Named after the Prophet’s daughter, the reign of the Fatimid Caliph-Imams (909-1171) is often referred to as a ‘golden age’ in Ismaili history. The Fatimids placed a high value on intellectual and artistic activities and Cairo, their capital, became a flourishing centre of scholarship, learning, and the arts. Furniture, textiles, and artefacts made in Cairo had a particularly high reputation and were exported to the entire Mediterranean area.
Fatimid art, known for the richness of its decoration, exemplifies the creativity of the craftsmen. Ceramic objects with metallic tints (lusterware) dating to the Fatimid era are considered to be amongst the best examples of medieval Islamic ceramics.
The technique of lusterware on ceramics, developed originally in Iraq, was revived in Egypt and Syria. Fatimid ceramic bowls – known as bacini – were highly sought after in Italy where they were used either for decorating facades or as religious vessels. Large glass flasks, cups, and jugs made in the workshops in Cairo were decorated with plant motifs and geometric patterns in several colours. Fatimid craftsmen were the first to make decorative objects of this kind in the large size.
This ceramic bowl with a lustre-painted decoration, produced in Fatimid Egypt in the second half of the eleventh century, is a bacino (basin, hollow circular vessel). Embedded in one of the facades of San Sisto Church in Pisa, it was used, along with other ceramic plates, to decorate the building.
Compiled by Nimira Dewji