“The taste and talent of this people can be seen through the designs of their earthen wares”, R. Ghirshman
The history of the art of pottery in Iran goes back into ancient time. When agriculture came into existence and cultivation started on Iran’s plateau by primitive races of this land, people made utensils of baked clay in order to meet their needs.
Iranian pottery (sometimes known as gombroon) production presents a continuous history from the beginning of Iranian history until the present day.
Fingerprints of primitives in Iran can be seen on relics. The first earthenware was mainly of two types: black utensils and red ones, both were hardly complicated products.
Gradually simple earthenware was decorated with by geometric designs. Studying the designs shows us that ancient Iranians were skillful also in designing earthenware and represented their works in a lively and gracious manner. Iran can be called the birthplace of designed earthenware utensils. Designing earthenware in Iran started about 4,000 BC.
Earthenware of those times had been baked more carefully in newly-made kilns. Shapes and forms of these potteries indicate invention of the pottery rotating instrument may be of that time.
Artists produced a variety of utensils like piped pots, bowls and jars to store corn and grain. Among excavated potteries belonging to those eras, some primitive earthen statues in the form of animals and birds have also been found which presumably had ornamental value more than anything else.
In Iran pottery manufacture has a long and brilliant history. Due to the special geographical position of the country, being at the crossroads of ancient civilizations and on important caravan routes, almost every part of Iran was, at times, involved in pottery making. Yet, recent excavations and archaeological research revealed that there were four major pottery-manufacturing areas in the Iranian plateau. These included the western part of the country, namely the area west of the Zagros mountains (Lurestan), and the area south of the Caspian Sea (Gilan and Mazandaran provinces). These two areas are chronologically as far as is known today, the earliest. The third region is located in the northwestern part of the country, in Azarbaijan province. The fourth area is in the southeast, i.e. the Kerman region and Baluchestan. To these four regions one may also add the Kavir area, where the history of pottery making can be dated back to the 8th millennium BCE.
One of the earliest known and excavated prehistoric sites that produced pottery is Ganj Darreh Tappeh in the Kermanshah region, dating back to the 8th millennium BCE Another great discovery was made south of the Caspian Sea in a cave, in the so-called Kamarband, (Belt cave) near present day Behshahr. Here again the pottery finds date to 8000 BCE. This type of pottery in known to experts as the “Kamarband Neolithic pottery”. This pottery was fired at a low temperature, and its body is very soft. Not far from the above-mentioned cave there was another, called Huto. The pottery there, from a technical point of view, shows similarities to that of Cheshmeh Ali in Ray, near Tehran.
The second phase of development in pottery-making in Iran is represented by the wares that were discovered at Cheshmeh Ali, Tappeh Sialk near Kashan and at Zagheh in the Qazvin plain. The pottery of these centres is different from that of the earlier periods. Their paste is a mixture of clay, straw and small pieces of various plants, which can be found and collected in the desert. When mixed with water they stick well together and form a very hard paste. All these vessels were made by hand rather than on a wheel. As the potters were unable to control the temperature of the kilns, there was no stable colour for these wares. It varied from grey and dark grey to black, occasionally even appearing with a greenish colour. The type of vessels produced was limited, mainly bowls with concave bases and globular bodies. Their surfaces were painted mostly in red depicting geometrical patterns. The date of these wares is ca. the 6th and 5th millennium BCE.
In the subsequent periods pottery-making became more and more refined. Although the wheel still had not been introduced, the shapes of the vessels became somewhat more varied and more carefully executed. The temperature in the kilns was better controlled and the decoration of the vessels now included animals and stylised floral designs. Numerous examples of these have been unearthed at Sialk. To achieve a finer paste, the potters added fine sand-powder to the mixture that has already been mentioned. Thus they were able to produce vessels with a very thin body.
With the invention and the introduction of the potter’s wheel, ca. the 4th millennium BCE, it became possible to produce better quality and symmetrically-shaped vessels; the number of pottery types made was greatly increased as well. The decoration of these objects was drwith much greater care and artistic skill, and the designs used were greatly enriched and carefully selected. By that time this more advanced type of pottery was produced in several parts of Iran. Thus it reveals the close economic and cultural ties that must have existed then amongst prehistoric communities. Ideas, techniques and artistic trends must have travelled great distances and were freely exchanged. A good example to demonstrate this connection is the pottery types that were unearthed at Tappeh Qabrestan in the Qazvin plain, which are comparable to those from Sialk and Tappeh Hessar near Damghan, all of the same period. The location of these three places forms a kind of triangle. One may presume that further archaeological work will produce more evidence for the close ties that existed amongst these communities.
Around the 2nd millennium BCE in most parts of Iran we have evidence of local pottery manufacture. The vessels usually consist of bowls, pitchers, jugs, and jars. Most of these wares are simple, without any surface decorations. The colour of these wares varies from grey to dark grey, red to buff. Some of these have burnished surfaces and are decorated with geometrical patterns (pls. 7-8).
The most beautiful wares of that period, however, are the zoomorphic vessels (humped bulls, camels, rams, etc.) (pls. 29-33) or human figurines, which were mainly discovered in the Gilan region (Marlik, Amlash and Kaluraz). The zoomorphic vessels and figurines must have had two distinct functions: some of them were utility vessels, used in everyday life, while others, probably more important, were used in religious ceremonies or in burials. Quite a wide variety of shapes is known today. Their actual function may be determined by the shape of the vessels and by the gesture of the figurines. The manufacture of these zoomorphic vessels and figurines continued until the middle of the 1st millennium BCE.
Median and Achaemenid Dynastic Periods (728-330 BCE)
Our knowledge of Median pottery is rather limited. Recent excavations, however, particularly at one of the most important Median sites, Tappeh Nush-i Jan near Malayer, produced a great variety of vessels. These are still under study and examination. It is hoped in the near future a great deal can be learnt about the pottery of that important period. At other sites, e.g. Bisotun, in several places in Gilan and in Kordestan provinces have also been recovered. Recent excavations at the site of Ziwiyeh conducted by the Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research produced a good sampling Median pottery. One of the most important innovations in ceramic technology appeared during the Median period, i.e. the introduction of glazed ware, although the earliest evidence for the use of glaze on bricks was the discovery of glazed bricks in the Elamite Temple at Chogha Zanbil, dated to the 13th century BCE.
With the coming of the Achaemenid Dynasty in the 6th century BCE great advances were made in pottery manufacture. The simple ware became more popular and widespread. It was nevertheless in the finer wares that progress is most noticeable. New shapes were introduced, e.g. the rhyton. The surfaces were now decorated with incised and moulded designs. Certain prehistoric traditions have survived and continued. This is perhaps best observed in the application of animal figurines. These are attached to the handles of jars and rhytons. It is widely accepted that these figurines had iconographic significance.
Shapes and decorations of Achaemenid pottery disclose close connections between pottery-making and metalworking. Frequently metal shapes and decorations are produced, and one may add, successfully, in pottery. It is during the Achaemenid dynastic period that glazing was introduced generally into Iranian plateau. Excavations at Persepolis and Susa revealed that the walls of palaces were covered with glazed bricks, which included elaborate decorations, depicting animals and soldiers. The practice of glazing must have been introduced from Mesopotamia.
Parthian Dynastic Period (248 BCE-224)
Until quite recently information on the arts of the Parthian period was rather meagre. At the time when the late Professor Arthur Upham Pope and his team were collecting material for the Survey of Persian Art, hardly any Parthian site was known and none was excavated. It was only during the last fifty or sixty years that a few extremely important Parthian sites were investigated by archaeologists. Some of these are beyond the present borders of Iran, e.g. Nisa, the former Parthian capital in Central Asia, or Dura-Europos in Syria. More recently in Iran a number of Parthian sites have been located and are, at present, under excavation. These sites are Kangavar, Shahr-e Qumis, Valiran, Ecbatana and several sites in the Gorgan plain, in Gilan and Sistan.
From these new archaeological discoveries we have learnt a great deal about Parthian art and Parthian pottery. In a recent study it has been pointed out that pottery was not the same throughout the Parthian Empire and the wares of Iran proper were different from those of Syria and Mesopotamia. Even in this area several differences are recognisable. In general, Parthian pottery can be divided into two major groups: unglazed and glazed wares. The unglazed wares can be further subdivided into two categories: namely grey and red wares. The grey pottery consists of bowls, small cups and large jars, all with convex bases and without any surface decoration. Some of them, nevertheless, have a polished body. The red ware, which was perhaps the most popular, also included large jars, bowls and jugs, similar in shape to those of the grey wares. They have everted rims.
Under the red ware another type, the so-called “clinky ware” should be mentioned. This ware has a very fine thin body which is red outside and dark grey inside; when tapped it gives a clinking sound, hence its name.
It also should be noted that zoomorphic vessels, in the shape of rhytons, were still very popular in Parthian times. These were made both in grey and in red, occasionally even in buff earthenware.
One of the greatest achievements in pottery-making during this period was the introduction of alkaline-glazed vessels. The body of these glazed wares was a fine white paste on which the alkaline glaze could be easily applied. Two of the most common types of vessels in this group were the “pilgrim flask”, and large bowls. The latter usually rest on three or four short legs. These types of vessels may have been produced under Far Eastern influence, since their forms recall contemporary Chinese bronzes.
In addition to glazing, most of these Parthian glazed vessels reveal some kind of surface decoration, mostly simple incised lines or strokes. Another, rather important, group of Parthian glazed pottery were the large coffins which became widely used at that period due to a change in religious beliefs concerning burial.
Sasanian Dynastic Period (224-651 CE)
In general it could be stated that Sasanian pottery is, strictly speaking, a continuation of Parthian traditions, with two exceptions; The grey ware was practically discontinued, as were the glazed coffins, since Zoroastrian burial customs were re-introduced.
Sasanian pottery thus can be subdivided into two major groups: unglazed and glazed wares. The unglazed wares were mainly of heavily potted red wares. These include large jars, jugs, and various types of bowls. They have thick, everted rims and their surfaces now reveal intricate incised or stamped decorations, including wavy lines, geometrical patterns, rosettes, or occasionally, even Pahlavi inscriptions. The number of these Sasanian red wares is constantly increasing. They have been discovered at a number of sites, such as Bishapur; Siraf, Kangavar, the Gorgan plain, Tureng Tepe, Takht-e Soleyman, at Ghubayra near Kerman and Takht-i Abunasar in Fars Province.
Glazed pottery, although the alkaline glaze was still used, has in fact considerably advanced technologically. Instead of the Parthian dark green or brownish-yellow glaze, the most important colour now becomes turquoise green, or turquoise blue. This is to be found on a number of pilgrim flasks, bowls and particularly on large storage jars. These storage jars, which had been unearthed at Siraf and also at Ghubayra in late 1970s, in addition to glazing, were also decorated with appliqué patterns, most frequently with cable patterns, which run around the upper part or on the shoulder of the vessels.
Terracotta figurines were also produced in Sasanian times, of which a great variety are known today. Some of these are partially glazed.
The Post-Sassanian and Islamic Period
With the advent of Islam during the first half of the 7th century CE, pottery manufacture gradually started to change all over the Islamic world. At the beginning Iranian potters continued their pre-Islamic traditions, and in Iran some of these early wares are known as “Sassano-Islamic”. It has been suggested that due to contact with the Far East, particularly with China, on one hand and to the restrictions of orthodox Islam on the other, considerable changes gradually took place in pottery-making, and several new types of wares were produced. Potters of the Near East made several experiments, partly imitating imported Chinese ceramics, partly using their own skill and imagination in inventing new types.
In general the history of Iranian-Islamic pottery can be divided into three main periods Post-Sassanian or Early Islamic Period (9th – 10th centuries CE) Middle Islamic Period (11th – 15th centuries CE) Later Islamic Period (16th – 19th centuries CE)
In these three periods, which lasted for more than a thousand years, numerous pottery centres were established, which produced innumerable types of wares. Recent excavations in famous Islamic cities, e.g. Samarra, Siraf, Nishapur, Jorjan (old Gorgan), Fustat, etc., together with the discovery of pottery kilns at several sites, provide us with considerable information on pottery manufacture in the Islamic world. It is worthwhile to emphasize that in pottery manufacture Iran and the Iranian world was always ahead of the rest of the Islamic world, and it was always Iranian potters who experimented most widely with new types and new ideas.
Early Islamic Period
The most important information on early Islamic pottery was, for a long time, provided by the German excavations at the short-lived early Abbasid capital of Samarra. Recently, several other Islamic sites have been investigated and these have considerably altered, and at the same time enriched our knowledge of the subject. In our investigation we are restricting our interest to Iran and accordingly, we shall deal only with the pottery of two early Persian dynasties, namely that of the Buyids and the Samanids.
Buyid Dynasty (932-1055 CE)
The most common type of pottery was the so-called “guebri”, better known as champlevé, ware. The decoration of this pottery comes very close to Sassanian metalwork and pottery. This ware, it appears, was produced at Zanjan, Garrus, Amol and Sari. It was actually a kind of Sgraffito technique (the term champlevé is actually a metalwork technique and should not be applied for pottery), where the surface of the vessels, which always had a red earthenware body, was covered with thick white slip and the decorations were carved away. The vessels then were coated with transparent green or yellow lead glaze. The decorations of these wares include floral, geometrical or epigraphic designs, and frequently human and animals figures as well. The types of vessels made include bowls, dishes, and jugs; even a few plaques are known.
Samanid Dynasty (819-999 CE)
The Samanids were probably one of the most important Persian dynasties in the eastern part of the Islamic world during the early Islamic period. Their realm included large centres like Samarkand (Afrasiab), Bukhara, Marv, Nishapur and Kerman. The most important contribution of Samanid artists to Islamic pottery-making was the invention and perfection of the slip painted ware”. There are several types of this ware known today, and in general can be divided into the following main groups black on white, polychrome on white, decoration on coloured ground slip imitation of monochrome lustre.
These slip-painted wares constitute a great advance in pottery decoration. Normally the pigment runs in the kiln under the lead glaze, as it was practiced in Mesopotamia in early Abbasid times on splashed wares. By the introduction of a ground slip and slip pigments, potters could control the designs while in the kiln, and thus were able to produce a great variety of surface decorations.
Perhaps the most appealing, and at the same time chronologically one of the earliest wares was the one which depicted epigraphic designs in manganese-purple on white or creamy ground slip and then was covered by clear glaze. The earlier the piece the finer the epigraphic decoration is. These are also legible, mostly including benedictory phrases. As time went on the epigraphic design became more and more decorative and less and less legible. The introduction of polychrome over white or creamy ground can also be considered as the second step in the development of slip-painted pottery. These polychrome painted wares were now decorated not only with epigraphic designs, but also with flowers, arabesques or even ewers or other vessels.
The decorative scheme is reversed when the decoration is painted in white or light colours over a manganese-purple or tomato-red ground. Quite a number of these vessels are known today. They were excavated at several sites in Central Asia, Afghanistan, at Nishapur, Jorjan and even at Ghubayra in Kerman province.
Quite a different type, but an important group is the polychrome buff ware, decorated with human and animal figures, or rarely only with geometrical forms. The late Arthur Lane called this type of pottery “peasant ware” of Nishapur. This type of pottery was only produced in Nishapur, and was never imitated anywhere else in the world. The decoration may give some indication of Samanid painting, of which we have only a few examples, namely the excavated wall frescoes of Nishapur. A sub-group of this polychrome buff ware was until recently known as “Sari ware”. This is decorated with walking birds, large flowers, and occasionally with Kufic epigraphic characters. The term “Sari” cannot be really accepted, since there is no evidence of manufacture of such pottery in the city of Sari, but recently such wares and kilns have been excavated at Jorjan.
There is another group of slip-painted pottery, painted in olive-green on white or creamy ground; clearly an imitation of contemporary monochrome lustre-painted pottery. The question whether lustre-painted pottery, either in monochrome or in polychrome, was produced under the Samanids, is still not clear and has not been solved. A large number of such wares, both polychrome and monochrome lustre, were excavated at Nishapur, and thousands of such fragments are now coming to light in Jorjan; although as yet we still have no archaeological evidence for their local manufacture.
The second important type of Samanid pottery is that of the sgraffito wares. One type of sgraffito, the “guebri”, or “champleve” ware, has already been mentioned under Buyid pottery, so this will be excluded here. The other three types, which played an important role in Iran under the Samanids, were the so-called simple sgraffito, also known as “Amol ware”, the splashed and sgraffito ware, and the so-called “Aghkand ware”.
The simple, or “Amol” sgraffito pottery is decorated with incised lines, right down to the body through the thin slip which covers it, then coated with transparent yellow or green glaze. The decoration may include simple crosshatchings, scrollwork, epigraphic designs, birds or fantastic animals. Occasionally these incised lines may be outlined in green. The vessels are mostly bowls, with projecting flat bases and straight flaring sides. The body is always red. Until 30 years ago neither dated, nor signed pieces had been discovered. In 1976 a small fragment was discovered in the Gurgan plain, with the signature of an artist: Rahman ibn Musa al-Fakhkhar.
The second type of sgraffito, the so-called splashed sgraffito ware is actually a direct continuation of the Mesopotamian early Abbasid splashed wares. Its invention was most likely due to the ingenuity of Persian artists, who were not satisfied by simply producing splashes of brown, yellow and green under a clear glaze. They further enhanced the decoration of their vessels by incised decorations which at first were simple scrolls, but later included elaborate designs, such as eagles with spread wings or animals. This type has been excavated at Jorjan, Nishapur, Kangavar, Takht-i Sulayman, Susa and other sites in Iran.
The third type of sgraffito. the “Aghkand” ware, is actually similar to a metalwork technique, incised lines are introduced to certain designs in order to stop the overflow of the pigment to neighbouring areas. Large birds, animals and flowers decorate these vessels, which are mainly large bowls or dishes. It has been claimed that this type of pottery was actually made in Aghkand.
Middle Islamic Period (11th – 15th century CE)
Seljuq Dynasty (1037–1194)
At the beginning of the 11th century CE a new dynasty, the Seljuqs came to Iran and unified the country under their rule. This period under Seljuq rule in Iran lasted for hardly more than one and a half centuries, yet it witnessed great progress in literature, philosophy, in architecture and in all fields of the Iranian arts. The Seljuqs became great patrons of the arts and their patronage made it possible for Iranian artists to revive their pre-Islamic traditions and develop new techniques in metalwork and in pottery.
The most important achievement in pottery production was the introduction of a new composite white frit material. This new white body made the application of alkaline glaze easier; the actual body of the vessels was considerably thinner, almost translucent. Thus potters had nearly achieved the fineness of imported Chinese Song porcelain which potters of the Near East greatly admired.
Cities like Ray, Kashan, Jorjan, and Nishapur became the main centres of Iranian pottery production. Under Seljuq patronage the following types of wares were produced in Iranian potters:
• white wares,
• monochrome glazed wares,
• carved or laqabi wares,
• lustre-painted wares,
• underglaze-painted wares, and
• overglaze-painted, so-called minai and lajvardina wares.
Another type, which has to be added to these, is the unglazed ware, which has also gone through considerable changes and refinement. It should also be noted, that while the Seljuqs were actually replaced by the Khwarizmshahian Dynasty towards the second half of the 12th century, artistically the same trend continued in the Greater Iran right up to the Mongol invasion.
Il-Khanid Period (1258-1334 CE)
The Mongol invasions of 1220 and 1221 CE devastated large parts of Iran and in particular destroyed cities like Ray, Nishapur and Jorjan (old Gorgan), which previously were the most important centres of Iranian pottery. Kashan, although likewise destroyed by the Mongols, seemed to have quickly recovered and pottery production continued.
The Mongol governors, the Il-Khans, who ruled Iran on behalf of the Great Khan in Mongolia, soon separated themselves from the rest of the Empire and set up an independent dynasty. Their new capital was first at Maragheh and later at Tabriz in northwest Iran. They embraced Islam and assumed Iranian customs, culture and language. However, recovery from the great devastation was rather slow. It was not until the end of the 13th century that new building projects were started. Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, the Persian prime minister of the Mongol Il-Khans at the beginning of the 14th century, and also a scholar, was responsible among other cultural activities for the compilation of the famous Jami’ al-Tawarikh (Universal History) manuscript which was richly illustrated with miniature paintings and written in Persian and Arabic.
As far as known today, it was mainly Kashan that continued manufacturing lustre, underglaze and overglaze-painted wares, as has already been mentioned. Towards the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th century CE, however, new pottery centres emerged. One of these was in the northwest, probably at Takht-i Sulayman, where the Mongol Abaqa Khan (1265-1281 CE) built a palace for himself which as we have already seen was decorated with luster and lajvardina tiles. Takht-i Sulayman, however, must have been connected with another major pottery producing area, namely the Soltanabad district (modern Arak), which included not only the town itself, but at least another twenty or thirty villages. Further south, Kerman became another centre and soon Mashhad pottery appears as well. Apart from these main centres there were several other, less significant, pottery producing areas, most of which haven’t yet been located.
The pottery of the Il-Khanid period can be divided into the following groups:
• The wares of Kashan
• Soltanabad and Takht-i Sulayman pottery
• The wares of Kerman
• Jorjan wares
• Provincial wares.
Timurid Pottery (1370-1502 CE)
In 1393 CE there was another devastating invasion in Iran. This time it was Timur, who came with a large army, conquered the entire country and destroyed many cities, such as Jorjan, Esfahan, Shiraz and Kerman. Timur carried most of the artists away with him to his capital at Samarkand. Thus Samarkand became the centre of the Persian arts, particularly of architecture and architectural decoration. The golden age of Timurid art, however, did not start until the reign of Shah Rukh (1404-1447 CE). Shah Rukh, himself a calligrapher, became a patron of the Persian arts. Persian miniature painting flourished; beautiful religious building were erected all over the Timurid realm. : Architectural decoration becomes important at which time the most beautiful and elaborate faience mosaic decoration was made. It is perhaps sufficient to mention the shrine complex, the Shah-e Zendeh in Samarkand, or the Gur-e Amir, Timur’s mausoleum, the Madrasah of Gauhar Shah in Herat and Mashhad, or perhaps the most famous and best known, Majid-e Kabud (the Blue Mosque) in Tabriz.
Persian pottery production of the period hasn’t been fully investigated, yet it appears that the same type of pottery was produced all over, as before under the Mongols. There is perhaps one more important ware that now appears: the first group known as “Kubachi” ware. This ware was simply painted in black under blue or turquoise glaze, and consisted only of large dishes with everted sloping rims. The decoration consisted mainly of floral designs or geometrical forms. There are, however, two examples which have inscriptions in Nastaliq which include the date of the vessels. Both give 15th century CE dates, thus they were definitely Timurid. The name “Kubachi” in fact is very unsatisfactory, since that is the name of a small village in Daghestan in the Caucasus. But it was there in Kubachi, where this type of pottery was first discovered and found on the walls of peasant houses. It is now wellknown that the people of Kubachi never made the pottery, but they produced fine metalwork and arms which seemed to have been exchanged for this particular type of pottery. It is now widely accepted that “Kubachi” wares in fact was produced in the northwestern part of Iran, in Tabriz.
Another type of pottery that now becomes more fashionable is the blue and white ware. It has already been mentioned above under Jorjan that some kind of blue and white ware was already produced in pre-Timurid times either in Jorjan or somewhere else in the Jorjan plain. The new type of blue and white, however, is different from the former in shape, colour and decoration. This new type of blue and white was certainly produced under the direct influence of imported Chinese blue and white porcelain. The shapes are those of Chinese porcelain vessels, mainly small “rice” bowls. The decoration again recalls those of Chinese prototypes, depicting lotuses, meanders and flying phoenixes. It had been suggested that this 15th century blue and white was made in Kerman. This theory has now been substantiated by archaeological evidence from Ghubayra and from other sites in Kerman Province. It is perhaps also worthwhile to mention that such blue and white bowls were excavated in East Africa at Kilwa, which must have been imported from Iran.
Later Islamic Period (16TH-19TH Centuries CE)
Lane included the late Il-Khanid and Timurid periods in this later Iranian pottery. Dr. Geza Fehervari also included these two periods under the later period in his study based on the Barlow Collection. The late Il-Khanid Persian-pottery was more or less a continuation of Seljuq types, although admittedly some changes took place around the end of the 13th century, as has been pointed out. These changes are attributable to Mongol influence. During the Timurid period, a transition between earlier and later types, there was a decline in pottery making. This was contrasted by the great advance and brilliance of Irnaian technique achieved in architectural decoration.
Safavid Wares (1502-1722 CE)
The Safavaid dynastic period was a renaissance in the history of Iranian pottery, when not only long forgotten Persian techniques were re-introduced, but also when new Persian wares were invented. Thus perhaps it is more logical to consider the rise of the Safavid dynasty as the beginning of a new epoch in the long history of Perso-Islamic pottery. The pottery of this time featured many geometric shapes, such as diamonds, triangles and stars.
The Safavids came to power at the beginning of the 16th century CE, and for the first time after more than one thousand years a national and native dynasty, came to power in Iran. The dynasty was founded by Shah Ismail (1502-1524 CE) who united the country under his rule. The Safavid period was a golden age for Iran, particularly for the arts. Monumental and richly decorated mosques, madrasahs and palaces were built: Iranian metalwork flourished again; carpet weaving gained new impetus and miniature painting reached its apogee during this time. Shah Ismail’s successors, Shah Tahmasp I (1524-1576 CE), Shah Abbas the Great (1587-1628 CE) became active patrons of the Persian arts. First the capital was at Tabriz, and later, due to the Ottoman threat, was transferred to Qazvin; at the end of the 16th century it was moved to Isfahan by Shah Abbas.
Irnaian Pottery manufacture gained new impetus. Old techniques were revived and produced, due to the different age and requirements, in a new guise. The body of these Safavid wares is now so fine, thin and translucent, that it comes very close to the imported Chinese porcelain. It is a kind of faience but much more refined than that of the Persian potteries of Seljuq period.
Safavid pottery can be divided into the following types:
• Kubachi wares
• Lustre wares
• White or “Gombroon” wares
• Late blue and white wares and
• Monochrome and polychrome wares of Kerman
Modern Period: Wares of the Zand and Qajar Periods (1756-1925 CE)
Post-Safavid pottery so far has not been seriously studied, and the available information is scarce and not very reliable. Yet we may presume that after the Afghan invasion of mainland-Iran when the Safavid dynasty was swept away, for a while there was chaos in the country, but pottery production must have continued along the same lines as previously. The change, or rather the decline, was gradual. It is true that even as late as the middle of the 19th century fine blue and white or white “Gombroon” wares were produced, but in general the quality of pottery deteriorated. With the removal of the capital from Isfahan, first to Shiraz under the Zands, and then to Tehran under the Qajars, the artists themselves moved.
Traces of Zand architectural decoration are visible in the “Majidiyeh Noe” and in other buildings in Shiraz. New colours were introduced, including pale pink. Later, tile production continued in Tehran. These tiles depict human figures in low relief against a dark blue back ground.
Isfahan produced a kind of blue and white ware and an underglaze polychrome-painted ware throughout the 19th century, but the quality of these never reached that of Safavid pottery. A new type of pottery painted in blue and black with pierced decoration, again the clear glaze filling the small windows, was made in Nayin during the 19th century.
Toward the end of the century there was a general decline in Iranian pottery manufacture, due mainly to the mass imported and cheaply produced industrial porcelain from Europe and the Far East. This meant the end of artistic pottery production in Iran and it was not revived until early 1970s.
Today, the industrialized ways of producing pottery, ceramic, chinaware, etc have been innovated and science has helped upgrade the know-how of this field. But, it is not an art anymore. Fortunately, there are some traditional workshops still working and people’s interest for these products is growing nowadays.
There have been some challenges in Iranian contemporary ceramics and pottery, which mainly arose from insufficient knowledge about new technology and lack of enough knowledge about new techniques, materials, equipments and history of Persian pottery and ceramic.
To prevent the annihilation of the pottery and ceramic art and pottery in Iran, some solutions should be considered. The potters should be supported and taught how to produce their artworks for the people’s demands. In addition art students in pottery and ceramics field should be well-trained in at universities to face the challenges in Iranian contemporary pottery.