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  • Place of origin:

    Iraq (made)

  • Date:

    850-900 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tin-glazed earthenware (fritware) with lustre decoration

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with Art Fund support and the Byran Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Ceramics, Room 143, The Timothy Sainsbury Gallery, case 11, shelf 2

This bowl is made from earthenware, but the pinkish ceramic body has been disguised by the use of an opaque tin glaze, which is made by adding particles of tin oxide to the glaze recipe. The use of tin opacification in glazes was first invented in Iraq in the early 9th century, where it was used to imitate the bright whiteness of imported Chinese porcelains. Tin-glazing was used throughout the Middle East until the middle of the 11th century, when a new, artificial ceramic body, known as fritware, was invented by potters in Egypt.

This bowl is decorated in lustre, an overglaze technique using metallic pigments derived from silver and copper, which was also invented in Iraq in the early 9th century. The lustre pigments were painted on the hard shiny surface of the pot after it had been glazed, and it was then refired in a reducing kiln (an atmosphere starved of oxygen). Lustre became a very popular technique for decorating Islamic ceramics, and was especially used to imitate the designs of metal objects.

There are three different tones of lustre on this bowl. It is thought that this kind of 'polychrome' lustre was the earliest to be invented, and by the start of the 10th century this had developed into lustre using a single colour derived from silver.

The decoration on this bowl is based on the eyes in a peacock’s tail, which was considered to be a royal bird in Islamic art.

Physical description

Bowl, buff-coloured earthenware (fritware), covered with an opaque white glaze, painted with a silver-rich lustre in two shades of yellow and a copper-rich lustre of reddish brown with a ground of scattered spheres or roundels with hatched centres on a dense ground of dots and dashes. The rim with a broad band.

Place of Origin

Iraq (made)


850-900 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Tin-glazed earthenware (fritware) with lustre decoration


Diameter: 14.3 cm maximum, Height: 4 cm

Descriptive line

Bowl, whiteware, polychrome or bi-chrome lustre painted with hatched roundels; Iraq (probably Basra), 850-900.

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

Verdi, Richard. Saved!: 100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund, London, Hayward Gallery and the National Gallery, 2003

Labels and date

White-glazed earthenware painted in polychrome lustre
MESOPOTAMIAN; mid 9th century
[old Islamic gallery label] [Used until 09/2000]

Production Note

Probably Basra


Clay; Earthenware; Glaze; Lustre (ceramics decoration)




Middle East Section

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