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Tile with a lotus blossom

Pottery tile with polychrome and “black line” decoration

Timurid central Asia, 15th century

Height: 43.8 cm; Length: 28 cm; Thickness: 3 cm


The stylised lotus flower, made up of a small trilobed fleuron inside two polylobed palmettes meeting at their summit, is set in a cobalt blue curved fleuron which stands out on a turquoise background. These two decorative ornaments were extremely common during the Timurid era, when geometrical motifs and floral inspired ornaments were interwoven to create a dense and colourful decor. The “curved fleuron motif” is found in the Muslim world from the 11th century (Soustiel & Porter, Tombs of Paradise, 2003, p. 234) and the lotus flower, derived from the Chinese decorative repertoire, appeared in Iran and in Central Asia towards the end of the 13th century (op.cit, p. 233).

The decoration is highlighted by a black line which is one of the technical processes. The ”black line” is one of the technical procedures used in the Islam world to separate colours, so as to avoid fusing. Several procedures exist to keep colours separate, as for example, deep incision in the clay, or alternatively by compartmentalising decoration using relief (known as cuenca o arista). But this result can also be obtained by creating motifs using a different material from the coloured glazes. When this material disappears during the firing leaving the colour of the clay to emerge, the procedure is known as cuerda seca (dry line). This technique is mainly used in Spanish ceramics. In the Muslim world, ceramists use a fine black mat line which is very slightly vitrified in order to separate colours (Soustiel & Porter 2003, pp. 213-217). This black line used as early as the 14th century in central Asia is based on the same principal as cuerda seca used in the West, but the finished result is different. This is why it is more appropriate to use the term “black line” to describe the method used by ceramists in Asia, thus differentiating it from the traditional cuerda seca.