Art Through Time: A Global View
Converging Cultures Art: Dish with Grape Design
The trade of goods and exchange of culture between China and Persia dates back to the pre-Islamic period.
This interaction grew with the development of the Silk Road and eventually reached maximum intensity after the thirteenth century, when the Mongols conquered both territories, establishing the Yuan Dynasty in China and the Ilkhanid, or Lesser Khan, Dynasty in present-day Iran. By the fourteenth century, vast quantities of Chinese ceramics were being created for export to Iran and other Islamic territories, including the regions that now comprise Syria and Turkey. The desire for Chinese porcelain, in particular, was strong and remained so throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Demand prompted not only importation of porcelain wares, but also local attempts to emulate them.
From as early as the twelfth century, potters in the Islamic world were experimenting in the attempt to find an equivalent to the hard, white, translucent porcelain produced by the Chinese. Fritware, created by adding a material comprised mainly of silica and glass to clay, was the product of such experimentation. The town of Iznik in western Anatolia (present-day Turkey) emerged as a leading producer of fritware in the fourteenth century and remained an important center of ceramic production for some three hundred years thereafter.
This plate has a body of stone-paste, a kind of fritware consisting primarily of crushed quartz. Produced in Iznik during the Ottoman period, the plate was covered in white slip (liquid clay) and decorated with a blue design under a transparent glaze. This attempt to imitate Chinese blue and white ware is characteristic for the period, as are the departures from Chinese techniques and iconography. Although the floral patterns echo Chinese design, the grapes at the center of the plate were inspired by regional vegetation. The Iznik plate also adds green to the standard blue and white decoration. Polychrome underglaze painting began appearing on Iznik pottery around 1570 and stayed in favor until the decline of Iznik ceramic production a little over a century later.
Expert Perspective: Ladan Akbarnia, Associate Curator of Islamic Art, Brooklyn Museum
“Throughout time in the Islamic world, there has been this association of China with all things beautiful, with a high standard of excellence, high standard of skill, beauty, and this is reflected in the literature. And it’s no surprise then that there would be this interest in Chinese wares, such as porcelains. There were also attempts in the Islamic world to imitate the production of Chinese porcelain, but they couldn’t figure out exactly how that was done.
Around the twelfth century or so, artisans and craftsmen in the Islamic world developed a new type of ceramic known as fritware, which actually allowed the potters to create a base that would be white instead of this earthy or buff color. And that allowed them to imitate Chinese porcelain more closely. And that was a huge development for them.”
Atasoy, Nurhan. Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey. London: Laurence King Publishers, 2008.
Atil, Esin, ed. Turkish Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1980.
Carswell, John. Iznik Pottery. Northampton, MA: Interlink, 2006.
Denny, Walter B. Iznik: The Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics. London: Thames & Hudson, 2005.
Irwin, Robert. Islamic Art in Context. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2003.
Arts of the Islamic World. Smithsonian Institution. Freer & Sackler Galleries Web site. http://www.asia.si.edu/collections/islamicHome.htm.
Ribeiro, Maria. Iznik Pottery and Tiles. London: Scala, 2009.