Name of Object:



London, England, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

Victoria and Albert Museum

About Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Date of Object:

Second quarter of the hegira 9th / AD 15th century

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Glazed and painted ceramic.


Height 20.1 cm, diameter 51.2 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Málaga, Spain.


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.

View Short Description

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.

How date and origin were established:

Stylistic grounds; the large tree-like motifs on the exterior of the bowl, in particular, are characteristically Nasrid.

How Object was obtained:

Purchased by the Museum in 1864.

How provenance was established:

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).

Selected bibliography:

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.

Citation of this web page:

Barry Wood "Bowl" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2024.;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 GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: UK2 07


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