Blue and white dish with flowers, Iran, Safavid, 17th century. Stonepaste body with blue underglaze painting, Ø: 46.6 cm. AKM00588. The Aga Khan Museum© 2007 The Aga Khan Development Network.

Since the ninth century, the Islamic world has observed and admired the production of Chinese potters. This dish is a model dating back to the beginning of the fifteenth century which has been faithfully copied. No fewer than thirty-four similar dishes are still to be found among the collections of the Ardebil sanctuary, the founding site of the Safavid dynasty (Makariou 2007, p. 55, no. 81). They present slight variations; with or without wings. However, the winged model, decorated with waves and rocks and cavettos with small bouquets of flowers, has two examples among the Ardebil collection (ibid., n. 82). It is unusual for an imitation to be so faithful to the original. It copies almost detail for detail the decoration of waves and rocks on the wings and the bouquets embellishing the cavetto. Nevertheless, the Safavid piece is bigger than the Chinese examples that have been preserved. Some of them bear the mark of Shah Abbas, which leads us to date the Safavid copy back to the first quarter of the seventeenth century. However, the Chinese model probably goes back to the beginning of the fifteenth century. This poses a problem for the reception of these objects and the gap between their approximate date of fabrication and that of their imitations. The Chinese model boasts a number of features which fit in perfectly with ornamentation in the Islamic world: the wave and rock design on the wing is static and the wavy writing less skittish, compared to fourteenth century dishes. On the Chinese original, the curly lines of the waves remain fluid, though repetitive. By contrast, on the Safavid model, the waves fold up into geometrically organized bands. It is here a different universe of transcription at play, dominated by a steadily maintained rhythm. The centre bouquet copies the Chinese model almost down to the minutest detail. However, these transcription details change the design, accentuating a simple contrast between the spindly lines and the excessive colour on the petals from which the monochromes have disappeared (ibid., n. 83). On the underside, the undulating foliage replete with flowers from the Chinese model has been simplified, or “ornamentalised”. The thick, oily and shiny glaze spread over the piece lends warmth to the copy. The Ottoman world also liked Chinese ceramics; the Topkapi Palace holds one of the most extensive collections of Chinese ceramics outside of China. However, the Ottoman pastiches of Chinese ceramics most often elicited transcriptions more distanced from the model.