History of Persian Ceramics
Research at the California Academy of Sciences

Pottery making in the Iranian Plateau dates back to the Early Neolithic Age (7th millennium BCE) with the production of coarse, unglazed wares. Later wares were made from earthenware clays with a layer of white slip (engobe). They were covered by transparent lead glazes and colors were added with oxides. Persian ceramics matured with time into more elaborate styles and techniques.

During the 7th century, the Arabs conquered Persian territory as well as Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia. A large part of North Africa was conquered next, including Egypt (see map below). Map of PersiaIn 717 CE, occupation of the Iberian peninsula took place, making the Arab empire one of the strongest.

This set the stage for a development in Persian art forms based on Roman, Greek, Egyptian, and Central Asiatic ideas. The blending of these ideas from many regions was seen in the products of the ceramic industry. Influenced by techniques already practiced in conquered territories, Persian potters developed new forms and styles to produce the fine wares that characterize Persian ceramics. Because refined wares were mostly destined to serve and decorate the homes of the wealthy, or for export, this industry received great patronage and support.


During the 9th century under the Abbasid rulership, additional styles and techniques were adopted and refined, later evolving into even more elaborate and exquisite forms. The use of cobalt blue dates to this period, as does the use of other metallic oxides, such as copper, to produce blues and greens. Potters at this time were also experimenting with slip decorations, and were able to control the liquid slip to create elaborate and intricate decorations. Colors such as manganese purple, tomato red, olive green, yellow and brown were applied to the surface and then covered with a transparent glaze, creating a glossy and smooth finish.

The 11th century brought dramatic changes to the ceramic industry, influenced by Chinese porcelain ware. For a time Persian potters had tried to imitate the Chinese potter's porcelain ware, but they were unsuccessful because they lacked kaolin, a fine clay used for the production of porcelain. With the introduction of the Frit Ware, however, Persian potters were able to produce the smooth surface they sought. This new clay body was composed of white clay, powdered glass and quartz. Its soft consistency facilitated the use of new techniques such as engraving, piercing and molding.

By the 12th century, Persian ceramic styles were well established and they set the standards for further innovations and conventions. In the 13th century, however, ceramics took an abrupt turn with the Mongol conquest, and for a time, pottery production halted. Wares made during the Mongol occupation are called Il Kanid wares, referring to the ruling dynasty. In the 14th century the arts revived again, with the invasion of the Timur, under whose rule new centers of pottery production appeared. Kirman became one of the main centers (see map above).

The control of the Iberian peninsula and the fall of Granada in 1492, added polychrome pottery to the colorful spectrum of Persian ceramic styles.

Through the centuries, Persian potters have responded to the demands and changes brought by political turmoil by adopting and refining newly introduced forms and blending them into their own culture. This innovative attitude has survived through time and influenced many other cultures around the world.

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