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.
Ceramic material composed of ground quartz and small quantities of clay and finely ground frit (frit is obtained by pouring molten glass into water).
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