Plate with metallic glaze
Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira, late 3rd–early 4th centuries / AD 9th–10th centuries
Glazed and polished ceramic.
Height 9.2 cm, diameter 27 cm
The Raqqada excavations.
A bowl with a circular base and curved sides. The cruciform decoration is set off by four green areas glazed with copper oxide which cover the area outside the cross. The cross itself is decorated with dotted and stylised leaves and bordered with four twisted-rope motifs set within parallel lines.
This plate is the only example of passementerie decoration that we have for this period. There are no other similar objects in Mesopotamian ceramics of this era, which could mean that this is an Ifriqiyan artefact. The floral decoration is quite similar to that of the wooden half-dome of the mihrab of the Great Mosque of Kairouan and also to the braiding found on Kairouanese bookbinding of the AH 3rd–5th / AD 9th–11th centuries. However, there is undoubtedly a connection in the colouring and the decoration between this piece and the façade tiles of the mihrab of the Great Mosque of Kairouan. The Mesopotamian origin of these tiles is firmly established. The metallic-glazing technique is a Muslim innovation which spread from Mesopotamia to Egypt in the early 3rd / 9th century and probably reached Ifriqiya in the second half of that century. It moved through the Maghreb and on to Spain before reaching Europe in the AH 6th or 7th / AD 12th or 13th centuries.
The lustre technique originated in Mesopotamia, spreading to Egypt and Ifriqiya, the Maghreb and Spain, before finally conquering Europe. The floral decoration and the colours used in this dish are reminiscent of the demicupola of the mihrab in the Great Mosque of Kairouan.
This piece comes from the excavation sites at Raqqada, a city founded in 263 / 876, which survived until the middle of the 5th / 11th century. Unfortunately, the excavations were never published and the archives do not include the reports of the excavation which would have identified the different stratigraphic layers. However, the colouring and decoration of the piece are typically Aghlabid. It would appear from the evidence of this example and of mosaic flooring found on site that the ceramists had achieved a considerable mastery of the technique of metallic glazing, which could not have reached Ifriqiya before the middle of the 3rd / 9th century. This evidence would allow us to date the piece from the last quarter of the 3rd / 9th century.
This piece was found on the site of the Raqqada excavations during the 1960s. From 1966 it was on display at the museum of the Great Mosque of Kairouan, transferring to the Museum of Islamic Art at Raqqada in 1986.
As the decoration of this plate fits in the Ifriqiyan repertoire, it is plausible to consider that it was produced at the workshops in Kairouan
Couleurs de Tunisie (exhibition catalogue), Paris, 1994, p.127, plate no. 65.
De Carthage a Kairouan (exhibition catalogue), Paris, 1982, p.223, plate no. 301.
30 ans au service du patrimoine (exhibition catalogue), 1986, p.249.
Lings, M. and Safadi, Y.-H., The Arts of Islam (exhibition catalogue), London, 1976, p.216.
Ifriqiya: Thirteen Centuries of Art and Architecture in Tunisia, pp.174–5.
Mourad Rammah "Plate with metallic glaze" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;tn;Mus01;18;en
Prepared by: Mourad RammahMourad Rammah
Né en 1953 à Kairouan, docteur en archéologie islamique, Mourad Rammah est le conservateur de la médina de Kairouan. Lauréat du prix Agha Khan d'architecture, il publie divers articles sur l'histoire de l'archéologie médiévale islamique en Tunisie et participe à différentes expositions sur l'architecture islamique. De 1982 à 1994, il est en charge du département de muséographie du Centre des arts et des civilisations islamiques. Mourad Rammah est également directeur du Centre des manuscrits de Kairouan.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: David Ash
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: TN 27
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Abbasids | Abbasid Ceramics
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