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Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.94
Title
Small Dish with Stylized Rock Dove
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
c. 1675-1725
Period
Safavid period
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/160458
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Fritware painted with blue (cobalt) and brown (chromium) under clear alkali glaze
Technique
Underglazed, painted
Dimensions
3.2 x 15.5 cm (1 1/4 x 6 1/8 in.)
Provenance
[Galerie für Griechische, Römische und Byzantinische Kunst, Frankfurt, 1972], sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (1972-2002), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Accession Year
2002
Object Number
2002.50.94
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
Except for the brown rim, all the decoration on this small, round dish is painted in shades of cobalt blue. A rotund bird with backward-turning head neatly fills the interior. Around the exterior, a band defined by two painted lines encloses single dots alternating with beribboned fans; paired lines circle the inside and outside of the foot ring. The bowl has been put back together from fragments; plaster fills shaped like half-moons complete the rim. Along with the fans and floating ribbons, the brown rim points to the influence of Chinese export porcelain wares known as Kraak, which were produced in vast quantities to meet international demand. Potters working in late Safavid Iran painted an imitation of the colored rim dressing that in the second half of the seventeenth century was applied to these Chinese export wares to guard against chipping. Elegantly or hastily painted, birds are a common motif on blue-and- white ceramics from China and Iran. In the late Safavid period, artists produced beautiful drawings and paintings of birds. These works on paper usually feature generic songbirds perched on flowering branches; only rarely can their species be identified. The combination of bird and flowering branch was also rendered in luxury textiles, with an occasional butterfly or moth added to the mix. The squat bird on this bowl lacks a perch. With wings embellished by veined lotus leaves, it was clearly not intended as a botanical study. Nevertheless, its potbelly, square tail, banded and slightly lifted wings, and large feet suggest that it is a rock dove (feral pigeon), perhaps of a checkered variety. These omnipresent bluish-gray birds were much valued in Safavid Iran, where large mud-brick towers were constructed to house them by the thousands. Such pigeon towers served as collecting points for bird droppings, which, when mixed with soil and ash, were for centuries a prized fertilizer.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
44

Small dish with stylized rock dove
Iran, Safavid period, c. 1675–1725 [1]
Fritware painted with blue (cobalt) and brown (chromium) under clear alkali glaze
3.2 × 15.5 cm (1 15/16 × 6 1/8 in.)
2002.50.94

Except for the brown rim, all the decoration on this small, round dish is painted in shades of cobalt blue. A rotund bird with backward-turning head neatly fills the interior. Around the exterior, a band defined by two painted lines encloses single dots alternating with beribboned fans; paired lines circle the inside and outside of the foot ring. The bowl has been put back together from fragments; plaster fills shaped like half-moons complete the rim.

Along with the fans and floating ribbons, the brown rim points to the influence of Chinese export porcelain wares known as Kraak, which were produced in vast quantities to meet international demand. Potters working in late Safavid Iran painted an imitation of the colored rim dressing that in the second half of the seventeenth century was applied to these Chinese export wares to guard against chipping.[2]

Elegantly or hastily painted, birds are a common motif on blue-and-white ceramics from China and Iran.[3] In the late Safavid period, artists produced beautiful drawings and paintings of birds. These works on paper usually feature generic songbirds perched on flowering branches; only rarely can their species be identified. The combination of bird and flowering branch was also rendered in luxury textiles, with an occasional butterfly or moth added to the mix.[4]

The squat bird on this bowl lacks a perch. With wings embellished by veined lotus leaves, it was clearly not intended as a botanical study. Nevertheless, its potbelly, square tail, banded and slightly lifted wings, and large feet suggest that it is a rock dove (feral pigeon), perhaps of a checkered variety. These omnipresent bluish-gray birds
were much valued in Safavid Iran, where large mud-brick towers were constructed to house them by the thousands. Such pigeon towers served as collecting points for bird droppings, which, when mixed with soil and ash, were for centuries a prized fertilizer.[5]

Mary McWilliams

[1] This dish was sampled for thermoluminescence testing in 1973 by the Research Laboratory of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The result was inconclusive, possibly due to a contaminated sample or because thermoluminescence testing is less accurate for relatively modern ceramics.
[2] Lally 2009, 12.
[3] Large, potbellied birds that fancifully suggest quails or partridges dominate the interiors of two late Safavid blue-and- white bowls with beribboned fans on their exteriors: see Crowe 2002, 239, cats. 420 (2749-1876) and 421 (2748-1876). Crowe assigns the two bowls to the last decades of Safavid reign, circa 1666–1738. Quail-like birds surrounded by veined leaves also appear on a series of bottles in the Victoria and Albert Museum that Crowe assigns to the reign of Shah ʿAbbas II (1642–66): ibid., 148–49, cats. 226–30. Similar birds also appear on a large plate in the Ashmolean Museum (EA1978.1783).
[4] See, for example, a painting of a backward-facing bird by Yusuf Zaman, dated 1109 (1696–97), in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (VR-707, fol. 6), published in Lukonin and Ivanov 1996, 214–15, cat. 242; a painting of a bird, butterflies, and blossoms by Shafi ʿAbbasi, dated 1062 (1651–52), in the Cleveland Museum of Art, published in A. Welch 1973, 90, 99, cat. 58; and a white thrush by Muʿin Musavvir, dated 1100 (1689–90), in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, also published in A. Welch 1973, 109, 119, cat. 79. For the appearance of birds in Safavid luxury textiles, see Bier 1987, 172, 176–78, cats. 18, 20, 21.
[5] Beazley 1966 surveys pigeon towers constructed during the seventeenth century and cites the major European primary sources that describe the attitudes toward and uses of pigeons in late Safavid Iran.

Publication History

Jessica Chloros, "An Investigation of Cobalt Pigment on Islamic Ceramics at the Harvard Art Museums" (thesis (certificate in conservation), Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, 2008), Unpublished, pp. 1-41 passim

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), pp. 198-199, cat. 44, ill.

Exhibition History

In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2013 - 06/01/2013

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu