Brief Identification Edit

This piece of Iranian Shell Pottery was created in 1627-8 during the reign of the Safavid Empire. The bowl has a stout, curved wall and concave edge.The piece of shell pottery was made from white quartz frit which was common in the making of ceramics in Iran. Also, the cobalt- blue paint that is covered by a colorless glaze, was common of this era.

This decorative piece is now housed in the Museum of Islamic Art at the National Museums in Berlin. [1]

Technical Evaluation Edit


This shell is a type of pottery that is called fritware. Fritware is also referred to as stonepaste and faience. Fritware was first developed in the NearEast. Intended to approximate the white color and light weight of Chinese porcelain, fritware is an amalgam of silica, glass frit, and fine white clay. One of the first recipes for fritware dates back to 1301 A.D , and was written by Abu’l Qasim. In the recipe, the ratio of quartz to frit-glass to white clay was 10:1:1. [2]

This piece draws heavily on Chinese influence. The fritware looks very similar to porcelain, which at the time was exclusively made in China. Also, the floral and figurative painting, such as the herons on rocks in the mirror, is a typical Chinese design. The piece even has a counterfeit Chinese brand on it.[3] Typical of some pieces from Iran during this time, potters world sometimes put counterfeit brands on the items so they would sale for a higher price.

The magnitude of demand for frit pottery made potters turn to mass production techniques. Fritwares were facilitated by the use of decorated molds while the surface designs were reproduced by stencils. The fritwares that were produced by stencils were sometimes less favorable with potters who didn't mass produce items. These craftsmen would free hand the designs and tidy up with a knife. [4]    

Local Historical Context Edit

The Medieval trade routes of Eastern Persian and Central Asia have not been entirely deciphered, so it is sometimes hard to tell where many pieces were produced. However, it seems that many of the main potteries were in the confines of modern-day Iran. [5] Specifically, this piece was made in Yazd, where sources of clay, quartz, and fuel are abundant. The 17th century was a renaissance period in the history of Iranian. Architecture, calligraphy, and pottery works all flourished during this time. With the revitalization in pottery, some Persian techniques were re-introduced, and new Persian wares were invented.

The first dated evidence of the Islamic pottery industry dates back to 800 A.D, which is about seven hundred years before this specific piece of shell pottery was made. The piece was created 1627-8 A.D during Shah 'Abbas' reign over the Safavid Dynasty. Prior to Shah 'Abbas coming into power, the dynasty was in unstable conditions. Because of this, his two main goals were to reinstate the authority of the monarch and regain lost territory. Because he was unable to fight a war on two fronts simultaneously, in 1589–90 he signed a peace treaty with the Ottomans, thus freeing himself for an offensive against the Uzbeks. By the treaty, large areas in west and northwest Persia were ceded to the Ottomans. In 1598 he inflicted a major defeat on the Uzbeks and regained control of Khorāsān. From 1602 onward, he conducted a series of successful campaigns against the Ottomans and recovered the territory lost to them. He also took back land from the Portuguese and the Mughals, and expanded Iranian rule and influence in the North Caucasus. After these feats he moved his capital from Qazvin to Istafan and continued to make the arts flourish. Evidence of Shah Abbas reign can be seen through the pottery of this time and also the architecture. [6]

World Historical Context Edit

Throughout the region, there were many different groups of people. Because Iran was apart of the Eastern Persia and Chinese trade routes, the pottery pieces had many influences. The imitation Chinese porcelain may have been so prevalent because nobles preferred Chinese porcelain over the locally made wares. Also Shah 'Abbas (r. 1588.-1629) recognized the importance of a widely based trade with Europe. In the European market, Chinese pottery fetched high prices. To capitalize on this lucrative market, Shah ʿAbbās brought Chinese potters to his state-operated workshops in Isfahan, Yazd, Mašhad, Kermān, and other cities where they and Iranian potters produced skillful variants of Chinese wares.[7] The Iranians did not have the means to replicate Chinese wares entirely that is why they settled for imitations. In the region there was no white kaolin clay, which is used in the making of porcelain. More importantly the Iranians did not possess the kiln technology used to heat the high-fired white stoneware. [8] Pottery during the late 1620s and 30s, in the Safavid dynasty even shows some close interaction between Iran and India. Indian-style shapes with Chinese style decoration started to become prevalent in the Iranian market.

Bibliography Edit

Abbas I | biography - Safavid shah of Persia | Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved from

The Arts of Iran, 1600–1800 | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Canby, S. R. (2000). The Golden Age of Persian art, 1501-1722. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Canby, S. R. (2002). Riza 'Abbasi's wine pot and other problems of Safavid ceramics. InSafavid art and architecture. London: British Museum Press.

Ferrier, R. W. (1989). The Arts of Persia. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Henderson, J. (2000). The science and archaeology of materials: An investigation of inorganic materials.

Iraq & China: Ceramics, Trade, and Innovation. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Oxford Art Online. (2011, October 27). Retrieved from

ʿABBĀS (I) – Encyclopaedia Iranica. (n.d.). Retrieved from

  2. Henderson 2000, 187
  4. Ferrier 1989, 257.
  5. Canby 2000, 126.
  6. Canby 1999, 92
  7. R. M. Savory, “'Abbas (I),” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/3, pp. 71-75
  8. Iraq & China: Ceramics, Trade, and Innovation," n.d