Saturday, 30 November 2013

Persian block printed head scarf.

 Some Persian head scarves, possibly block printed:

1                                                                                  2
 3                                                                  4

Head scarf examples. Patterns range from simple monotone, to complicated potential brocades or embroidery. All involve a triangular (or folded square) headscarf, draped over what appears to be a circular cap and braid case of a different fabric (often the same as the pants). Recently on the Persian Clothiers facebook group there was recent discussion on the shape of these headscarves. I propose that the contrasting colours on no. 2 & no. 4 (red & white / orange ) indicates a single layer whereas the two sided print and potential for two points on no. 5 suggest towards a double layer resulting from a square shape. The shape of no.'s 1 and 3 are indeterminate. No. 1 shows the same pattern on the underside, which may be a woven, reversible fabric or a doubled over square shape.

So I started with a square design because it's easier to measure and cut. I cut it out, block printed it with my quatra-heart stamp, ironed it and then machine sewed the hems.  As you can see below, the square is a little too small, too stiff and really the wrong shape. I also used an artifical silk scarf for the braid case and the cotton headscarf kept slipping off. Quite vexing.
Marshalling at November Crown, Stormhold, 2013.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Ceramic 17 - Tile 5

Tile 5

It's getting harder and harder to find good crosses. I tried three different ones for this tile. One of them was a rather floral, skinny cross. I started with a solid background and carved the flowers into it. It really didn't work well. The original was too skinny and I couldn't reproduce the dimensions, even after removing one of the flowers. I guess I was right to avoid animals and such figures. Upon investigation, the tile is Tamurid not what I'm looking for

So I painted over it and carved a more swirly pattern (below). I've only managed to find one, not very good at all, image of this cross and had to extrapolate. I'm rather happy with how it turned out but as the glaze was so thick, this tile has a texture to it.

Cross tile from the mausoleum of Imamzada Yahya in Veramin near Tehran. Part of a panel of glazed lustre-ware tiles. State Hermitage Museum. Inv. nos IR 1026-1062. 1097 - 1118.

The other cross on this tile is also a new one. The cross in the image below on the left is the one I used. It's in the Louvre as a panel. The image in the Louvre is small, but there's a good collection of representative images of different regions and art styles at the Walter Chapin Simpson Centre for Humanities.

Details of panel made of individual tiles.
Iran, Kashan, 1267 CE/665 AH. Fritware, overglaze lustre with color splashes. The panel if from the tomb of imamazade Djafar at Damghan. Inv. no.: OA 6319. Website (photo shows whole panel). Individual panels can be found here.

It saddens me that so many tiles have been pillaged from the Imamzada Yahya mausoleum. It's good that they are ending up in museums so internet hobbiests like me can appreciate them, but I really think they should have stayed on the mausoleum. I'm feeling particularly annoyed by it at the moment because there's a whole bunch of tiles in Shangri La, Honolulu, a rich woman's beautiful home. There are no good close up images but there's treasure upon treasure there, all hoarded away. It's like taking fossils from the rocks - these are things that will never occur again. They should be left for others to appreciate rather than squirreled away by people who have more resources than sense.

Tile 5. First of the second line.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Ceramic 16/18/19 - Tiles 4, 6 & 7

Tiles 6, 4 and 7

Tile 4 is the terminus star tile (in the center). So there are no new cruciforms, just one star. I still haven't decided how big my tile panel is going to be, but I do know where one end is now. Tile 6 and 7 are edge tiles, covering only one quarter cruciform. I'm quite happy with how these three turned out and look forward to completing the whole set.

This close up shows how much better I am at getting the quarter cruciforms to line up.

The original star tile is one of a group of 12 tiles auctioned at Bonhams in 2008. The tiles are Kashan and date from the 12/13th century. As has been my policy throughout this tile project, I've removed the writing and replaced it with a wide blue border.

Saturday, 16 November 2013


Notes from Persian Ceramics from the 9th to the 14th century:

An alkaline solution obtained with potassium oxide is easily altered and ceramic objects will often take on a very characteristic iridescence if they come into contact with the earth or other chemical agents.

(This explains the iridescence seen in the peacock plate! I wonder if this iridescence was ever deliberately engineered by burying items or soaking them in special solutions)

Cobolt was imported from Europe via Venice. Muzarrad is a black stone used to make black, probable utilising antimony and comes from the mountains of Jajarm in Khorasan, Eastern Iran.

Turquoise is obtained from copper oxide and an alkaline glaze (well ozygenized). Copper oxide and a lead glaze (in reduction) produces green hues as well.

Bowl, 12th century, Iran. Met Museum of Art, Accession number: 29.160.12. Showing a slight hint of the iridescence.

Friday, 15 November 2013

THe Ashmoelean on Iranian tiles

From the Ashmolean on Iranian tiles:

Tiles were not produced in great quantities before circa 1200, and large-scale tile production kicks off at basically the same moment as the new "Kashan" style of painting: it is rare to find tiles decorated in the "Monumental" or "Miniature" styles althought they do exist. However, from the turn of the C13th, much of finest work of the Kashan potters is on tiles. The two prominent figures in this development are the potters Muhammad ibn Abu Tahir and Abu Zaid, who are known through signatures to have worked together on the most important tilework projects of the pre-Mongol period.
Their earliest dated joint effort is a sarcophagus in the tomb-chamber at Qumm, where the top panel is signed by Muhammad and the main frieze is signed by Abu Zaid. This work is dated 1206. At Mashhad in 1215 they undertake a much more ambitious project, cladding the walls in star and octagonal tiles surmounted by an inscription frieze, and installing two large and elaborate mihrabs, one of which is signed by Abu Zaid as well as a number of the star tiles. This is extremely high quality work, and shows that Abu Zaid produced some of the best products of the whole Kashan industry. There has been some confusion over dating this shrine, because two dates exist side by side in the inscriptions: 1215 and 1118. It is now thought that the tiling dates to the C13th, but the earlier date is included to commemorate the decoration that was replaced in 1215.
This pre-Mongol era in tile production sees a peak of artistic and technical achievement that is never again matched. The sudden decline in tile production after 1220 may be a result of the first wave of Mongol invasions, but may be equally due to the death of the pottery industry’s two major figures, Muhammad ibn Abu Tahir and Abu Zaid. The former’s last dated work was 1215 (Mashhad) and the latter’s was 1219. Thereafter there appears to be a vacuum which proves difficult to fill.

From this vacuum emerges the next generation of potters, who attempt to imitate the high quality work of their predecessors, and who do produce some masterpieces, but the technique and quality of execution is generally more simplified and standardised than the earlier products. The leading lights of the next generation emerge first in the 1220s and 1230s, but their artistic talents do not really emerge until the resumption of large-scale tile production in the 1260s. Hasan ibn al-Arabshah signed the mihrab from the Maidan Mosque in Kashan (d.1226) which according to Watson is timid and restrained in design; the son of Muhammad ibn Abu Tahir, Ali, produces a mihrab in 1242 for Mashhad, in which the cobalt has run badly, implying Ali’s technical skills are not yet developed.
Very few dated pieces are known from the period 1220 – 1260, but thereafter a number of grand commissions by the new Il-Khanid rulers stimulate the Kashan industry into a resurgence of productivity, in which Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Tahir dominates. The major complex of the 1260s is the tomb-chamber of Imamzada Yahya at Veramin. The Ashmolean holds a group of these tiles in its collection. There are a series of lustre tiles from different dates from this complex, beginning with star and cross tiles dated 1262; a large mihrab is dated Sha’ban 1265, and another mihrab is added to the complex in Muharram 1305, signed by Ali’s son Yusuf.
The tomb-chamber of Imamzada Ja’far at Damghan (d.1266-7) is the next big dated complex with lots of lustre decoration: star and cross tiles survive with animal and human figural decoration, and inscriptions bearing Persian poems. There is a beautiful panel of these tiles in the Louvre. The sizes of the tiles are smaller, and they use blue and turquoise in the design. Watson thinks the drawing naïve compared to pre-Mongol production, but the technical quality is excellent.
The most important commission in the 1270s is the extensive palace complex at Takht-i Sulaiman, built by Abaqa Khan: this is the sole surviving secular building of this period which has lustre decoration. It is lavishly decorated in tiles of different techniques including lajvardina, which is the medium in which the new Chinese designs (phoenix, dragons, lotuses) especially appear. Star and cross tiles with inscriptions in Persian verse are dated 1271, 1272 and 1275; pictorial friezes show scenes of hunting and fighting, and also scenes from the Shah-Nameh: a lustre tile frieze tile in the V&A shows the hero Bahram Gur hunting with his favourite concubine Azada.

The next upturn in production is the first decade of C14th: in November 1300, 250 tiles were installed in mosque of Ali in Quhrud near Kashan. These bear arabesque and floral motifs, and Quranic inscriptions; further tiles were added in 1307, identical in style though with inscriptions in Persian verse. Yusuf ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Tahir also signs an inscription frieze dated 1310-11. After this, production again tails off, with a final and surprising burst of activity in the1330s when Yusuf signs a large mihrab for Imamzada Ja’far in Qumm (1334); a series of star tiles installed in same building d.1337 contain two which are inscribed: "…in the place Kashan in the workshop of Sayyid of Sayyids, Sayyid Rukn al-Din Muhammad son of the late Sayyid Zain al-Din Ali, the potter; the work of the most noble, the most excellent master, Master Jamal, the painter (al-naqqash)."
A few other tiles carry dates in the 1330s, but the very last dated item to be produced from Kashan kilns is a star tile bearing the date 1339. In the year before this, another star tile bears the desperate plea: "…in the place Kashan, may Allah, be He exalted, protect it from the ravages of time." Was this a cry for help in the face of declining orders?

Also visit the above website for dish shapes

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Wisdom of the ages pt I

I present Wisdom of the Ages, part I. And by ages, I mean my grandfathers pottery diary he kindly gave me when he realized I was interested in glazes. Originally I didn't realize how valuable this little notebook was, but it contains years of experiments and notes on glazes and firing regimes so I have decided to transcribe some of it here so it won't be lost when he passes on and I eventually lose the book or die myself. This book was written by a man who can write in 7 languages and speak 10. Before coming to Australia he worked as a translator in The Netherlands. Once here, the only positions he could find to support his family were menial jobs, such as working on the production lines of a moccasin or glass factory.
He is a thin wiry man who enjoys digging holes in outback Australia and looking for opals even though he's had a triple bypass. As the only grandparent I have left he continues to impress me and each time I see him I do my best to learn more about him before he's gone forever.

In transcribing his book, please forgive the spelling mistakes or random words. Poppa writes in a beautiful flowing cursive hand which can be difficult to translate at times.

Decorating with slips or engobe

Slips or engobe is a mixture of clay, water and colouring oxides. The most refined form (Terra sigillata?) seived through 200 mesh mill burnish to a high polish without glazing.

Stir the slip regularly, otherwise it will separate. Dip the pot briefly, the shake off any drips.

Cut out paper stenciles. Sponge the newsprint carefully onto the surface. Dip. When dry, the paper stencil can be peeled carefully away.

In sgraffito ? decorating the dipped slip is scratched away in lines or areas, to reveal the contrasting colour of the clay beneath.

When using terra sigillata on a fine clay surface, leave the pot after it returns to leatherhard for some tume until it is almost starting to dry out. Then polish the surface with the back of a metal spoon..

In slip braiding, the slip is piped through a rubber bull in the manner of icing a cake. Experiment on leatherhard clay; any mistakes can be easily sponged off. Before starting, expell all air from the container - shake it to make the air rise to the surface; then gently squeeze it out

Trailing on a wet ground, horizontal surfaces can be covered with an even layer of slip - then trail a contrasting slip onto the set surface. Work quickly and when finished, tap the supporting board to flatten the slip covered surface.

Marblling is done as above with a variety of trailed slip colours in a simple design of lines or blobs. Just leave off tapping the board, agitate it with a quick circular motion until the slip colours begin to swirl into each other.

Feathering is draggin thin strands of one colour of braided slip into another using a single broom bristle on a pen.

Cut plastic foam into a variety of shapes and use these to sponge slip onto the leatherhard surface.

10th C Bowl, Iran. White Engobe / Slip has been scratched to crate a decorative border which states "Planning before work protects you from regret; prosperity and peace". Met Museum of Art, Accession No. 65.106.2.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Preliminary documentation for potential November Crown A&S entry. Pt 1

Preliminary documentation for potential November Crown A&S entry - an Illuminated letter

H (12)
Title Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 1173
Description Zoomorphic initial H. Dragon.<br>Bible. Old Testament: Job, Tobias, Judith, Esther, Machabaeorum II, Isaias, Jeremias, Baruch et Ezechial
Date 15th century
Source 17560
Language Latin
Folio 199 f.
Further Information For further information, visit
City Wien
Library Österreichische Nationalbibliothek
Country Austria
Shelfmark Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 1173
Folio Number f.123v
ImgBC IM00025587

T, R, C, S, Y, M (13)

Secondary source, The art of illuminating as practised in  Europe from the earliest times. Illustrated by borders, initila letters and alphabets, selected and chromolithographed by W.R Tymms. With an essay and instructions by MD. Wyatt, archt. Published 1866 by Day in London

Plate detail: 12th Century. Mr Henry Shaw, in his beautiful work on illuminated manuscripts has devoted no less than eight plates, giving an entire alphabet of initial letters, to the illustration of the remarkable MS, which is well known as the Harleian No. 2800 and which has furnished the material for the Plate under notice, as well as for our pl. 28 of the same century. Sir Frederic Madden considers the MS. to be "written in the class of character which came into use at the close of the 12th century, and which formed the link between the round open letter of the preceding century and a half and the square or Gothic letter of later period.
(caption for plate 28 reads: the alphabets have been selected form the Harleian MSS No 2,800 which contains in three large folio volumes a series of lives of Saints for the whole year. The voluyme formerly belonged to the Monastery of St Mary and St Nicholas at Arnstein in the diocese of Treves. The initial letters throughout are for the most part executed in red, with the grounds of the scroll-work, of which they are composted, filled in with light blue and green, after the usual German manner of the 12th century. The drawing of the altogether conventional foliage is good throughout the whole work, which is ascribed by Sir Frederic Madden to "about the year 1190".

R (14)
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Latin 1173, two initials from f. 52r. Horae ad usum Parisiensem. France, 1475-1500.

O or Q (15)

Saint Michael and the Dragon in an initial Q by an Unknown master German, Würzburg, about 1240 - 50 Getty Museum

This illustrated copy of The lamentations of Jeremiah with the gloss (or interpretation) of Gilbert of Auxerre was written in Austria in the second half of the twelfth century and comes from the monastery of Seitenstetten. Gilbert died in 1134, and the manuscript is an early and important witness to his text. The gloss is written in a small script and is both interlinear and marginal. This layout is typical of glossed books of the Bible from the twelfth century. The illustrations of the sack of Jerusalem and the return to Babylon give valuable information on twelfth-century armor. The manuscript is in its original binding.
For a page-turning view of this manuscript, visit
For high-resolution images and full cataloging information, visit

 Dragon with its tail tied in a knot. The initial "F" from a 12th-century manuscript at Stift Zwettl, Austria, Codex Zwettlensis 208 : HMML Color Microfilms

A dragon forms part of the initial "B" in a manuscript from Stift Klosterneuburg, Austria, Codex Claustroneoburgensis 710 : HMML Color Microfilms


 Detail of a miniature of the dragon constellation ('Draco'), in tables from Ptolemy's Almagest. Arundel 66 John Killingworth, Ptolemy, Guido Bonatti, Plato of Tivoli Almagest (extract), Liber Astronomiae, Liber Arenalis, astronomical and geomantic tables, political prophecies England, S. E. (London) 1490 Latin and French Gothic cursive

Historiated initial 'U' depicting an interlacing pattern and fantastical animals, from the Bible of Saint-Andre aux-Bois (vellum) creator French School, (12th century)
lettre ornee d'entrelaces et d'animaux fantastiques;
Bibliotheque de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France
vellum 12th (C12th)
Second page with decorated initial S.
Minute  for  Le Miroir de la Salvation humaine .
Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels, Ms. 9249–50, fol. 1 verso.