Arts of the Islamic World and India

Arts of the Islamic World and India

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 58. A rare intact Abbasid lustre pottery bowl depicting a griffin, Iraq, 9th/10th century.

A rare intact Abbasid lustre pottery bowl depicting a griffin, Iraq, 9th/10th century

Auction Closed

April 24, 03:45 PM GMT


80,000 - 120,000 GBP

Lot Details


of conical form on a short foot, decorated in a golden lustre with a monumental griffin on a dotted ground, flanked by stylised leaves, scalloping to rim, reverse with alternating large roundels enclosing foliate motifs and triangular dashes

27.7cm. diam.

By repute, Ex-private collection, Japan

Ex-collection Kinya Kobayashi, Gallery Archaic, Japan, 1970

Ex-collection Tsuneshi Muto, Gallery Sakae, Japan, 1979

Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1983

The sophisticated and expensive technique of lustreware is understood to have originated in Abbasid Iraq in the ninth century. The process involved applying pigments of silver and copper oxides to a previously glazed and fired vessel. The second firing in a reduced atmosphere would cause a reaction resulting in metallic deposits with an iridescent, lustrous sheen.


Abbasid potters held a monopoly on lustreware in the ninth century, producing examples in polychrome and monochrome lustre. While polychrome examples were often decorated with geometric or vegetal designs, monochrome wares, such as the present bowl, were more commonly decorated with large-scale figures placed centrally within the composition. The designs were well-considered, with almost the entirety of the surface of vessel filled in a 'horror vacui' aesthetic. Watson notes that this was intentional in order for the potters to draw out the most spectacular qualities of the lustre, “its metallic brilliance, its rainbow highlights, its subtle variations in colour” (Watson 2004, p.183).


Saba examines the Abbasids’ fascination with lustreware in relation to an understanding of abu qalamun and ‘ajib. References to abu qalamun from writers in the tenth to fourteenth century indicate that the term signified a quality of changeability particularly in reference to visual effects such as the iridescence of the plumage of a peacock. He suggests that Abbasid lustreware produces abu qalamun-like colours through the fleeting nature of its metallic sheen that shifts hue in the changing light (Saba 2012, pp. 192-5). Saba relates this to the term ‘ajib that refers to a certain feeling of wonder in response to a phenomenon that cannot be fully comprehended. The brilliant, unstable nature of the colours of lustreware, he explains, defy explanation, an effect that is coupled with “pleasurable contrasts” within the choice of pattern to encourage prolonged engagement with the vessel (Saba op.cit., p.198-203).


In this example, the potter has decorated the bowl with a griffin on a monumental scale. The artist has combined multiple forms of decorations such as rough dashes and roundels, with fleshy, curvilinear leaves and scalloped edges to create variations in texture despite the monochrome palette. The visual trickery of the contrasting design elements together with the metallic lustre create a sense of motion and tactility to the surface of the vessel (Saba op.cit., pp.198-203). In this example, it appears to emphasise the animated form of the imposing griffin, accentuated by its alert expression, a typical feature of figural lustreware.


A comparable lustre bowl decorated with a bird was sold in these rooms, 6 April 2011, lot 265, while a jar decorated with a frieze of long-necked birds sold at Christie’s, London, 28 October 2020, lot 8. Further examples showing the range of figural an animal designs on monochrome lustre are published in Pancaroglu 2007, pp.48-53, nos.8-13, and Grube 1976, nos.24, 36-41.


This lot is accompanied by a thermoluminescence analysis report supporting the proposed date of production.