Dish with a standard bearer – Abbasid Caliphate (10th century AD)

lusterware   lusterware II

This dish with a standard bearer is a monochrome lusterware. It was made in Iraq in the 10th century AD and it is now in the Louvre Museum. Before describing and analyzing this specific dish, I would like to talk about the technique, which is complicated and will need some explanation.

The lusterware was at first a technique used on glass in Egypt in the 8th century AD. Its first use on ceramic was probably in Mesopotamia. We don’t know where the production centers where located but we have found lusterware in many cities. This complex technique consists of coating the already fired ceramic in a tin-opacified glaze to make it white. Then the painter sets the decor with metallic oxides before firing the piece again in two phases. The oven is an oxidizing atmosphere followed by a reducing atmosphere (the difference in between those atmospheres is the level of oxygen and other gases, which are high in the oxidizing phase). During this process, the oxides enter the glaze and become copper and silver atoms. The silver atoms obtain a green olive color, while the copper obtain a brown-red color. According to the angle you are looking at the piece, you can see some metallic glints of different colors, as demonstrated in the picture below.

The dish with a standard bearer depicts a standing man in a frontal position who holds a gigantic standard. On his right, there is a peacock symbolizing the royalty, and his left there are two half palmettes. All the empty spaces are filled with tiny V motifs. The scene is delimited by a continuing festoon. The man is hieratic, his face is very stylized almost rectangular with a long nose, larges nostrils, no mouth, round eyes under straits eyebrows. This piece is marked by the iranian influence in the frontal representation and in the clothing. The standard has two lines on it. Some have read there the words baraka (meaning chance) and al-mulk (meaning sovereignty), but it would be wiser not to jump to conclusions. The standard, in a dark color, is probably a reference to the Abbasid’s black flag in opposition with the Umayyad’s white flag.

The use of this technique for ceramic is a way to reproduce the gold reflections that metallic dishes have for a lower cost. However, this production still has a high cost, since the workman needs to use expensive materials (tin, metallic oxides) and it has to be done by a qualified workshop.


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