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  • 5/16/2007


 painted pottery

"The taste and talent of this people can be seen through the designs of their earthen wares", R. Ghirshman

The history of the art of pottery in Iran goes back into ancient time. When agriculture came into existence and cultivation started on Iran"s plateau by me primitive races of this land, people made utensils of killed clay in order to meet their needs.

Fingerprints of primitive natives of Iran can be seen on these earthenware. The first earthenware were two kinds, black utensils and red ones, both of these had very simple construction.

Gradually, simple earthenware, were being deco rated by geometric designs. Studying these designs shows us that Iranians were very skillful in making designed earthenware and represented these designs in a very lively and beautiful manner. Iran could be called the main birth place of designed

earthenware utensils. Designing earthenware in Iran started about 4 thousand years BC

The earthenware belonging to four thousand year BC had been killed more carefully in newly made kilns. The shapes and forms of these earthens show that, invention of the pottery rotating machine must have been done in that time.

The artists by using this new machine made different kinds of utensils like: piped pots, bowls and jars for storage of corns and grains.

Among excavated earthens belonging to this age, some primitive earthen statues in the form of animals and birds were found which were used more ornamentally rather than anything else.

During the past hundred years, many valuable remnants earthenware from different civilizations have been found in "Sialk" "Tape Misar", "Shush" "Tepe Gyan" "Tape Hasanlu" and "TalBacon" in Takhte-Jamshid. Studying these works will reveal the changing process of art of pottery in Iran. Images of horns of cows and reindeers, wings of birds and shouts of lions are some kind of decorative design of pottery in fourth Thousand Year BC The strength and durability of this art caused its glory and spread all over Iran"s plateau and even beyond there.

At the end of third century and in second century BC pottery became a little delicate and some times decorated by engraved designs. The earthen statue of a wild goat excavated in "Kalar Dasht" at the foot of "Alborz" mountain is a sample of the art of pottery of this age.

One of the oldest known dwelling places of Mian on the plain is "Sialk Hill" in south of Kashan. The board of archaeologists of "Louvre Museum" have found many earthen utensils through the excavation of this hill. In the earthens, found in Sialk, there are,snakes, wild goats and horses as well as geometric designs on these earthenware.

The sun and horse are the symbol of Indo-European tribes. The other designs found on Sialk"s earthens are simple lines curved lines, intersecting lines, plants and flowers and simple geometric designs. The earthen works of Sialk belong to 10th up to 9th century BC

Sialk painted pottery

Sialk painted pottery

More earthenware than any other thing were found in Sialk graves and these made a lot of information accessible. Everything in these earthens, the strength of their paste, kilning temperature, enameled color surface, designs and styles which have symbolic values are novel, each sign symbolized a man, some of these earthens were used in shrouding and burial ceremonies. There are images of a hunter, warrior and a roaring lion, painting on two pieces of engraved earthenware belonged to Sialk. In addition to these some "Plytons" were found in the form of animals and specially birds, among the earthen utensils of Sialk.

In "Khuzestan Plain" in Shush, French archaeologists excavated more than 83 hills belonging to prehistory during the years 190 up to 1946, and found varieties of earthen works. D. Macconn the chief of the board of excavation in Shush studied these works in the art of pottery point of view.

Among the explored earthenware in Shush there are gray earthenware, designed by images of birds, sea beasts, wild goats humped cows and geometric images. The dwellers in Shush inspired their designs through nature. The artists engraved their supposed designs on earthenware, then colored the trenches red and white. Earthenware of Shush are very valuable artistically and are elegant. They are made of fine clay.

Dr. E. Smith famous archaeologist discovered valuable earthen objects in two years of excavations done in Tepe Hisar" of "Damghan". They belong to the beginning of four and second centuries BC.

The earthenware discovered at the lower part of the hill were made of red clay, all hand made but the earthens which belonged to the beginning of the second thousand year BC were made by using the pottery rotating machine, these earthens are brown and buff in color, different kinds of decanters, vases and chalices provided with a stand in these excavations were found, which have an importance in prehistoric art of pottery of Iran. The designs on these utensils are in two forms, superficial and engraved. Perfect earthen utensils belonging to the first thousand year BC made by "Hasanlu" civilization in Azarbaijan were also found. These earthens are the works of artists of "Mannai" tribes. Earthen piped containers are the most interesting containers of this prehistoric region. Potter artists made the handle of these containers in different forms like the head of a ram, goat or foxes, some earthen tripods in Hasanlu graves were found which have been used for putting pots on them. Some of the earthen tripods are engraved. "Hasanlu" earthens are gray, red and yellow in color. These earthens were used in shrouding and burial ceremonies of the dead. The human or animal who was buried in that ceremony, was represented as a statue or an engraved earthenware. "Hasanlu"s" earthenware completely look like "Khoorvin" earthenware.

Bishapoor Mosaic

Bishapoor Mosaic


"Khoorvin" was the capital of Mad, it was located 80 kilometers west of present Tehran on the slope of "Alborz" the remnants of Khoorvin were found accidentally through a number of graves "Khoorvin" tribes buried earthenware accompanied with the dead. The earthen containers of this region have a long pipe which were used for burial ceremonies.

Bishapoor Mosaic

Bishapoor Mosaic

 They were black, gray and red in color. Khoorvin"s potters have made earthen statues without any ornaments and, simple (in h and 8th century BC), just like old traditions of ancient dwellers of plateau of Iran.

The art of pottery in "Amlash" a mountainous region in south west of Caspian Sea belongs to 9th and 8th century BC The art of Amlash has a special characteristic which symbolizes its high value. Potters of Am lash show a beautiful initiative, so that the Man of the Twentieth Century is impressed by these masterpieces belonging to three thousand years ago. Potters were also sculptors. Their initiative and creation is wonderful. The earthens belonging to "Amlash" have not any designs on them the artists were very eager to make utensils in the form of animals.


From some regions like "Kurdestan" "Lorestan" and "Takhte-Jamshid" valuable earthenware were found, which symbolized the high skill of ancient potters in Iran. There were interesting earthen utensils found in "Tepe Giyan" in Nahavand which were created extremely elegantly and tastefully, on these containers one can see images of human, storks, ducks, herons and goat. There are other simple images on earthens of "Giyan". These utensils belong to 1 and 11th century (BC). Earthen rhytons in Iran, some of which are considered to be masterpieces of art of pottery were observed by archaeologists and art specialists.

One of these earthen rhytons was found in suburb of "Makoo" in north west of Iran (Azarbaijan) which is in the form of a horse head. There is another rhyton found in Shush (south of Iran).

The elegance, beauty and art of these two rhytons show that the potters of plateau of Iran in north and south, were salient artists. Some earthen enameled rhytons with colored ornaments belonging to "Ziwiye" region are kept in Iran Bastan Museum.

Regarding the numerous rhytons it seems these valuable utensils have been produced in a big workshop. This collection of earthens have a considerable artistic value because of their construction and artistic painting, they are found among the explored objects of Ziwiye, in the excavation of the grave of an "Ashkani"s Prince". It was usual to use rhytons in the form of the head of an animal, for drinking water during the eighth and seventh century.

During the Hakhamaneshian era (550-330 BC) the first empire of Iran, the art of pottery started its evolution, using enamel on the earthenware have been created by the artists of this era. The art of ceramic which is a part of the art of pottery started in Iran in this age. Regardless of ceramic objects belonging to ancient Egyptians, the oldest ceramic utensils are explored in Iran. These objects are kept as prehistoric ceramic utensils in "Iran Bastan" Museum and other important museums of the world. Most of the ceramic objects belonging to Hakhamaneshian era are painted and made perfectly artistic from the form and design point of view. We have inherited valuable works of Hakhamaneshian ceramic.

The primitive kilns for drying earthenware in Iran, one of the oldest of which is found in Shush, belonging to seventh century (BC), were considerably improved in Hakhamaneshian era. Partian (91-312 BC) were the followers of the art of pottery of Hakhamaneshian. Enameling which had mainly been used in order to make ceramic during Hakhamaneshian, was used for earthen utensils in this era, somescholars believed Chinese Acquired enameling of earthenware from Partians artists.

Enameled earthenware in green color were found in China, belonging to "Hann" dynasty (206-220 BC). These earthenware are much like Partian"s earthenware. It seems that, this skill has been transmitted to China in Partian era. Partian ceramics consisted of usual tumblers, kinds Of rhytons, flasks, ewers and earthened casks covered by a light blue, green or gray enamel. They have also made coffins of enameled kilned earthen Sassanian ceramics (224-642 A.D.) are very similar to Persian ceramics, some of the Sassanian"s enameled earthenware are found in green or light blue with engraved designs.

Other samples of earthenware of this age are found unenamelled. But they have made embossed designs on them by using seals and mold.

One of the distinguished characteristics of ceramics of Iran is its variety and spread all over the country. Potter artists followed their special artistic method where ever they lived "Vandenberghe" believes the reason for creation of variety in styles and shapes in earthenware of Iran, is her ecological condition. "Unlike Beynolnahrein ceramics in different shapes, have been found, and this differentiation between these two countries are caused by geographical conditions of these lands.

How ever making of earthenware enameled utensils were popular in Iran during Partains and Sassanian era, but after appearance of Islam in Iran, the art of pottery was developed. The most successful achievement of the artists of Islamic era was the use of nice and different color in painting the earthen-wares when enameling them.

Different earthen utensils of this age (7th century A.D.) in different colors and enamels were created by the artists in "Rey", "Shush" "Estakhr" and "Gorgan" these utensils are the most supreme products of Islamic era. Images of animals, birds and plants decorated the earthenware of this age. Earthenware were made by yellow clay, and Persian Muslim artists attained maturity in enameling and painting on earthenware. Islamic potters decorated in three ways, engraving designs on the earthens, producing images by using molds, and creating embossed designs on their works.

The most beautiful ceramics in Islamic era have designs created by mold. The molds were made of hard metal or earthens. In this way they decorated inner and outer surfaces of earthenware with designs about animals, human, plants and flowers.

In ninth and eighth century (BC) the art of pottery enjoyed new changes and important centers of pottery came into existence in north and north east of Iran.

in the beginning of Islamic era (651-1000 A.D.) some unenamelled colored earthenware were found.

Sialk painted pottery

Sialk painted pottery

An interesting sample of these is kept in "Iran Bastan" Museum. On this sample geometrical designs in lozenge form are engraved and the grooves are painted in red, yellow, and dark brown. The earthenware made in Neyshaboor which belong to the same age are also decorated in the same form and color. Engraving designs on earthen-wares is a kind of decoration which has always been used by Iranian artist potters. This kind of decoration was at first some un-arranged and simple lines that gradually improved to the design of images of human, animals, plants and flowers.

Using calligraphy in order to decorate earthen-wares is one of the ways that Islamic artists used widespreadly. The artists used "Koofi"s" script to decorate the earthenware. This script was used in two forms, simple and ornamental.

In studies on early Islamic ages the Saljooghi"s era (1000-1157 AD) was found to be one of the most glorious improvement and development ages of the art of pottery in Iran.

Earthenware of this age, are the most beautiful samples of pottery in Iran from the point of view of color and ornamentation. Saljooghi"s potters helped make golden colored earthenware attain perfection.

Elephant statue- Kashan

Elephant statue- Kashan (700 A.D.)    Ewer- Kashan (13 A.D.)

In the last part of Saljooghi"s era the art and industry of pottery reached its peak improvement point. They used new methods in designing and creating earthenware. The most important of them was creation of golden ceramic with paintings on them. In addition to that, is the connection of centers of pottery in Iran, with the centers in other countries.

The potters of Iran used a kind of clay which had been brought in, from China. This kind of clay was used in golden colored ceramic, having "Koofi"s" calligraphy on the rims and bodies of utensils in order to decorate them." Simple ceramic enameled utensils in black, turquoise color, and light blue color were also found. Some of the enameled utensils belonging to "Kashan" and "Rey" were decorated using seven colors." Invention of painting with different colors on the white, blue and turquoise enameled earthenware is supposed to be indebted to the skills of Persian potters in twelfth century A.D. Some samples of these ceramics are kept in "Metropolitan" Museum.

One of the masterpieces of its kind which is kept in the mentioned museum, belongs to thirteenth century, a, blue pitcher with very unique fabric and ornamentation. Some of the methods n pottery such as molding, reticulating, engraving and painting before enameling are used to make this pitcher.

There are also the images of mystic animals and other beasts like deers, rabbits, dogs and plants and flowers, on this pitcher. On the epigraph of the pitcher poems and the production date of it is written (1215-16 AD).

Painted bowl

Enamel bowl- (12 A.D.), Painted bowl

The important center for pottery in Iran during Saljooghian era were "Rey" "Kashan" "Neyshaboor" and "Saveh". There are many remnants of valuable works, which show the creativity, taste and initiative of unknown great artists of Iran. After Mongols invasion, pottery like other artistic activities suffered a stand still. Historical evidence shows that in the middle of thirteenth century gradually pottery workshops, started flourishing. The most important centers for pottery were located in "Takhte-Soleyman" "Soltanieh" "Tabriz" and "Varamin". The characteristics of ceramics in Mongols era are painting before enameling and also embossed designs." The artists of this age created the earthen utensils covered with turquoise colored or orange colored enamel. Ornamentation on them were images of flowers, plants, and some times animals and birds.

In Mongols and Teimoorian era in Iran, the art of pottery suffered a slow down. Few earthenware have remained from Teimoorian"s era (15th century A.D.). Pottery in this age could be studied through miniature paintings of this era images of ceramics and tile works are found in these miniatures. The artists of Teimoorian"s era used green and dark blue colors in their works, then white and blue ceramics were created by

painted pottery

Emerging of Safavi"s dynasty (1491-1772 AD.) after a rather inactive period a magnificent age started for most of the Persian arts, as well as pottery, which has been improved considerably. The methods used by potters of this age are completely different from their predecessors. The artists of Safavi"s age not only improved the art of pottery but also brought about the tile-works which reached its zenith. One can see the maturity of the art of tile-working of Safavis through the tile working of Islamic construction specially in mosques. The cities like "Isfahan", "Yazd" "Kerman" , "Tabriz" and "Mashhad" became active centers of ceramics work. The connections of Persian artists with Chinese artists in Safavis dynasty brought about valuable ceramic works which are allocated only to this age.

Chinese potters were invited to come to Iran and worked in ceramics workshops belonging to the court of kings of Safavis, together with Persian artists. The fruit of this cooperation was different variety of beautiful Chinaware with Chinese techniques and Persian ornamentation.

The valuable works of Iranian artist potters in Safavis era not only can be seen in Iranian and other museums around the worried and private collections, but also in tile working of Islamic construction of that age possessing all their own glory and magnificence.

painted pottery

Golden looking bowl- Kashan (13 A.D.)   Painted

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