Plate with a seated prince surrounded by four phoenixes
Period: (Sultanabad), late 13th-14th century A.D.
Dimensions: Diameter: 23.4 cm
Private collection; Sotheby’s London, April 26, 1996, Lot 42; Japanese private collection.
Conditions: Complete and in excellent condition, but reglued. Minor chips and small repairs. Grayish-beige terracotta, white and gray glaze, black, gray and white paint
This perfectly turned plate is trunconical and terminates in a small vertical rim. It is supported by a disk-shaped base that provides the vessel with good balance. The lip is rounded.
The decoration is elaborate, but repetitive. On the outside, the plate is decorated with large gray arches, separated by a white border, recalling the gadroons of the metallic cups produced in ancient times. On the inside, the scene includes a central tondo with a young prince, long-legged and seated, dressed in a tunic with long sleeves. On his head, he wears a turban surrounded by a kind of white aura. He sits in an idyllic natural setting, where the grass is covered with flowers, leaves and pebbles. With his right hand, he makes the gesture of picking a flower. All around the tondo, the frieze is divided into quarters by drop-shaped niches alternating with flying birds, of a type often referred to by scholars as a phoenix. The decoration is painted in elegant and sober shades of similar colors, ranging from gray to cream and black.
This vessel belongs to the Sultanabad group, whose large semicircular type of plate is one of the most attested forms. The name comes from a city in Iran, where a large number of similar vases have been found; currently known as Arak, it is located between Isfahan and Hamadan. The ceramics of Sultanabad were very popular between the late 13th and the 14th century A.D., during the Mongol domination of Iran (reign of the Ilkhanates), but their center of production remains an open question (Kashan workshops?).
The patterns painted on these vessels are sometimes quite innovative compared to the styles of contemporary Islamic ceramics. Such diversity can be explained by the influence of the Mongol dynasty, which was thought to have imitated motifs of Chinese tradition, like the phoenix or the lotus flower; these may have been directly inspired by the patterns embroidered on Far Eastern textiles. As shown on the face of the prince represented on this plate, the somatic features of the figures recall the Mongolian type.
Another typical characteristic of ceramics in the Mongol period is the decorative technique, known as underglaze painting. The motifs are painted in black, blue or gray on a white slip and are then covered with a layer of transparent glaze; a somewhat more sophisticated variant provides for the use of a second grayish slip (covering the first white slip), over which patterns are painted in black and white. These patterns are therefore in slight relief and perceptible to touch.
SOUSTIEL J., La céramique islamique, Paris, 1985, pp. 198 ff., p. 216, nos. 239-241.
WATSON O., Ceramics from Islamic Lands, Kuwait National Museum, The al-Sabah Collection, London, 2004, pp. 373 ff., Q.11-Q14.