The fluidity of the vegetal scrolls around the rim, the realism of the bird portrait in the centre and the careful attention to artistic detail indicate the high-level workmanship of this piece.
Islamic ceramics with metallic lustre were considered the most luxurious. The technique was probably invented in AH 3rd- / AD 9th-century Iraq during the Abbasid period. The technique was popular initially in Abbasid Samarra, but it flourished most expressively in Fatimid Egypt, and continued to spread throughout the Mediterranean and eastern Islamic region. In Syria, Tel Minis and Raqqa were important centres of production, while Kashan in Iran was also a renowned producer of lustre-ware. Valued for its capacity to cloak pottery with a precious metallic sheen, the technique continued to spread as a luxury commodity. By the time of the Nasrid period in the AH 8th / AD 14th century, the technique had developed in Spain and Italy to play an influential role in the artistic expression of painted ceramics on the eve of the European Renaissance.
Lustre-painted pottery was a highly valued luxury product. This bowl decorated with a central bird portrait and a sequence of elaborately curling leaves along the rim is painted with careful attention to detail and harmony. Blessings to the owner are inscribed on the bowl's exterior.
Many similar pieces of lustre-ware have been attributed to the 5th / 11th and 6th / 12th centuries.
Purchased in 1960.
While lustre-painted pottery of this quality has also been found in Fatimid Egypt, the carinated shape of this bowl and the use of cursive naskhi script supports the attribution to the Eastern lands of Atabeg-ruled Raqqa and Jazira. There were other contemporaneous production centres in Syria and elsewhere, thus it is not possible to establish the provenance definitively.
Abu al-Faraj al-Ush, M., A Concise Guide to the National Museum of Damascus, Damascus, 1969, p.232.
Philon, H., Early Islamic Ceramics: Ninth to Late Twelfth Centuries, Athens, 1980,
Porter, V., and Watson, O., “'Tel Minis' Wares”, in Syria and Iran: Three Studies in Medieval Ceramics, Oxford, 1987, pp.173–248.
Soustiel, J., and Kiefer, C., La céramique islamique, Fribourg, 1985.
Watson, O., Ceramics from Islamic Lands, London, 2004.
Mona al-Moadin "Bowl" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;24;en
Prepared by: Mona Al-Moadin
Translation by: Hilary Kalmbach (from the Arabic)
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 30
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Atabegs and Ayyubids | Travelling and Trading
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