From the Collections: A turquoise glazed vessel (Serena Alwani)

Fig 4

The artifact I have selected is a lightweight and very attractive earthenware vessel of unknown provenance. Its design lends to the idea that it was used by an individual of high social standing, possibly for the consumption of wine or some other beverage. It was most likely wheel-formed given its symmetry and the thinness of the fabric, also indicating skilled craftsmanship.

Its use (as opposed to being an ornamental object) is corroborated by a globule of glaze on the external surface (Figure 2), and more intricate designs on the interior (Figure 3). These attributes suggest that less care was taken in decorating the external surface, which would not have been in view of an individual using the vessel. Its light weight (Figure 4) and the presence of a stem also indicate that it was designed for easy handling.

Fig 3 While its exact provenance is unknown, we may postulate its possible origins by comparison with other vessels. The first Islamic opaque glazes can be dated to production sites in Basra from the 8th century. Other centers for pottery production were Fustat (975-1075 CE) and Damascus (1100-1600 CE). The vessel is of common shape, and is an example of turquoise glazed lusterware. Its luxurious though simple

green-tinged design indicates a likely origin in the post-Islamic period (after the 9th century CE). In its current weathered state, a gold metallic material originally under a bluish-green-tinged glaze is exposed (Figure 5). Overall, given that lusterware requires multiple firings, the use of expensive raw materials and complex production techniques indicates that it is a luxury good produced by skilled workers.  Further analysis of the material may reveal exactly the composition of the glaze, and provide more data for the determination of its origin. The earliest lusterware decorations similarly involve bands in thick line paint, a stylistic link with earlier Iraqi monochrome luster. After 1100 CE, a light-greenish-tinged glaze such as the one on this vessel, presumably to imitate green Chinese celadons. As such this object might be placed at a date during or after this period.

Fig 5

Similarity in design may be noted with a stoneware bowl from Iraq (Figure 6), and a turquoise glazed pottery bowl from Raqqa (Figure 7), and also both dating to the 13th century CE.  These vessels have comparable geometric designs, and Figure 7 is of an almost identical shape.  Turquoise glazed pottery from Kashan from the same period also bears striking decorative similarities, as wheel-thrown ceramics with a distinctive blue glaze obtained from turquoise (Figure 8). A gold material is also observable beneath the glaze, and the painted patterns take the form of the traditional Islamic method involving only geometric forms and arabesque patterns.


Fig 8

References and Image Sources

Frierman, Jay D., Frank Asaro, and Helen V. Michel. “The provenance of Early Islamic lustre wares.” Ars Orientalis (1979): 111-126.

Pradell, T., J. Molera, A.d. Smith, and M.s. Tite. “Early Islamic Lustre from Egypt, Syria and Iran (10th to 13th Century AD).” Journal of Archaeological Science 35.9 (2008): 2649-662.

Pradell, T., et al. “The invention of lustre: Iraq 9th and 10th centuries AD.” Journal of Archaeological Science 35.5 (2008): 1201-1215.

Tite, M. S. “Ceramic Production, Provenance And Use—A Review.” Archaeometry 50.2 (2008): 216-31.

Figure 6: Louvre Museum. Source:

Figure 7: Professor Michal J. Fuller, Ph.D Anthropology, St. Louis Community College

Figure 8: Professor Laura Purvis, James Madison University. Source: