Saturday, December 7, 2013

Antique Seljuk ceramics

Ceramic tiles made in 12th and 13th century in empire of Seljuq Turks, who overrun persia, Iraq, Syria and Asia Minor. Tiles are known from the Seljuq period, which use the Minai technique. The technique involved the usage of seven colors, with blue, green and turquoise applied on an underglaze and fired. Other colors such as yellow, red, white, black and sometimes gilt were then applied on top of this, and re-fired at a lower temperature.

Although tiles are very common in Seljuk architecture, ceramic ware was much less common in that period. Finds in recent years have shed light on this subject which include the extensive discoveries of ceramic fragments found during excavations carried out at Kubadabad, Kalehisar near Alacahöyük, Ahlat, Eskikahta, Adiyaman (Samsat), Korucutepe near Elaziğ and in the Keban and Atatürk dam areas in southeast Anatolia. In these excavations, a large number of vases, ewers, bowls, plates, decanters and similar artifacts in unglazed, reddish, greyish and yellowish soft clay were discovered. Some were painted with grey or reddish stripes and had grooves and embossed crenated strips. Large, unglazed, earthenware jars, decorated with figures are on display at museums in Diyarbakir, Mardin, Adiyaman and in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Istanbul. These objects are decorated using the barbotine technique with rosette, animal and foliate motifs.

Simple dishes, pots, bowls and oil lanterns with turquoise, green, violet and yellow-brown glazes are seen in considerable number. They are usually made of reddish or off-white clay with a coarse grain. The glaze is rather thick.

The most common form of ceramics found during excavations in Anatolia are those made using the sgraffiato technique, a technique known in Islamic art from the 9th century onwards and widespread in local Christian art. Sgraffiato is an engraving technique, in which the design is incised onto the clay, or through a slip into the clay surface before firing. After covering with a monochrome cream, yellow-brown, green or a polychrome transparent glaze, the object is re-fired. The clay is either brick-red, grey or a light tan. Designs produced using this technique include abstract foliate and geometric motifs and animal and human figures. A rarer group of Seljuk pottery is made using the champlevé technique in which the design is formed by engraving the slip with a wide tool to form deep, wide grooves. The depressions are usually painted in dark brown or black. The transparent glaze is colourless, green, brown or polychrome. It is apparent that Anatolian Seljuk sgraffiato and champlevé pottery with figural decoration display characteristics which conform to the iconography seen on medieval Islamic ceramics. The slender and elongated facial features of the figures differ from those encountered in works of Islamic art from Iran, Syria and Iraq where round faces and almond eyes are dominant characteristics. Another noteworthy aspect is the comparatively simple iconography.

Luster pottery is mainly found in southeast and east Anatolia (Samsat and Ahlat). In Samsat, there are four main types of luster ceramics. In the first group, the luster decoration is on greenish transparent glazes, in different shades of brown, made with metallic oxides. The designs are coarsely drawn. Stylized plant motifs, rings along bordures and kufic inscriptions adorn the ceramics. The clay is off-white and coarse. These objects consist mostly of bowls.

The second group of lusters have cobalt blue lines and dots drawn on transparent glazes. Brown luster decorations are applied on top in a similar way. This group comprises mostly deep plates with broad rims and small pots.

The third group of lusters have purple glazes. Their decoration and shape of bowl is similar to the first group. In the fourth group of lusters a transparent cobalt blue glaze is applied. They are found in much fewer numbers and only as small fragments.

The few luster ceramics found in the Ahlat excavations most probably are from Iran, since they were executed using a technique peculiar to that region. The discovery, however, of another group of lusterware and kilns prove that these types of ceramics were produced in Ahlat.

It is assumed that pottery with black graphic designs having a transparent turquoise glaze produced in great quantity in Syria, mainly in Raqqa, during the 13th century, was also being made in Anatolia. Some of these objects are decorated in black, blue and brown and have colorless transparent glazes. In all cases, the clay is off-white and has a coarse grain. A great variety of shapes are used. The surface of the ceramics is decorated with abstract leaves and flower motifs inside geometrical frames. Stylized bordures consisting of kufic writing are also common. They date from the end of the 12th century or the first half of the 13th century.

Ceramic `slip' ware constitutes one of the smallest groups of pottery finds in Seljuk Anatolia. Fragments of different color have been encountered. Turkish-Islamic archaeology was only given the importance it deserves during the past decade or so. Unfortunately, the Islamic levels have been largely ignored in archaeological excavations of earlier civilizations. The study of new material from excavations will undoubtedly shed further light on Anatolian Seljuk ceramics.

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