pottery making art islamic civilization. Please illustrative timeline. Please include outline beginning.
Islamic pottery is an essential part of the Islamic culture
Early beginnings of Islamic pottery
Historical and geographical challenges
Pottery as a necessity, not an art
Islamic pottery transformed from an activity to an art
The periods of the Islamic pottery
Influences of Chinese pottery
Improvements of techniques and materials
Role of calligraphy and technical discoveries
Increase of the value of pottery for the Islamic culture
The Islamic art is one of the most significant parts of the Islamic culture and of the world heritage. Islamic pottery has in this sense an important place in the structure of the Middle Eastern art.
The history and development of Islamic pottery is representative for the development of Islamic art and reflects the influences of external cultures on the evolution of art in the region.
Given the geographical position as well as the scarce natural resources available for this type of activity, pottery in the Islamic world did not have from the beginning a unique perspective, but rather it was influence by Chinese art and handcraft. In time however, Islamic pottery became an individualized artistic statement for the region and gained new creative incentives over time. Today, it represents an important aspect in Islamic art and one that is acknowledged worldwide.
There is limited information concerning the actual beginnings of Islamic pottery. Most sources date early pottery items back to the seventh century (Grube, n.d.). However, there was a considerable limited quantity of Kaolin, the clay that is used for making pottery. Therefore, for much of the seventh and eighth century, pottery in the Middle East was not very common and accessible.
The first initiatives to transform pottery into an art and into a significant element of Islamic civilization once the influences from the Chinese pottery were strong. In this sense, "From the ninth century onward, the once humble craft flourished as an art remarkable for its vitality and variety of styles. First around the seat of the Abbasid caliphate in Iraq and in the northeastern provinces of Khorasan and Transoxiana, then in Egypt, Syria, Iran and centers scattered across the vast Muslim lands, master artisans turned the local clays into objects of spectacular beauty unlike any that had been known before, or that were to be produced in Christian Europe until many centuries later." (Luter, 1974.) The influence of the Chinese pottery is important largely because it provided a sense of artistic nature to certain items that for the Middle Eastern peoples that were in constant need of water recipients was important. In this sense, in order to better emulate the white clay of the Chinese pottery, Islamic peoples used all sorts of substitutes.
During the ninth century, improvements were registered in the area of the materials used and the techniques applied. Even so, this was possible at the "pressures" made by the Chinese artistic influences. More precisely, "ceramics made in imitation of Chinese white porcelain were produced in Basra (Iraq) by applying white tin glazes over a yellowish earthen body. Green and cobalt blue dots were sometimes painted on these. Watson refers to this painting technique as in-glaze painting because wet paint is absorbed into the dry surface of the glaze. The technique was propagated east to Istakhr, Nishapur in Iran, and then to Samarqand. Green, yellow, and black paints were used in these areas" (Watson, 2000). This spread reflected on the one hand an increase in the cultural exchanges between provinces and territories and on the other hand the importance pottery attained in the cultural life of the Islamic civilization.
The Middle East caliphates played a key role in the development of ceramics as an artistic expression. They encouraged local artists to experiment and to take the influences from the Chinese pottery and adapt them to the local conditions and local tradition. More precisely, "ingenious craftsmen from all over the Islamic areas flocked to the capital of the caliphate at Baghdad. Their earliest works were often clearly experimental. But gathering up the threads of ancient experience, they soon introduced techniques that set the pattern for later development and made Islamic ceramics renowned." (Luter, 1974)
An essential aspect in the development of ceramics throughout the Middle East is related to the use of luster painting technique (Grube, n.d.). The technique was invented in today's Iraq and provided an important artistic and aesthetic improvement that propelled this activity at the level of an art. Moreover, this development also allowed pottery to become an additional element of social differentiation. More precisely, "the production of luster-decorated pottery was complicated, costly, and time-consuming, indicating that such objects were regarded as luxury wares. Lusterware can vary in color from a rich gold to a deep reddish brown" (Tajweed Center, 2012).
The refinement of the production techniques also brought along the emergence of different centers of excellence, where pottery became a true art in itself. One of these centers was in today's Iraq, in Basra. Due to the wide array of possibilities, special distinctions between areas could already be visible. In the case of Basra, "In the ninth century, pottery makers in the southern Iraqi city of Basra developed bold decorative techniques that would change the look of ceramics forever. They invented cobalt glazes and luster firing (the latter probably by accident), which gave their pottery an iridescent metallic sheen, and then proudly signed their work. Basra was at the cutting edge of ceramic technology for about 160 years" (Atwood, 2005).
The importance of pottery is significant given that it enabled cities throughout the Middle East to develop particularities in terms of techniques, materials, and decorative elements being used. This only enriched the cultural heritage left behind by the Mesopotamian civilization and in turn, it influenced other cultures, among which the Spanish one, in the fifteenth century and beyond. There is evidence that Islamic pottery was found even in Pavia, Italy, thus pointing out that there are significant important benefits from the transformation of an activity into a part of art (Jenkins, n.d.).
The artistic nature of the Islamic pottery also stands in the decorative elements that are distinctive for the region. Given the fact that Islamic religion did not allow any type of depiction of images of any sort, the most significant elements used on the pottery were the geometrical signs and once invented, calligraphy. Perhaps one of the most important contributions potters brought to Islamic art was the development of the arabesque style. This decorative means includes "covering the surface of ceramic objects, it combined geometric shapes, floral and vegetal motifs, and even stylistic human and animal figures to create a sense of infinite growth through the flow and interrelation of its parts." (Luter, 1974) The invention of this decorative technique benefited not only the pottery activities and aesthetic sense but also provided other artistic branches such as architecture or painting with a different and new perspective on using local influences and determining a traditional sense of pottery that in fact came from faraway places. Even more, this technique of decoration also influenced other styles from different cultures (Savory, 1976)
The development of pottery in the next centuries after its acknowledgement as an artistic means of expression was influenced by the use of enamels and tin (Grube, n.d.). This aspect is significant because it provided the necessary means through which this art could be more refined and enriched with other influences. Even so, tin was imported precisely for the use in the ceramic creation. This points out the attention given to this activity and the way in which this could be improved.
Throughout the history of the Islamic pottery, there have been several ages of development that are defined by the use of different materials, techniques,…