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  • Place of origin:

    Basra (probably, made)

  • Date:

    9th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tin-glazed earthenware with in-painted decoration

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Islamic Middle East, Room 42, The Jameel Gallery, case 2W

Glazed ceramics were not widely used in the pre-Islamic Middle East, but in the 8th and 9th centuries, they began to assume the important role they have today.

High-fired ceramics from China, first brought to Iraq by sea in the 8th century, were one stimulus for this change. In the early 9th century Iraqi potters began to imitate elegant white bowls imported from China. They used the local yellow clay, which they masked with an opaque white glaze. Soon they began to add new forms and decoration of different types in blue, green and metallic lustre.

Once Iraqi potters could successfully imitate Chinese whiteware, they began to treat the white surface of their ceramics as a blank canvas. Painting into the glaze in cobalt blue was a local innovation, which resulted in the world's first blue-and-white ceramics.

Physical description

Bowl, buff-coloured earthenware, covered with opaque white slip and in-painted in cobalt blue pigment with a foliate device within a six-pointed star, with six hatched triangles each terminating in a round loop. Restoration

Place of Origin

Basra (probably, made)


9th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Tin-glazed earthenware with in-painted decoration


Diameter: 20.8 cm, Height: 6 cm

Object history note

Purchased for £13.10.0 from A. Garabed, 41 Chipstone St, W1. Garabed was an Armenian dealer who sold Islamic wares to the British Museum and the V&A, c. 1923-58.

Historical context note

Long-haul trading voyages to China were underway from as early as the eighth century, and Chinese porcelains were imported into the Abbasid imperial cities. These porcelains were so admired that Islamic potters began to experiment with imitating their bright whiteness, and consequently invented the technique of opacifying the glaze by adding particles of tin. This provided a blank ‘canvas’, to which the potters soon began to add decoration in cobalt blue. The Abbasid wares have long been thought of as the world’s first blue-and-white, though it is still unknown whether or not ninth-century Chinese ceramics with blue decoration came first.

Descriptive line

Bowl, whiteware with blue-painted geometric design; Iraq (probably Basra), 9th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Tim Stanley (ed.), with Mariam Rosser-Owen and Stephen Vernoit, Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, V&A Publications, 2004

Labels and date

Jameel Gallery

8–9 Decorated Whiteware Bowls
Iraq, probably Basra

Splashed decoration in copper green and other colours was inspired by Chinese models, but painting into the glaze in cobalt blue was a local innovation, which resulted in the world’s first blue-and-white ceramics.

Earthenware with decoration painted (8) and splashed (9) into the opaque glaze
Museum nos. C.1447-1924; C.12-1947, Given by Sir Frank Brangwyn, RA
White-glazed earthenware painted in blue.
MESOPOTAMIAN ; 9th century [Used until 11/2003]


Earthenware; Clay; Glaze



Subjects depicted

Flowers; Geometric patterns


Islam; Ceramics


Middle East Section

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