Jar with epigraphic band and roundels enclosing the signs of the zodiacOn display
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Jar with epigraphic band and roundels enclosing the signs of the zodiac
Dateearly 13th century
Material and technique
fritware, with overglaze painting in lustre
Dimensions11.2 cm (height)
18.5 cm (diameter)
No. of items
Presented by Sir Alan Barlow, 1956.
Museum locationFirst floor | Gallery 31 | Islamic Middle East
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On this second example of Kashan lustre, the influence of the book painting tradition is clearly to be seen. Astrological miniatures in roundels are known from extant medieval manuscripts, and the cross in reserve used as a background pattern for the roundels is derived from a similar design used in Quranic manuscripts as a background for script.
The sun and its symbolism have already been illustrated (no. 10 [EA1978.2311]). On this jar we find the twelve signs of the zodiac: (reading from left to right) Cancer, Gemini, Taurus, Aries, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, Sagittarius, Scorpio, Libra, Virgo and Leo. From Capricorn to Libra are reconstructions, as that part of the vessel is largely missing. Of particular interest in an Islamic context is Virgo, who is shown here as a seated figure holding what is probably a handful of corn in her right hand, and a cutting implement in her left. The imagery stems from her Arabic name, al-sunbulat, which also means ‘an ear of corn’. Aquarius is normally shown drawing water from a well, but here the artist seems to have been satisfied with a very sketchy water bottle in the figure’s right hand.
Medieval Islamic society was clearly very superstitious. In European society today astrological superstition normally focuses on the zodiacal sign under which the individual was born, hence the mugs, key-rings and the like decorated with a single zodiacal image. In early Islam the birth sign of an individual was also significant. But the use of that specific image in an artistic context seems to have been unusual, and almost all surviving objects with zodical decoration bear the full range of twelve signs.
In: Allan, James W., Islamic Ceramics, Ashmolean-Christie's Handbooks (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1991)
Glossary of terms
Ceramic material composed of ground quartz and small quantities of clay and finely ground frit (frit is obtained by pouring molten glass into water).
Metallic sheen obtained by applying a mixture of metallic oxides onto an already glazed ceramic that is refired at a reduced atmosphere.
Allan, James W., Islamic Ceramics, Ashmolean-Christie's Handbooks (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1991), no. 16 on p. 30, illus. pp. 30-31
Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, Martina Rugiadi, and A. C. S. Peacock, Court and Cosmos. The Great Age of the Seljuqs (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press, 2016), no. 122 on p. 205