Safavid Glazed Bowl


1501 AD to 1722 AD


5.3″ (13.5cm) high x 14.5″ (36.8cm) wide




Central Asia

Gallery Location



The origins of the Safavid Dynasty can be traced back to the Safaviyeh Sufi order founded in the early 14th century in the city of Ardabil. From this base in northwestern Iran, the Safavids would go on to become the first native Persian dynasty to exert control over all of Iran since the fall of the Sassanids. Much like the ethnically diverse country they would rule, the Safavids were of mixed ancestry, including Kurdish, Greek, Azerbaijani, and Georgian lines. Although their religious roots were aligned with the Sunni Sufi order, by the early days of the 15th century, the Safavids switched sects, establishing the Twelver branch of Shiism as the official religion of the empire. The adoption of the Shia faith would have a profound impact on the future of Iran while bringing them into conflict with their Sunni neighbors, the Ottomans to the west and the Uzbeks to the northeast.

The Safavid Dynasty was officially founded by Shah Ismail I around 1501 when he declared himself Shah of Azerbaijan. A mere decade later, Ismail I had reunited all of Persia, bringing an end to nearly a century of conflicts and squabbles between rival political factions and small independent kingdoms that followed in the wake of the Mongol onslaught. The Safavids reached their apex under their greatest monarch, Shah Abbas I who ruled from 1587-1629. Having lost territory to the Ottomans and the Uzbeks, Abbas I sued for peace and set about reorganizing the army along the lines of the European model. These reforms proved highly successful as the Safavids soon went onto recapture lost territories from the Ottomans and the Uzbeks, while also forcing the Portuguese out of Bahrain and the English navy from Hormuz. Despite these conflicts with the West, Shah Abbas established commercial links with the British and the Dutch, taking advantage of Persia’s geographic situation between the wealth of India and the European markets and the revival of the ancient Silk Road trade route that passed through their northern territory.

The Safavid period was a golden age of Persian culture. The Safavids inherited the best calligraphers, painters and bookbinders from the Timurids. Safavid art was strongly influenced by Turkmen culture as well as Chinese, Ottoman and Western cultures. Developments were made in the fields of miniature painting and tile making. Poetry and literature flourished. Some of the most spectacular architectural monuments in Iran were constructed during this era, including the magnificent buildings that front Naghsh-I Jahan Square in their opulent capital of Isfahan. Carpet making evolved from a regional industry into an international luxury item as demand soared in Europe, especially among the Dutch and English. However, this golden age was short lived. During the 17th Century, the Safavids had to contend with the rise of two more hostile neighbors, Russian Muscovy and the Mughals in India, in addition to their perennial enemies the Ottomans and the Uzbeks. As well, commerce began to decline as international trade routes between East and West began to shift increasingly away from Iran. With their military and economic power declining, a failed campaign to convert Sunni Afghan tribes to the east to Shiism backfired as Afghan armies marched across eastern Iran, sacking Isfahan and marking the end of the Safavid Dynasty in 1722.

In general, the décor of Safavid ceramics tend to imitate those of Chinese porcelain, with the production of blue and white pieces with Chinese form and motifs. In any case, the Persian blue is distinguished from the Chinese blue by its more numerous and subtle nuances. Often, quatrains by Persian poets, sometimes related to the destination of the piece occur in the scroll patters. One can also notice a completely different type of décor, much more rare which carries iconography very specific to Islam and seems influenced by the Ottoman world, as is evidence by feather-edged anthemions (honeysuckle ornaments) widely used in Turkey.

The Chinese elements are very strong on this bowl: the peonies, the border patterns, the blue and white colour scheme and the shape, all derive from fourteenth century imports.

This bowl is a fine example of Safavid blue and white wares. A similar dish can be seen at the Boston Museum of Art.

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