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  • Place of origin:

    Iraq (made)

  • Date:

    900-950 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tin-glazed earthenware (fritware) with lustre decoration

  • 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). The lustre on this bowl has developed as a brownish stain, and is not very shiny - it took a century or so of experimentation to get it right.

Nevertheless, lustre became a very popular technique for decorating Islamic ceramics, and was especially used to imitate the designs of metal objects. The dotted background of this bowl probably imitates the ring-matted surface of precious metals. The design depicts a bear-like creature, and the Arabic word for 'blessing' repeated twice. In the footring is written the Arabic word meaning 'the work of' but without giving the name of a potter.

Physical description

Bowl, buff-coloured earthenware (fritware), shallow with lightly flaring rim, covered in opaque white glaze, painted in a silver-rich yellowish-brown lustre, depicting a bear within a cartouche on a dotted ground beneath and above two inscriptions with the Arabic word 'barakah' ('blessing'), also in cartouches, the rim with scalloped border repeated twice on the front of the bowl. The exterior is painted with concentric circles of varied widths and stippled dashes, while inside the footring is the word ' 'amala' ('the work of'). Restored.

Place of Origin

Iraq (made)


900-950 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Tin-glazed earthenware (fritware) with lustre decoration


Diameter: 10 cm, Height: 6 cm

Descriptive line

Bowl, whiteware, lustre-painted with a bear on a dotted ground, inscribed twice in Arabic with 'barakah' ('blessing'), and once 'amala' ('the work of'); Iraq, probably Basra, 900-950.

Labels and date

White-glazed earthenware painted in lustre.
MESOPOTAMIAN; 9th or 10th century
[old Islamic gallery label] [Used until 11/2003]

Production Note

Probably Basra


Clay; Opaque white glaze




Ceramics; Islam


Middle East Section

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