Burges tulip vase and research into Islamic pottery

The 3rd Marquees of Bute commissioned Burges to rebuild the castle on a lavish scale, with work starting on the project in 1868. Burges drew on the work of AWN Pugin for inspiration as well a sources as eclectic as Islamic and Roman architecture and design. His opulent scheme featured vibrant interiors filled with coloured carvings, painted ceilings and accompanying furniture and decorative objects. The four tulip vase were designed to provide highlights in the corners of the highly theatrical summer smoking room. This vase has four tulip holders around its neck and is painted with parakeets and blue scrolling foliage. Four oval coats of arms around the belly are associated with the Bute family and inscriptions around the neck and belly identify the date and person.


Islamic pottery started after Muslims started to associate with the stoneware and porcelain of china. Their earliest work were trying to recreate Chinese T’ang porcelains but they developed their own beautiful multicoloured ceramics. Their main issue was that they did not have the right ingredients for true porcelain (30% Kaolin 70% China stone) Kaolin is a deficiency that all near eastern countries have.

The Baghdad and Samarra potters used ordinary potter’s clay, which they covered with a lead-fluxed glaze, a material so liquid in firing as to make underglaze painting impossible, for the colors blur or run together. True alkaline glazes, made from powdered sand and quartz crystal, and fluxed with potash or soda would not run in the firing and so made underglaze painting possible; they would not, however, stick to ordinary potters’ clay, which made the production of a new artificial body necessary, made of quartz and glassy matter very similar to that of the actual glaze.

Realizing, for example, that it was impossible to match the special surface quality of white T’ang porcelain merely by using a lead glaze over a white slip, they devised a modified form of lead glaze, mixed with tin oxide, the suspended particles of which rendered it white and opaque in firing. This new glaze, applied in a heavy coating to a highly purified yellow clay body, eventually came very close to the effect of T’ang wares.

But it seems that the Muslim potters were not satisfied for long with such unadorned pottery, and a second color was soon added, a magnificent deep cobalt blue. In sparingly applied, small-scale patterns, the surface of usually small, shallow bowls was decorated with a few quick brushstrokes, contrasting in a particularly appealing way with the dull, grayish white of the glaze.

Most important of all the innovations of the Iraqi potters was the invention of an entirely
new technique that revolutionised pottery decoration in the Near East: luster painting.

The pigment for luster painting is made by compounding sulfur in various forms with silver or copper oxide. This compound is mixed with red or yellow ocher, with a mild acid such as vinegar or wine lees used as a medium, and is applied to a ceramic surface that has already been glazed and fired. In a second, light firing, with little air and much smoke, the pigment is fixed to the glaze. The ocher then rubs off, and the oxides adhere, producing upon the surface of the glaze a brilliant metallic stain, ranging in color from greenish yellow to reddish brown. Both the hue and the degree of brilliance vary according to the ingredients of the pigment and the thickness of application. Different oxide combinations produce different tones, and the thinner and more transparent the luster film, the greater the range of color effects and reflections that can be achieved. This rich and subtle technique was for many centuries one of the most important features of Islamic pottery decoration.

Grube, E. (1965). The Art of Islamic Pottery. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, [online] 23(6), p.209. Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/pubs/bulletins/1/pdf/3258167.pdf.bannered.pdf [Accessed 15 March, 2018]


%d bloggers like this: