Tuesday, 4 February 2014



Cobalt-blue glazes appeared in Iran in the 9th century but later fell out of use. They were taken up again in the 14th to the 18th century in response to the popularity of blue-and-white ware with Chinese and European clients.

The decoration on these new white-glazed wares is either plain – in direct imitation of Chinese porcelain wares, which have very little decoration as their beauty is inherent in their harmonious shapes – or has some simple decoration in a blue pigment made from cobalt, which was imported to Iraq from mines (which we know were operational in the Abbasid period) in Oman and the Northern Hijaz.

Abbasid-made white vessels with simple decoration applied in blue were re-exported to China, where they inspired a new tradition of ‘blue-on-white’. Today this is perhaps the most characteristic ceramic style associated with China, but originally the Chinese did not know the cobalt-blue pigment, which they called ‘Muhammadan blue’. Over the centuries, this ‘blue-on-white’ tradition brought Europe ‘chinoiserie’ (again through the medium of the eastern Islamic lands – the Safavids were very keen on it!), and ultimately the ubiquitous ‘willow pattern’.Thomas Turner 1780’s based on shan-shui patterns

Some scholars suggest that cobalt was first used to decorate ceramics in Basra about 800 tin - glaze. By the early thirteenth century, Iranian potters were creating radial designs in cobalt on white grounds. In 1301, the Persian craftsman Abu'l-Qasim noted that the source for cobalt was in the mountains near the town of Kashan. The adoption of cobalt in Chinese porcelain decoration has been linked to the presence in China of wealthy Persian merchant communities who may have introduced the new color to Chinese potters. If cobalt was initially introduced to China from the Near East, as some scholars suggest, then Chinese potters more than repaid the favor in the wealth of decorative motifs with which they adorned the blue-and-white wares produced for export.

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