Set of forty-eight tiles displaying birds and animals in a landscape

On display

In the Iranian world, the use of tiles in architectural decoration dates back to pre-Islamic times. Decorated with a range of techniques including underglaze and overglaze painting, tiles had practical, aesthetic and broader cultural implications. While providing a protective barrier to otherwise perishable brick constructions, tile coverings spoke about a building’s function as much as about the social status, wealth and aspirations of its patron.

This panel, decorated with the cuerda seca technique, can be dated to the mid-17th century when elaborate tile compositions were made to decorate garden pavilions and palaces in Iran, especially in Isfahan, then capital of the Safavid empire (1501-1736). Scenes of garden entertainment and hunting, found in examples that have survived in museum collections, provide a window on the luxurious lifestyles of early modern Iran. In this particular example, the decoration does not include human figures but depicts a verdant garden inhabited by animals and birds. These are arranged in symmetrical fashion either side of a central lobed motif.

The technique known as cuerda seca (literally ‘dry cord’) was meant to reproduce the effect of tile mosaic without its time-consuming process. Various glazes were applied to the ceramic surface separated by thin lines of a greasy, manganese-based, substance. With firing, this compound would disappear, leaving neat dark outlines around the different areas of colour.


  • Title

    Set of forty-eight tiles displaying birds and animals in a landscape

  • Associated place

    Iran (place of creation)
  • Date

    17th century (1601 - 1700)
    Safavid Period (1501 - 1722)
  • Material and technique

    fritware, with decoration in coloured glazes applied in the cuerda seca technique

  • Material index

  • Technique index

  • Object type

  • Dimensions

    with frame 101 x 278 x 5.5 cm (height x width x depth)
    without frame 93 x 269 cm (height x width)
    each tile 24 x 15 cm approx. (height x width)
  • No. of items


  • Credit line

    Purchased, 1979.

  • Museum location

    First floor | Gallery 31 | Islamic Middle East
  • Museum department

    Eastern Art

  • Accession no.


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