With the invention of Persian lusterwares, a technique that used a tin glaze over the pottery for a shiny metallic look, artists had the ability to apply paint directly to the earthenware and then cast the glaze over the decoration. This was used for tiles decorating buildings and also for religious and secular bowls and plates that often had text written on them. With a scribe writing directly onto an object it allowed for some artistic liberties to be taken and the script evolved into not only text but also decoration. The December 1210 Kashan Scalloped Plate is a fantastic example of the quality of the Lusterware plates. Not only does it hold great technical accomplishments, but also a strong spiritual message that is conveyed to the viewer.
The composition on this plate appears to be a mystical story about the quest for the Divine. The viewer can deduce from the resting figure’s intricate robe and horse that he is still firmly in the human material world. Perhaps he strayed from his destined path and gave into his material desires, or perhaps he has not found his path, and is just about to realize his personal quest. Challenged by the path to transcend the material world, the youth stop to sleep despite the summoning of the five women behind his horse. The women, painted with halo-like spheres around their heads, represent the higher power calling the sleeping figure to awake and continue on with his journey. Even the horse’s head is pointing down to its master, both drawing the viewer’s attention to the sleeping body and suggesting that the horse is also attempting to wake the youth as well.
The lower portion of the plate depicts a nude woman bathing in a stream or pool surrounded by fish. She is entirely immersed in the natural world, without any clothing or possessions like the sleeping person on the ground above her. It appears that she has reached her personal destiny bathing in one of the most sacred resources. Water, as a life-giving, sustaining, and purifying resource, often symbolizes God’s benevolence and purity in the Islamic tradition. It is one of the three things that every human is entitled to: grass (pasture for cattle), water, and fire. Muslims believe that water should be freely available to all, and anyone who withholds unneeded water sins against God.
There are many metaphors in which water is used to symbolize Paradise, righteousness, and God’s mercy are quite frequent. From the numerous references in the Koran to cooling rivers, fresh rain, and fountains of flavored drinking water in Paradise.The fish in the water hold great spiritual significance as well because the icon of the fish was known to have some kind of magical sense in Islam as a protection against an evil eye. Interestingly, the scalloped edges of the plate as well as the willowy vines echo the gentle curves of the woman’s floating body and the fish that surround her. All of the elements seem to work together to produce an easy flowing effect throughout the plate.
One of the most recognizable forms in Islamic art is the decorative motif, arabesque. Arabesque forms are characterized by geometric, swirling animal and plant motifs used to fill in the negative space in the background. These forms are found in all mediums, tile, manuscript, rugs, and architecture, including the December 1210 Kashan Scalloped Plate. The swirls that fill background and the clothing of the figures on the plate are meant to remind the viewer of the beauty and perfection of God’s creations. The vines that surround the depicted people are also very common in Islamic art works that are generally stylized versions of the Mediterranean herb acanthus, with its emphasis on the leafy forms,