In the medieval Muslim world, ceramic production achieved superior creativity through the artisans’ innovations in shape and design, as well as their techniques of decoration.
Medieval Muslim consumers and artisans considered Chinese ceramics par excellence when they came into increasing contact with these wares. In the late eighth century, the Abbasid court at Baghdad began to import large volumes of Chinese wares. The first school of ceramics was established in Baghdad in the ninth century to produce ceramics locally. While the early products of the Baghdad kilns attempted to imitate Chinese porcelains, the Muslim potters developed their own styles, producing multi-coloured wares of exquisite beauty. A new style know as “frit-ware” or “stone-paste” developed. This method involved the addition of large amounts of crushed quartz to produce the hard, white, translucent ceramic, in an attempt to imitate the Chinese porcelains.
One of the challenges of the Iraqi potters was the lack of ingredients, mainly kaolin, to make true porcelain, therefore, the potters invented a variety of shapes and decorative styles to please the court, including a modified form of glaze using local materials to produce ceramics that closely resembled the Chinese wares.
During the Fatimid period (909-1171), their capital, Cairo, became a vigorous centre of ceramic production. Fatimid ceramics were much sought after in Italy, where the bowls – bacini – were used as decorative items or as vessels for religious ceremonies.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Iran, the vibrant tradition of illustrated manuscripts influenced the development of a new style of glazed pottery with numerous colours and intricate designs.
Under Ottoman reign, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Turkish city of Iznik became a major centre of pottery making. Iznik was close to wood needed for kilns as well as other ingredients required for the production of ceramics. As a result, a distinctive style developed and came to be known as Iznik style: it involved combinations of a wide range of colours including cobalt blue, turquoise, green, black, and red.
The Aga Khan Museum’s collection includes a wide array of ceramics from various Muslim civilizations. Visit the Museum’s Online Gallery to view the diverse artistic wares that were produced.
Research by Nimira Dewji
- Today in history: Al-Azhar mosque, designed by Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mu’izz, was inaugurated
- The Aga Khan Development Network is the endeavour of the Ismaili Imamat to enact the ethics of Islam
- Al-Maqrizi and the Fatimids: Imam al-Mu’izz’s reforms led to the rise of an empire which promoted intellectual and artistic life, initiating the development of a brilliant civilisation
- Om Habibeh Foundation was established by Mata Salamat in Aswan to improve the quality of life of residents
- Mawlana Hazar Imam: “It is on this ethical premise, which bridges faith and society, that I established the Aga Khan Development Network”
- Mawlana Hazar Imam: “The Imamat is a Muslim institution with a history going back over 1400 years.”
- Tahira Karim’s exhibition titled “Wilka – Sacred in Quechua”
- The pursuit of knowledge, instructed to the Prophet, continues to be enforced by Mawlana Hazar Imam
- Golconda was the early seat of power of the Qutb Shahi dynasty
- Countdown to Diamond Jubilee – Snapshots of Imamat – 2009 to 2013