Pottery is the most important and the most familiar handmade artifact of the man. The apex of the man’s attachment to pottery could be seen in the divine statements like the 14th verse of one of the chapters of Holy Quran (namely Ar-Rahman) where God asserts that He created the man from ringing clay just as a potter did. It shows that all men originate in the same place, live together and would be reunited in the Hereafter for another life. No artifacts of human beings including artistic and applied tools and instruments have managed to reflect thoughts, ideas and mental creativities in a continuous and non-stop manner in the course of history as good as pottery has done.
Rather than being affiliated to a certain age, Persian potteries are heritage of our ancestors passed to us over centuries and trusted to us. Hence, they contain the essence of all artistic methods and eras.
During the permanent settlement period of the man, the pottery has become more complete in terms of construction and firing and it has emerged as a necessity in the life of human beings.
Dishes, food containers and storage vessels were simple and free of any design. However, scientific excavations in different locations across Iran have resulted in unearthing decorated potteries dating back to the 6th millennium B.C. Irrespective of their applied sizes, potteries are considered as good platforms for reflecting plethora of human thoughts and innovations as well as clarifying cultural periods.
According to the oldest designs, one could identify that simple geometric motifs and linear geometric images were the first images presented on potteries delineating the environment around the potter. The design on baskets, canebrakes and hedges around the living environment dating back to the 6th millennium B.C. has been discovered in archeological places. The basket motif found on the container excavated in Sang Chakhmagh Hill in Shahrood is a valuable type of these potteries.
With the advent of Achaemenid Empire in the 6th millennium B.C., some great advancement was made in pottery making. Simpler vessels gained more popularity and become more common over time but they did not change in their essence and they were subject to change just in appearance.
Pottery art in the Islamic period advanced swiftly in terms of firing techniques and various coating materials were discovered in different centuries. Characteristics of these potteries reflect social, political and economic conditions of people’s lives at different ages. Following principles of leading a simple life and avoiding lavish life styles over the three first Islamic centuries, making potteries with simple designs and practical realities became popular when motifs and decorations like carvings of geometric lines, arabesque traceries as well as floral and stamp motifs were applied on potteries.
Over these years, muddy and transparent glazing materials were applied as decoration on glazed vessels with simple motifs and free of any colors. They were decorated with Kufic inscriptions containing the word Albaraka, i.e. blessing in Arabic.
In the third century, these decorations included more inscriptions inside the vessels. The fourth century coincided with the acceptance of many advanced cultural sings during the reign of the Abbasid dynasty and establishment of semi-independent governments affiliated to the Abbasid government in Baghdad such as the Ghaznavids and the Buyids as well as emergence of scientist such as Avicenna, Ferdowsi and Biruni. A great historic trend was experienced in this century known as renaissance of the Islamic era.
The sixth and seventh centuries were so sensitive in the art history of pottery in the Islamic period. The sixth century was the heyday of the Seljuks and the Khwarezmids when potters witnessed prosperity in their business in terms of variety of producing jars, bowls, water containers and glazed mugs decorated by methods such as molds, Sgraffito, carvings and needle carvings.
As the aftermath of Mongolian invasion to Islamic territories in the seventh century, numerous new methods of pottery-making became common. At the early stages of this era, the pottery as an art was not prosperous but it was gradually revived as a result of diversity in glazing techniques. Vitreous enamel potteries are one of the valuable potteries that have remained as the cultural heritage of our ancestors in the sixth and seventh centuries. Enamel pottery contains Persian drawing and miniature styles rather than Seljuk or Mongolian decorations. Themes of these drawings are storied adopted from masterpieces such as Khamse by Nezami, Shahnameh by Ferdowsi and the life of elites and aristocrats. After the rein of the Ilkhanids, brownish and reddish potteries became noticeable once again during the rule of Safavids. Travelers and writers of travelogues have mentioned cities such as Isfahan, Kashan and Mashhad as the hub for making this type of potteries.
Golden potteries in the contemporary age are mainly decorative potteries. Vases with globe-shaped body and a long neck are one of the examples of such potteries. One of the techniques used in decorating potteries in the sixth and seventh centuries is a method known as Haft-rang (seven colors) or enameling. Probably it was due to the transformation occurred in the art of making potteries in late Seljuk age which is tantamount to Song dynasty in China. Vessels known as blue and white vessels are prominent examples denoting to the Safavaid era. This type of decoration continued until the Qajar period but the blue color was gradually replaced by azure. In fact, attempts made by potters who made blue and white potteries were imitating blue and white porcelains of China and they were trying to compete with them. After emergence of some political tensions between two countries which culminated in severing ties, exports of these vessels to Iran was stopped and consequently the competition intensified. Mashhad and Kerman could be referred to as the hub for making this type of potteries.
During Qajar dynasty pottery witnessed decline and degradation in Iran. Artifacts made in that time were awkward imitation of golden vessels of the Seljuk time or fake doubles of porcelains of the Safavid era. Expansion of international ties with other countries and uncontrolled entry of Chinese goods from Russia, France, Germany and China to Iran was an influential factor. Introduction of high quality and cheap products of other nations contributed to the decline and deterioration of this ancient art in Iran.
Modern functions of pottery for us are mixtures of enthusiasm and negligence. Presently, all the knowledge of the past is available to us and we look at ancient artefacts with praising eyes but what is the application of this eternal companion on the man?