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A Samarkand Ceramic Plate, 9th Century

March 2018

 A fritware ceramic plate, thought to originate from 9th century Samarkand or modern-day Uzbekistan, carries a starkly simple green design. It is bare of the Islamic motifs one might expect of the period, and certainly the place, the design has an uncanny Modernity - subtle, spare, and teasingly asymmetrical.


The appearance suggests a lack of fuss or interference, as though the green was simply dripped onto the plate and left to its own devices - slipping slowly down before pooling into crevices, settling into its chance design. A detached approach of unstudied deference, it follows the plate’s own bends and falls and, in doing so, it accentuates its form. 


The plate’s pattern is achieved by splashing coloured enamel directly onto a white slip ground and finally sealed in with a transparent glaze. The style has challenged academics and archaeologists, who still debate its origins and whether or not it was influenced by an influx of similar Tang sancai ceramics from China or developed independently. Chinese examples, however, are more elaborate and likely intended for elite tombs, whereas Central Asian ceramics were utilitarian objects, not intended to be seen as great art.


Glazed wares became a fixture of pottery production in Central Asia in the 8th century and their discovery, through archaeological digs of buried urban sites, speak of its inhabitants' affluence and bring to life an ancient trade centre. Samarkand was founded between the 8th and 7th centuries BC and prospered from its location on the Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean. By the 9th century it was under the control of the Samanids and a capital of the Samanid dynasty. Samanid rule is notable for its revival of Persian culture through considerable patronage of the arts and humanities.



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