This type of copper‑toned lusterware known as Tell Minis ware is named after a village in central Syria where such pieces were found. Syrian potters used minimal amounts of silver and greater amounts of copper in creating luster glazes, thus endowing the luster with a distinct dark coppery hue. A shortage of silver in the region at the time may have caused a change in the luster glaze recipe.
By the late eleventh century, a new type of ware had emerged in Syria that represented the transfer of two technologies pivotal for ceramic development in the region: stonepaste and overglaze luster painting. These ceramics relate so closely to the lusterware produced in Fatimid Egypt that they have often been misclassified. Only gradually, over the course of the first half of the last century, was the group identified as a type distinct both from the Egyptian material and from the Syrian material classified as Raqqa ware. This type has come to be known as Tell Minis ware, based on the putative findspot of a cache in the eponymous village, located between Hama and Aleppo. However, there is no evidence to suggest that it was manufactured in that village, and the exact place of production is still undetermined. In fact, recent analyses suggest that this type of ware was produced in multiple centers in Syria rather than in a single workshop or town.
The body of this container is composed of the fine white stonepaste typical of Tell Minis ware and distinguishable from the coarser, darker fabric of Raqqa ware. It also has the characteristic thin walls, chiseled foot, crackling glaze, and copper-red monochrome luster paint with a tendency to iridesce. Two registers decorate the exterior: above, a narrow band with a thick white scrolling motif created in reserve; below, a broad calligraphic band of kufic lettering interspersed with slender vine scrolls, all luster painted against white. On the lid is a row of partridges, with the details etched through the luster to reveal the white of the stonepaste beneath. The inner surface is also glazed and luster painted, with a starburst motif on the bottom and alternating pseudo-calligraphic panels and composite scrolls on the sides.
The pyxis shares a number of specific characteristics with pieces in other collections. For example, the decoration on a bowl in the Robert Mouawad Private Museum, Beirut, corresponds to that on the calligraphic band here, with similar proportions expressed between the kufic lettering and surrounding scrolls. The reserve painting employed in the upper register of the pyxis and the etched details found on its lid compare closely with the decoration on a bowl in the David Collection, Copenhagen. However, in one respect, this pyxis is unique: its form does not appear among other Tell Minis pieces, which most often take the shape of conical bowls.
Ellen Kenney in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. For nearly a century after Basran lusterware ceramists retrenched to Egypt, their specialized technique was employed exclusively there, but in the late eleventh century these ceramists began to disperse, eventually taking up their specialization again in different regions. On the transmission to Syria, see Mason 2004, pp. 160–61.
2. Porter, Venetia, and Oliver Watson, "‘Tell Minis’ Wares." In Syria and Iran: Three Studies in Medieval Ceramics, edited by James [W.] Allan and Caroline Roberts, pp. 175–248. Oxford Studies in Islamic Art, 4, pt. 2. Oxford, 1987. Similar material was excavated at Hama and published in Riis, P. J., and Vagn Pousen. Les verreries et poteries médiévales. Hama: Fouilles et recherches de la Fondation Carlsberg 1931–38, vol. 4, pt. 2. Copenhagen, 1957, pp. 132–40.
3. Until recently, Tell Minis ware was usually dated either around the mid-twelfth or simply twelfth century (see Porter, V., and Watson 1987 [footnote 2]). Marilyn Jenkins argued for an earlier date, partly on the basis of the presence of luster pieces embedded in the walls of eleventh-century buildings in Italy (Jenkins 1992), which, however, provides only a terminus ante quem. More accurate evidence, emerging from archaeological contexts and petrographic analysis, suggests that production began in the last quarter of the eleventh century (Mason 2004, p. 97).
4. T he copper-rich luster of Tell Minis ware may have been the result of a shortage of silver in the region (Mason, lecture, Metropolitan Museum, December 2009).
5. No. 0776, illustrated in Mouawad, Robert, and John Carswell. The Future of the Past: The Robert Mouawad Private Museum. Beirut, 2004, p. 125, no. 47.
6. No. Isl. 196, illustrated in Blair and Bloom 2006, p. 121, no. 51.
Inscription: On exterior of body in Arabic in kufic script:
توکل تکفا الصبر عز من صبر قدر
Trust [in God] suffices. Perseverance becomes glory.
[He] who is patient possesses strength.
The second proverb is one of the sayings of Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib (A. Ghouchani, 2012).
[ Phoenix Ancient Art S.A., Geneva, until 1998; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1, 2009–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Early Medieval Islamic Pottery: The Eleventh Century Reconsidered." Muqarnas vol. 9 (1992). pp. 56–66.
Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 57, no. 2 (1998–1999). p. 10, ill. (color).
Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan M. Bloom. "Islamic Art from the David Collection,Copenhagen." Cosmophilia (2006). p. 121.
Carboni, Stefano. "The Arts of the Fatimid Period at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Ismaili (2008). p. 8, ill. fig. 10 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 95, pp. 146-147, ill. p. 147 (color).