London, England, United Kingdom
Victoria and Albert Museum
Second quarter of the hegira 9th / AD 15th century
Glazed and painted ceramic.
Height 20.1 cm, diameter 51.2 cm
A large conical bowl with an upturned rim that is made of tin-glazed earthenware and decorated with lustre. The exterior of the bowl is ornamented with abstract tree-like motifs, while the interior features a spectacular image of a large sailing ship that is complete with multiple masts and riggings, fore and aft decks, flags, and a rudder. Below the ship, four large fish swim back and forth; around it, tightly wound curlicues and other abstract motifs fill the surface of the bowl. The ship’s sail bears a motif which has been interpreted as the arms of Portugal, possibly indicating that the bowl was commissioned by a wealthy Portuguese merchant. This, plus the fact that the most important centre of Spanish lustre production in the 9th / 15th century was Christian Valencia, initially led scholars to believe that this bowl was Valencian ware. However, scientific tests in 1983 showed the presence of mineral deposits in the bowl which come not from Valencia, but from Málaga. This city, one of the most important port cities of the medieval western Mediterranean, had been the premiere centre of lustre production in Spain until it was eclipsed by Valencia in the early 9th / 15th century; production there appears to have ceased a few decades later. This bowl, then, is spectacular proof that the potteries of Málaga continued to create first-class lustre ceramics right up until the end.
The fish beneath the ship, as well as the tree-like motifs on the exterior of the bowl, are strikingly similar to Fatimid work of centuries before, and remind us that the lustre industry in Islamic Spain was born precisely when Fatimid workers brought the technique from Egypt.
A large bowl with lustre-painted decoration that includes a representation of a ship at sea. The ship’s sail bears a coat of arms which has been interpreted as that of Portugal; thus this bowl may have been commissioned by a wealthy Portuguese merchant.
Stylistic grounds; the large tree-like motifs on the exterior of the bowl, in particular, are characteristically Nasrid.
Purchased by the Museum in 1864.
In 1983 scholars established that the bowl was produced in Málaga, once the centre of lustre production in Spain until it was eclipsed by Valencia in the early 9th / 15th century (see description above).
Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain (ed. J. Dodds), New York, 1992, p.361, cat. no. 114.
Caiger-Smith, A., Lustre Pottery: Technique, Tradition and Innovation in Islam and the Western World, London, 1985, pp.94–6.
Frothingham, A., Lustreware of Spain, New York, 1951, pp.91–3.
Soustiel, J., La céramique islamique, Fribourg, 1985, p.187, plate 223.
Stanley, T., with Rosser-Owen, M. and Vernoit, S., Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, 2004, p.120.
Barry Wood "Bowl" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus02;7;en
Prepared by: Barry WoodBarry Wood
Barry Wood is Curator (Islamic Gallery Project) in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He studied history of art at Johns Hopkins University and history of Islamic art and architecture at Harvard University, from where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2002. He has taught at Harvard, Eastern Mediterranean University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. He has also worked at the Harvard University Art Museums and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. He has published on topics ranging from Persian manuscripts to the history of exhibitions.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: UK2 07