Circa 900- 1517 A.D
Minai Ceramic Jug
A polychrome Minai (enamel) handled cup from the latter half of the Turco-Persian Seljuq period (1040 – 1307), most probably from Kashan, a significant centre of ceramics production during this time where potters moulded, fired and painted both Minai and lusterware works.
This handled cup rises from a short foot and widens to a spherical body, which tapers towards its neck at its widest point, emphasizing its curvature, and flares slightly at its rim. The artist has painted figures upon horseback, rendered in vibrant colours and outlined in black and gold, on the central frieze that encircles the body. Above the figures runs a blue band of Arabic calligraphy, written in Kufic script, while on the same spot in the interior of the cup there is a band of orange calligraphy, executed again in the Kufic style. The handle is S-shaped with a delicate, pale green scrolling pattern, which couples to underscore its function as a drinking utensil, along with its opulence; a luxurious example of the material culture of pre-Mongol Iran.
Minai means enamel in Persian, and the term refers to this type of pottery’s colourful decoration, which lies both in and over the glaze, here further enriched with gold (gilding) which is visible on the horse’s reigns and the bows on their tails. Only certain colours are fixed as over glazed enamels. Some, such as turquoise, blue and purple are normally painted into the opaque white glaze after it has been applied and are fixed with it in the firing. Enamel pigments are then painted, and fixed in the second firing. These are normally restricted to red and black, but in more ambitious pieces, such as in this case, a whole range of other enamel colours are found together with gold gilding. Such Minai works had to be fired twice in order to achieve their polychromatic harmonies and were consequently the most sought-after and costly wares; we can thereby infer that the patron or owner was likely to have been a member of the Seljuq elite.
The Seljuqs descended from nomads (specifically the Turkic Oghuz clan) who grazed cattle on the Central Asian land that the previous Persian dynasty, the Ghaznavids, had ruled. Following their relocation to Khorasan, armed conflict ensued and the Ghaznavids were defeated in battle. This was the beginning of the Seljuq Empire. Within a short time, the empire extended from Central Asia to Syria and Anatolia. A number of new artistic techniques and forms of expression were developed during this period. In ceramics and as this Minai cup exemplifies highly detailed motifs were created in underglaze. The finest quality Minai also feature the most exquisite Seljuq painting; elegant, refined art for the elite, stylistically and chromatically innovative, masterfully composed. The figures have round faces, with slightly puffed-out cheeks and almond-shaped eyes (cheshm badami), which were considered the most attractive feature in treatises on beauty; books that may have informed this artist. The motif of the riders on horseback suggests that the potter and/or painter may have also turned to contemporaneous manuscript paintings and even murals for inspiration. Since books are more vulnerable than pottery to the malice or negligence of man over time, these Minai-wares are significant in their ability to suggest and reflect the formal peculiarities of a largely lost Seljuq art of the book.
The Parish-Watson Collection of Mohammadan Potteries, 1922. [Pg 87, Fig. 31].
Part of the Parish-Watson Collection, New York, pre 1922.